Life & Art
Urban regeneration in Taiwan
The government has ambitious goals to replace ageing buildings with newer, greener versions but urban regeneration comes with a cost, not only in terms of the physical loss of existing buildings but also the psychological cost to the local community.
By Paul Shelton
To those of us in greater Taipei (meaning Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taoyuan, and Keelung) we cannot but notice a skyline awash with construction cranes. High rise buildings, be they commercial, residential or a combination of both seem to spring up daily.
The construction activity in the heart of a city usually comes at the cost of an older pre-existing building or complex and with it comes what are sometimes hidden costs to the local community. It is also clear that many buildings within greater Taipei are old and yet still vibrantly occupied and much loved by the multi-generational residents who have raised families in these locations, attended local schools, and supported the local businesses for decades.
And yet, in 2020, the share of the population in Taiwan aged 65 years and above reached 16% of the total population with this share projected to grow to 40% in 2060. Taiwan is now less than four years from becoming a super-aged society, meaning 20% of its citizens will be over 65 years old.
The older residential buildings with their terrazzo concrete floors and wooden balustraded stairwells (walk ups) are simply not designed to accommodate an ageing population nor meet the aspirations of Millennials and Gen Z Taiwanese who are looking for modern apartment buildings (with facilities) and they want these facilities within the city and not on the outskirts with lengthy commutes (although I have personally witnessed some amazing single apartment transformations within these old structures).
Hence Taiwan is faced with the issue of urban regeneration, and in fact, urban regeneration has been viewed as an important strategy for urban development since as early as 1974. The aim of Taiwan’s urban regeneration in 1974 was to utilise urban land with planning strategies, improve the physical, economic and environmental state of the cities and increase public interest.
Whilst the 1974 Urban Planning Act is recognized as the first milestone of the urban renewal legislation in Taiwan, the 1998 Urban Renewal Act established on a statutory basis, the systems, and policies of urban regeneration in Taiwan.
The violent earthquake that struck Taiwan on 21 September 1999, resulted in many people becoming homeless and lots of buildings in desperate need of reconstruction work. The catastrophe provided a real opportunity to test and fully implement the Urban Renewal Act. The act and its renewal system were modified, as necessary, through the radical physical reconstruction of the disaster areas. Communities damaged by the disaster were aided to start their new lives by the act.
Urban regeneration has always been viewed as part of the national level urban development policy and its broad goals are to:
- Boost the economy
- Raise environmental quality
- Improve infrastructure and building construction.
Building on from the initiatives in 1974 and 1988, in January 2005 the Executive Yuan announced the Urban Regeneration Acceleration Scheme (“Acceleration Scheme”) containing 2 categories:
- Government-led regeneration projects (led by the Construction and Planning Agency of the Minister of the Interior (CPAMI))
- Private-led regeneration projects (for which the CPAMI and relevant responsive authorities provide counseling and assistance).
Overall, the goal of the Acceleration Scheme aimed to expand urban regeneration from 'a block's reconstruction' to 'a region's redevelopment' as well as encourage the private sector to invest communities. For the goals to be achieved it required:
- Effective reuse of derelict or occupied national-owned land
- Providing job opportunities and increasing the growth of industries
- Selecting potential redevelopment areas (MRT lines, waterfront areas, old city areas, etc.)
- Assisting the public to carry out community renewal projects
- Subsidizing public construction and property removal in regeneration areas
- Improving the environment and historical preservation to simulate economic growth.
I believe all these efforts have, in their own way, had a positive impact but as always, Taiwan marches on and we are now witnessing the latest initiative with a direct impact on urban regeneration. This is the 2050 Net-Zero Transition as declared by the Taiwanese president on Earth Day, 12 April 2021, followed by the March 2022 publication by Taiwan’s National Development Council’s (NDC), of “Taiwan’s Pathway to Net-Zero Emissions in 2050”. This blueprint aims to promote, inter alia, technology R&D and innovation in key areas, guide the green transition of Taiwan and drive a new wave of economic growth and obviously this blueprint will of be major importance to urban regeneration in greater Taipei.
What we are now witnessing is urban regeneration being directly tied into Taiwan’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015. Importantly, one of the 17 SDGs is “Sustainable Cities and Communities”.
2050 might seem some years away but it is not intended as a “big bang” date in terms of achieving the goals. There are a series of rolling strategies and milestones that will directly impact new and existing buildings with the aim of creating sustainable cities and communities not only just in greater Taipei but across all of Taiwan. These strategies and milestones are ambitious, but Taiwan seems adept at taking on challenges and turning them into opportunities.
At a very high level the Taiwanese government wants to see buildings with improved exterior design and to ensure energy efficiency in both new and existing buildings. Indeed, by 2030, all new public buildings will need to be energy efficient class 1 (the highest level of efficiency) and/or near to zero-emissions. By 2040, 50% of existing buildings, whether commercial or residential, must be upgraded to building energy efficiency class 1 or at near zero-emissions. This alone is a staggeringly ambitious milestone even if you just consider greater Taipei. But by 2050, 100% of new buildings and more than 85% of existing buildings must be at or nearly at zero-emission levels. All of this in just under 30 years!
