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Taipei’s disappearing green space

This means that, even in the 21st century, the city government feels free to do as it sees fit, without following proper procedure. It is once more taking land that urban development plans have set aside for use as parks and using it for urban facilities instead, without doing anything to make up for the loss of parkland. In so doing, the city government completely overlooks the active role green parkland can play in conserving water and moderating the effects of climate change. During the 1930s, the Japanese colonial government laid out plans for 17 parks in Taipei as part of its overall vision for urban living. Later, in the course of postwar urban development and construction, various structures were put up on these pieces of land that had originally been intended to be parks. As a result, a very large part of these parks is now used for other purposes. The most extreme example is Park No. 5, which has disappeared entirely to make way for buildings, including the Taipei Arena, the Songshan precinct police station, Taipei Physical Education College and the Taipei Cultural Center. Another example is the Da-an Forest Park, which has indeed been kept as a park but is also used in part for a metro station and an underground parking lot. In the original plan, the entire rectangle bordered by the Tamsui railway (now the Tamsui MRT line), Minzu East and West roads, Jianguo N Road and the Keelung River was originally designated as parks Nos. 1 to 4. This parkland was diverted bit by bit to accommodate various facilities in the course of postwar urban development. These service facilities should really have been built on other pieces of land allocated as part of the overall city plan. Such planning is one of the purposes and proper functions of government. However, this feature of Taipei’s urban development is related to certain historical factors, and using parkland to build urban facilities should be a thing of the past. The big rectangle on the south bank of the Keelung River that was originally designated as parkland was chosen as the main showground for the Flora Expo, with the main exhibition hall being built on the most densely wooded part of Xinsheng Park, which is at the westernmost end of the rectangle. So the first step in construction of the Flora Expo site was to chop down a thousand or more mature trees to make way for the hall. This decision reveals the failure of those responsible for planning the Flora Expo showground to design the project according to existing local conditions, as well as government bureaucrats’ failure to consider the issue of sustainable development. Climate change has become an issue in urban development all over the world, and the heat-island effect in the Taipei basin is becoming increasingly obvious. In summer, beneath clear blue skies, heat is trapped in the basin, pushing the temperature up to record levels. With the additional factor of radiant heat emanating from the concrete jungle, temperatures in Taipei sometimes measure close to 39°C. It has recently become trendy to hang greenery on buildings in an effort to stop radiant heat from penetrating indoors. However, parks and green spaces do much more to conserve water and provide shade, acting as a basic defense against the heat-island effect for the whole city. In the past, the main purpose in having parks in cities was to provide citizens with space for leisure activities, but today they have taken on the important additional function of keeping cities cool. The Taipei City Government’s decision to retain the exhibition halls after the Flora Expo is over shows that city bureaucrats regard green spaces and parks as non-essential items. That is why they have decided to keep what were originally supposed to be temporary structures standing in the parks, with no long-term consideration for citizens’ need for activity space, or for water conservation and temperature reduction. What, if anything, will they do to compensate Taipei’s residents for the repeated loss of parkland? I call on the city government to turn over an equal-sized area of publicly owned land in the central part of the city for use as parkland, and the responsible thing to do would be to use it to build permanent ecologically oriented parks. I sincerely hope that when the Flora Expo draws to a close, it will mark an end to the degradation of Taipei’s parks.
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