Wu Chen-yao (吳禎耀) can still recall his teenage days when he played in the Green River (綠川), a 6.1km canal that runs through Taichung’s Central District (中區).
“There were all kinds of fish — tilapia, eel — and we would go into the water to catch them, while our mothers washed clothes there,” said Wu, the 67-year-old warden of the district’s Jiguang Borough (繼光).
The district is the birthplace of Taichung’s cultural and economic activities, which is crossed by two major canals — Green River and Willow River (柳川).
However, local residents usually just call them “ditches” due to the heavy pollution caused by household and industrial wastewater as a result of Taichung’s industrialization in the 1980s.
As more people moved out of the district in the 1990s, when urban development spread westward, the canals received even less attention, apart from complaints about their smell.
However, things have been changing since 2014 under a government-led project to revitalize the district.
A 17-month Green River renewal plan was recently completed and the river reopened to the public on Feb. 10, following a similar project with the Willow River from 2014 to 2016.
The initiatives are aimed at improving the canals’ water quality and flood-prevention capabilities, as well as creating a water-friendly environment to make the old district more attractive, Taichung Water Resources Bureau Director Chou Ting-chang (周廷彰) said.
“The management of the waterways determines a city’s destiny,” he said. “We want to restore the reputation of ‘Little Kyoto’ for the old downtown.”
Urban development in Taichung, which started in 1900 during the Japanese colonial period, was modeled after the Japanese city of Kyoto, known for its beautiful rivers and checkerboard-style streets.
Renovation work started with the Willow River, as it has a more spacious environment and less traffic, Chou said, adding that the pilot project was then used to solicit public feedback and make adjustments to the Green River project.
Facilities were established in both canals to divert polluted water to nearby sewage treatment plants before being released back into the waterways, he said.
These methods have led to significant improvement in the canals’ water quality, the bureau said.
Citing the river pollution index, the bureau said that the Willow River’s reading dropped from 9 to 2.75, while the Green River’s fell from 8.25 to 2.75 — meaning their pollution status has been downgraded from severely polluted to lightly polluted.
To create a friendly environment for residents, the bureau has designated stretches of 300m and 610m along the Willow River and Green River respectively for pedestrian walkways.
The government went a step further with the just-completed Green River project by applying a trademark for the canal, the first of its kind in the nation, as well as holding an exhibition to promote the waterway and the Central District.
Iehihuku, a 90-year-old bakery in Taichung, launched a Green River-themed pastry, while commemorative “Green River beers” and “Green River red envelopes” are on the market as well.
An exhibition is under way until March 11 featuring works by artists using their five senses to describe what they feel about the river.
While the canal renovation projects have been lauded by the public, there are still issues that need to be adddressed.
“Yes, the water is a bit cleaner and the environment is better, but I am not sure how long the Green River and its trademark will interest people so they will keep coming back to the area for tourism or shopping,” Wu said.
Grace Lin (林秀娟), who has witnessed the canals’ transformations, said that there is not enough water-friendly space, diverse facilities and integration of nearby tourism resources in the renovation of the Willow River.
There are other complaints, including that the budget — NT$370 million (US$12.7 million at the current exchange rate) for the Willow River and NT$850 million for the Green River — was too expensive.
Chou said that construction of scenic spots along both canals, which will feature their nearby communities, are continuing.
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