When an urban renewal project involves a building, a block or an area with historical or cultural value, everything possible should be done to preserve the location in question, participants told a forum yesterday.
The comments were made during a forum organized by the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS) in Taipei on urban renewal and preservation of historic sites.
“We all agree that urban renewal is necessary to beautify older parts of a city, which might become run down as time passes,” COSWAS secretary-general Wang Fang-ping (王芳萍) told the forum. “However, when a urban renewal project involves historical buildings or areas, we must be very careful and make preservation of the historic site the main objective of the project.”
It is about time we redefined “urban renewal” in this country, after the controversial demolition of the home of the Wang family in Taipei City’s Shilin District (士林) and an urban renewal project still in the preparatory stage that could impact the Wen Meng Building (文萌樓), Wang said.
The Wen Meng Building is one of the historical buildings in Taipei’s Datong District (大同). It was used as a brothel from the Japanese colonial period until all licensed brothels were abolished by the city government in 2001, and now houses the collective’s headquarters.
The Wen Meng Building was recently sold and a number of construction firms have expressed an interest in launching an urban renewal project in the area, prompting the collective and its supporters to mobilize.
“Article 6 of the Urban Renewal Act [都市更新條例] stipulates that sites with historic, cultural, or artistic value that are in need of preservation or maintenance could be designated as an urban renewal project sites,” Wang said. “Please note that the objective of an urban renewal project in this context is to protect sites with historical value not damage them.”
“The area was designated a red light district for Taiwanese in the early 1900s by the Japanese colonial government and according to official figures in 1917, there were 420 registered prostitutes in the area,” Wang said. “There are many very interesting stories connected to this area.”
Chiang Wei-shui’s Cultural Foundation executive director Chiang Chao-ken (蔣朝根), who is also the grandson of Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), a leader in resisting the Japanese colonial regime, supports the objectives of the collective.
“Many important anti--colonial organizations developed and had headquarters in the area surrounding the Wen Meng Building, it would be a pity if the area was simply ‘renewed’ and the old buildings replaced with high-rise luxury apartment or office towers,” -Chiang Chao-ken said. “A people with no respect for history are a cruel people.”
A representative of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs promised that the Wen Meng building would not be demolished as it was already designated a historical building.
However, participants asked that the entire block — not just one building — be considered part of a future urban renewal project.