Sat, Dec 28, 2002 - Page 16 News List

Making room for nature

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but a group of Taipei residents are starting to second-guess their decision to build an eco-friendly park in their borough


The 5,700 residents of Taipei's Fujin Borough (富錦里) used to feel lucky living next to the 3,000-ping (9,900㎡) Fumin Park(富民公園), with its shady banyan trees that made for cool summer

evenings and its expansive meadow where children could play. In downtown Taipei, these were luxuries.

Then, four years ago, a plan began to take shape that would turn Fumin Park into Fumin Ecological Park (富民生態公園). It was based on a suggestion made by Lee Jin-shing (李進興), a producer of nature programs for local television. The plan went into action after Wang Wen-fu (王文甫), Fujin borough warden, briefed the Taipei City Bureau of Urban Development (都市發展局) on the plan's merits. Granted a budget of NT$30 million, the ecological park was to have a speaker's corner, a small playground, and most importantly, an ecological zone with two ponds and a small marsh to bring a little nature back into the city.

The park's remodelling was the first urban development project in Taipei to have been initiated not by city authorities, but by the residents themselves. The idea was so popular, in fact, that Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou listed the project as one of the 12 major achievement of his first term. And borough residents themselves were so enamored with the idea that they were willing to wait two years -- two years without any park at all -- so that the lengthy redesign could be completed.

Mixed reviews

Many were not happy with the final result. Although some residents approved of it and volunteered to nurse the plants and insects in the ecological zone, others were appalled by what they saw once the final shape of the park became apparent in March. The days leading to the park's official opening on Jan. 1 have seen a heated debate over whether the park's new incarnation is a blessing or a curse for the community.

The park's ecological zone was made to simulate the marshy areas of the Red Forest (紅樹林) in Taipei County's Guandu Plain Ecological Park (台北縣關渡生態公園). Several species of butterflies, frogs and small fish were introduced into the park along with plants they could eat.

"This was the first ecological park in a heavily urban area. Unlike other [ecological] parks, there were many problems because ours was in the middle of a city. We had to build a natural environment from scratch. But I believe that as long as we provide the environment, the animals will come," Lee said.

The re-construction was not without its problems. "It's the first of its kind. So the government gave us little help because they were as inexperienced as we were. Ecological parks in urban environments are a totally new concept. I hope other communities will follow suit," Wang, who is currently seeking another term as borough warden, said. A photo of the completed park appears on his campaign flyer.

Much of the work to maintain the park is done by the community. Currently there are 67 volunteers who look after its natural areas. And these are still waiting to be trained in the art of ecological maintenance.

Elementary school teacher Wang Mei-yin (王美瑛) is one of the volunteers. Although she lives in another borough, she often takes her students to the new park to watch butterflies. "Now the park is more than a park. It's a botanical garden. Teaching the importance of biological diversity to children in the park is much more effective than teaching them inside classrooms with artificial models," she said.

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