Wed, Jul 25, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Dodgy dealings

Taipei’s Shida district has long been the center of a vibrant commercial life, but recent expansion has riled residents, and the government has stepped in to curb, or kill, one of the city’s most diverse recreational areas

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Shida residents reached a tipping point in the last three years, when the number of businesses jumped from 300 to over 700, according to Peng’s estimate. Traditional noodle shops and food stalls gave way to shops for trendy Korean fashions, and crowds swelled to 30,000 a day or more. The new shops were not “neighborhood stakeholders,” says Liu, but “outsiders.”

At the same time, real estate brokers bought up shop fronts, divided them into small lots, often illegally, and rents began to skyrocket. When one cafe went to renew its lease in 2011, the landlord increased the rent from NT$80,000 a month to NT$250,000. Other landlords began converting residential first-floor lots for commercial use, and the night market began to sprawl well beyond any previously established boundaries.

Liu now says his ideal is for Shida to have around 400 fully legal businesses, and argues no exceptions should be made on account of culture, like the rock club Underworld. “Stripping or pole dancing is also culture, but I don’t want it in my neighborhood,” he said.

For the moment, city inspections and shop closures continue, and foot traffic in Shida has dropped significantly. Businesses speak widely of a scandal involving construction companies and extensive redevelopment, but evidence is circumstantial. More practically, six businesses recently won administrative appeals filed with the Ministry of the Interior, refunding fines or allowing continued operation.

In short, the fight for the neighborhood continues, as does uncertainty over its future.

“The city should take a position and set forth some sort of vision for Shida,” says Peng. “But they haven’t done that so far. They’re just sitting back and watching this happen.”

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