Renovate the riverside for a new city image

by on Monday, 28 December 2009 Comments
Creating free public spaces

The cleanup of the Danshui River has already produced a gradual improvement in its water quality. Combined with the development of wetlands it has formed an ecological corridor which also provides an alternative for urban sewage treatment, meeting with the energy saving, low carbon emission objectives of a sustainable city. The next step is to make the creation of urban open space for the Taipei metropolitan area, a part of the overall environmental policy.

The main necessary condition of an urban open space is that of public accessibility. When building an open space, it must be open to the public. The public should be aware of these places, have access to and be able to conduct their activities in these spaces and the spaces should be connected to the public transport routes, such as bicycles, walk paths and so on.

In addition to this, how open an open space is, depends on the freedom it provides. Contrary to normal urban construction areas, open spaces are far more than a part coloured in green on a land use map. They should provide the potential for spontaneous activity which the citizens are free to choose and it should encourage social interactions. It is for these reasons that the community building work currently being promoted with the Amis Sijhou tribes on Xindian Riverside in Taipei County has extra significance.

The rich city culture of the urban Aborigine tribes

The Sijhou tribes are located on the Xindian waterfront. Both the flood prevention path and part of a bicycle trail pass in front of the Sijhou tribe. When the middle class families from the city cycle the bike routes during their leisure time, they pass by the Sijhou tribe and see our community gathering and eating areas enhanced by the friendly, hospitable atmosphere of the Amis. This community eating space, which is called Badousi in the Ami language, also displays the vitality of this Ami community.

This Ami settlement on the riverside, is most certainly not a dark corner of the city, nor is it built illegally. On the contrary, the Xindian Sijhou tribes bring the ocean culture all the way from the Hualien-Taidong coastline. Since migrating to the cities, the culture now manifests itself as a lively social interaction space in our urban open space. Thus, they must not be marginalised outside the city.

The Sijhou housing issue therefore warrants the ending of selfish interests from those at Taipei County’s Water Resources Bureau and the Indigenous People’s Bureau, amongst others. They must break through the undue legal and formal restrictions, to create an opportunity for an historical breakthrough on Taiwan’s urban Aborigine housing rights. Resolving this problem will allow the Environmental Protection Bureau to build on their success cleaning the Danshui River and the Water Resources Bureau to continue cleaning the Sijhou area of the river, at the same time further enriching Taipei’s urban culture.

I must emphasise that the Ami are people of the water who they do not fear rivers and oceans. They are different from the Han Chinese so deeply rooted to the land and are even further from bureaucratic culture and the rationale of modern engineering. The Ami knowledge of the wetlands combined with their agricultural production and fishing operations, makes for an excellent cultural and ecological classroom. The Sijhou urban Aborigine culture is not merely a marginal culture waiting to be reeled in and integrated by the government; furthermore, Taipei’s urban culture is not one full of ideological bias, one that disregards citizens of different ethnicities, sex or class, and one where all conform to an identical urban culture. The Xindian Sijhou tribes are part of the city, and urban aborigines are citizens.

Following the shaven head protest by the indigenous movement with film director Hou Hsiao-hsien on Ketagalan Boulevard, the strong support from the Mayor of Taipei County Chou Hsi-wei, the efforts of the Water Resources Bureau and a whole year of participation on the design by the students and teachers at NTU’s Graduate School of Building and Planning, we have now reached the final mile in the plan for the Amis culture park. We call for the National Property Administration to use the cheap rent model employed on school land in the USA and for the Indigenous Peoples Bureau to compile a register of the remaining inhabitants in the Sijhou Ami Culture Park area so that an official document requesting support with expenses can be presented to the central Council of Indigenous Peoples, allowing for the commencement of the next stage of the building process. This last bit of effort is still required for the realisation of this beautiful dream.

Remodelling space, reshaping our urban image

The wetlands and the ecological corridor of the Danshui River are also areas of open land with water flowing through them; thus they are also the borders between districts. No matter which shore of the river one is on, when one looks back over the city you get a special view of the skyline, helping us to know the city and creating a unique urban image. Therefore the relaxing of restrictions and size management for urban design should compliment the remodelling of our urban image rather than working under commercial and developmental pressures and giving up controls on size and height, leading to an enormous quantity but exaggerated density, and a lack of variety in the size of constructions. This damage is a legacy of the rapid urban development administered in Taipei County and also a burden of the Urban and Rural Development Bureau.

The remodelling of the urban open space on the Danshui riverside is a new opportunity to recreate our urban image. The limits on construction on both sides of the Danshui River are indeed too relaxed and the skyline is too homogeneous, appearing flat and uninteresting. Crossing the river during the daytime, is nothing like experiencing the picturesque River Seine in Paris, nor is the night time crossing anything in comparison to the silhouette of Shanghai’s Huangpu River or the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Therefore if there are some high-rise buildings to serve as landmarks, it could help strengthen our urban identity.

Translated from Chinese by Nick Coulson
(Photo by Wu Jinyong)

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