Fri, Nov 15, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways & Byways: Kaohsiung’s changing waterfront

Once a polluted backwater, Taiwan’s southern industrial city has benefited from a number of beautification projects

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The exterior of Kaohsiung Maritime Cultural & Pop Music Center’s main concert hall is almost complete.

Photo: Steven Crook

Since the turn of the century, Kaohsiung has been benefiting from a comprehensive makeover, and no one argues it isn’t needed. For most of the postwar period, this notoriously industrial city offered its residents economic opportunities, but not much quality of life.

According to a paper presented to the 4th International Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism, held in Amsterdam in 2009, Chung Chen-kun (鍾振坤), a Taiwanese scholar at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Kaohsiung’s problems were in large part a consequence of government policy. The success of the city’s export processing zones led to the establishment of additional industrial parks. Residential areas developed around each industrial zone, but these neighborhoods lacked public spaces. What’s more, many streets were crowded by what he calls “informal economic activities.”

Because the waterfront’s quays and warehouses were declared off-limits by a paranoid authoritarian government, the relationship between Kaohsiung’s civilian population and the port which underpinned the city’s prosperity was weak. When I first visited Kaohsiung in the early 1990s, checkpoints manned by soldiers controled access to the docks. High walls stopped passers-by (and communist spies) from seeing all but the masts of the ships moored within.

Some modern container vessels have drafts of 16m, double the water depth at the old berths in Gushan (鼓山), Yancheng (鹽埕) and Lingya (苓雅) districts. To handle these huge ships, intercontinental container terminals have been constructed in the districts of Cianjhen (前鎮) and Siaogang (小港).

As the harbor’s center of gravity shifted southeast-ward, an enticing amount of land became available. I’ve been reading about the “Asia New Bay Area” (亞洲新灣區), Kaohsiung City Government’s ambitious plan to redevelop this stretch of waterfront, for years. But before last week, I’d never taken a close look at the new landmarks. Some of them are complete, others are still taking shape.

I considered hiring a bicycle from a rental business beside Sizihwan Metro Station (西子灣站). In the end I opted to walk, first to Gushan Ferry Dock (鼓山輪渡), then east along the waterfront toward Kaohsiung Exhibition Center (高雄展覽館).

Gushan Ferry Dock is where tourists board the boat to Cijin Island (旗津島). Wanting to stay on the “mainland,” I worked my way through a densely packed and impoverished-looking neighborhood to Gushan Fishing Port (鼓山魚港). I didn’t see anything there I haven’t seen before at bigger and livelier fishing ports, so my camera stayed in my bag.

Skirting the small naval base, I spotted a ship I’ve seen before but never traveled on. The Tai Hua (台華輪) is a roll-on/roll-off ferry which connects Kaohsiung with Magong (馬公) in Penghu County. It’s now 30 years old and could do with a fresh lick of paint.

A quartet of government buildings stands just back from the water’s edge on Jiesing 1st Street (捷興一街), and behind them there are remnants of the railway line which used to link the dockside to the rest of Taiwan’s rail network. The official building I’m most curious about is the Kaohsiung-Pingtung Regional Center of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Centers for Disease Control, (疾病管制署高屏區管制中心高雄港辦事處). It wouldn’t surprise me if the staff have some good stories about scrambling into action when ships from distant lands arrive carrying sick crewmen or passengers.

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