From a practical level, all new buildings will need to be enveloped with thermal insulation and there will need to be a massive improvement in the thermal insulation of existing buildings. These measures will also require the establishment of new energy efficient evaluation systems and commensurate strengthening of building energy efficiency regulations.
We’ll need to see new energy saving technologies for buildings and R&D of new and innovative low-carbon construction methods and apply those same innovations to the energy efficiency of existing public and private buildings.
The 2050 Net-Zero Pathway does recognize that these changes will need social support systems that will realize a just and equitable transition and civic engagement. There will need to be social engineering mechanisms in place that turn conflict into opportunities (with ways to mediate conflicts and disputes that will naturally arise from the transition). This transitioning will require strong public-private partnerships to increase the resilience of a transitioning society. Most importantly the government has committed to “leaving no one behind”.
Currently, the countrywide cost of these building related initiatives is set at approximately NT$21 billion but it is unclear how much of that will be needed just for greater Taipei. Whilst the NDC’s pathway gives a detailed overview of strategies and milestones, what it does not yet give is detailed explanation of how all of these will be implemented. If 2030 is the first milestone date, we don’t have much time to “get the ball rolling” as the saying goes (and I’m certainly not advocating the wholesale rolling of the wrecking ball!).
But, as noted above, urban regeneration comes with a cost, both the physical loss of pre-existing buildings or complexes and the psychological cost to the local community (particularly the older residents). Governments can only do so much through legislation, regulation, and town planning, but urban regeneration will not succeed when there is a failure to respect and involve the affected communities. So how to deal with these issues and ensure the sense of community continues in the years ahead? Whilst we await further details from either the NDC, the government or other such affiliated bodies I thought it was important to highlight a group that has been playing a unique and important educational role on the question of urban regeneration within the greater Taipei area since 2019 – the Taipei Youth for TURF Association.
TURF stands for the Taipei Urban Regeneration Future (drawing on the concept of an area, a field, and the re-covering of new turf after turning the soil).
I spoke recently with Allison Fong (the CEO of TURF) who explained that TURF is not associated with the government or property developers. TURF is an educational entity that seeks to educate the public about urban regeneration. As part of that educational role TURF interviews government officials, it updates the public on what/why the government is doing and how the government needs the support from local citizens on their initiatives. TURF uses video production to create messages for the community in terms of what the government is doing and going forward TURF will be increasing its focus also on the circular economy, academics and architects who create green buildings and use recycled materials (very much in line with what will be needed in terms of the 2050 Net-Zero Pathway’s strategies and milestones for buildings).
TURF was established to encourage and support young graduate students/postgraduates to learn independent thinking and communication through civic issues related to Taipei's urban regeneration, from discovering problems, clarifying the essence of problems, and then solving problems.
TURF’s vision, as explained by Ms Fong, is to let young people create a beautiful and distinctive future concept of greater Taipei with a century-long vision and a politically neutral attitude. To quote Ms Fong, TURF aims “through understanding, tracking, and communication, to bring together the similarities and differences of Taipei citizens towards the coexistence of international diversity, promote a friendly and sustainable decentralized environment, balance employment, entrepreneurship, residence, sports, leisure, and healthy development, humanistic life education and life aesthetic taste improvement and specially to have a deeper willingness to identify and participate”.
TURF also draws on the UN Habitat’s international experience which shows that urban regeneration projects are highly complex, and the key to their success lies in the need for all stakeholders, including local governments, communities, experts, and residents, to reach a consensus and clear vision before launching a target project. The vision and participating plans require inclusiveness of the disadvantaged and multi-level and cross-border communication and discussion to satisfy the considerations of all stakeholders.
With 2050 in mind, TURF is not in this for the short term. It recognizes that during any period of urban regeneration, the process of necessary public participation and residents being given the right to participate is lengthy and requires long-term and effective communication between all parties. Only in this way can mutual trust be generated through cognition and interaction, which is also the only way for the project to survive.
TURF has also turned to World Bank literature which suggests that the process of urban regeneration is dynamic. "City Regeneration", as coined by the World Bank, is not only to rebuild urban buildings, but also to think about how to restart economic activities and life functions, in addition to continuous maintenance and investment, it is also necessary to regularly check and correct goals to achieve a long-term sustainable urban regeneration movement.
TURF especially invites young residents working or living in greater Taipei to join and actively participate, as well as adults from the following fields: legal affairs, finance, urban architecture, and landscape, digital, smart innovation and again, all these fields of expertise are going to be very much in demand in coming years and the milestones we have discussed above.
No doubt TURF has a challenging task as the skyline of greater Taipei continues to fill with cranes and towering constructions, but I believe, as residents we all have an important role to play in urban regeneration. We must also ensure that the government’s commitment to “leaving no on behind” is honoured and that we all do our part, to the extent possible, to meet the challenges of the 2050 Net-Zero Pathway and create a resilient society.
Paul Shelton is a consultant with 30 years of experience in the international financial services and related industries with skills in all aspects of legal and financial crime compliance and regulatory relationship advisory and management.