Sun, Dec 26, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Kaohsiung to be an urban utopia

Kaohsiung was long regarded as a seedy industrial dystopia by many of Taiwan's residents, famous mostly for its poisonous water and its ship-wrecking yards. But now the administration of Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh is embarking on an ambitious plan to make the city livable by building parks, installing a new sewage treatment center and upgrading public transportation

By Michael Bennett  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Virtual visitors enjoy a day at Birthday Park in this computer simulation provided by the Kaohsiung City Government. The park is part of a program to increase the quality of life in Taiwan's second largest city.

GRAPHIC: KAHSIUNG CITY GOVERNMENT

In southern Taiwan there is an "emerging urban utopia" that is the result of Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷) desire to leave a legacy for future generations, according to Kaohsiung City Government officials.

The city that once existed as a monument to inhumane urban planning is now being described by some as a city with potential, whose people can be optimistic about the future.

After a half century of neglect by all levels of government, Kaohsiung is experiencing Taiwan's most extensive and expensive urban renewal project.

The programs include building a full sewage treatment system for the city and a new MRT line, as well as a city park construction program.

The urban renewal program is planned to be completed in time for the World Games in 2009.

The Birthday Park, planned for the corner of Siwei Road and Linsen Rd in the downtown Lingya district, is only one part of this program, which is attempting to create a more livable and people-centered city.

This new vision is said to aim to provide Kaohsiung with a quality of life that characterizes the best cities in the world.

During the Martial Law era, no priority was given to quality of life through urban planning. From city to city, the design was the same: rows of cellblock-style houses, and police stations that were intended to assure central control by the authoritarian government of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Kaohsiung's struggle against cinderblock oppression is best symbolized by an event that occurred in late June, when police in riot gear stood by as workers from various departments of the city council responded to a protest by squatters who were being evicted from the land they occupied.

The squatters put up a fierce resistance. But the potential for violence was tempered by the fact that the squatters had already been compensated (despite the fact that they had no legal claim to the land) and were facing regular workers from the city government.

"Representatives from all of the agencies involved faced the residents, we walked hand in hand," said Charles Lin (林欽榮), the director of Kaohsiung City's Bureau of Public Works.

The government's move to demolish the shanties and evict the squatters had the support of those who lived nearby.

"When I passed by before, [the area] was always very dirty and disorganized, now it will be very nice," said Jason Wang (王量噌), a salesman at Kymco motorcycles and a Kaohsiung resident.

With his long involvement in Taiwan's democracy movement, Hsieh has been making an effort to set an example for the campaign through his governance as the head of the southern special municipality.

While undertaking the Birthday Park project, Hsieh has impressed people with an ability to act as a bridge between the slum dwellers, the police and the five local government departments associated with this project, according to city officials.

"No former mayor had the guts to remove the squatters. But according to our policy of increasing public space for citizens, it had to be done. With some political determination we got rid of them last year," Lin said.

The relatively peaceful resolution of the Kaohsiung squatter problem was in contrast to similar problems during the construction of No.14 and No.15 parks in Taipei in 1997.

Lin was able to describe this from his first hand experience as a city planner in Taipei at the time.

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