Wang echoes Peng’s sentiment, saying that building a glitzy shopping district can only benefit the well-off.
“Okay so you have 10 people who can shop here. But what about the other 90 people? Don’t they also have the right to use public land? Besides, as the area is rich in history and culture, it should be returned to the public so that people can come here to appreciate history or take a stroll among the trees and old houses wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt,” he says.
Huang says the preservation campaign for the area’s historical assets and natural environment offers a chance for ordinary citizens like office workers, housewives and retired teachers to understand the past and present of the neighborhood and take part in fighting for what they deem important. After months of preservation efforts, more than 20 trees are now protected under the Taipei City Tree Protection Bylaw (台北市樹木保護自治條例).
For many, the area is a much-needed green space where flora and fauna thrive. According to information compiled by Friends of Trees at Huaguang, more than 20 species of birds have been spotted there. History also leaves traces in the area’s over 40 tree varieties such as Chinese fan palms and Asian bayberries, popular during the colonial era, while residents who came after 1949 planted guava, loquat, starfruit and persimmon.
Meanwhile, the alliance successfully persuaded Taipei’s Department of Cultural Affairs to re-hold the Cultural Assets Review Committee meeting earlier this year. In 2008, a review meeting by the then-cultural committee decided that only a mapping of several historical remains was required before the century-old neighborhood was torn down. Ironically, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, located one street away from Huaguang and completed in 1980, was designated a national heritage building in 2007.
In June, the committee designated the former prison walls as a historical heritage site, while the Japanese public bath and several dormitories are listed as historical buildings. The alliance’s appeal to designate the area as a cultural landscape, which allows limited development as long as it respects the local environment and history, was overlooked.
To preservationists like Huang, preserving a few buildings is by no means a way to remember the past.
“They will just be pretty old houses and become Japanese restaurants in the Taipei Roppongi,” she says.