Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning through Procrastination: The Preservation of Taipei's Cultural Heritage

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning through Procrastination: The Preservation of Taipei's Cultural Heritage

Article excerpt

Taiwan has recently undergone a period of rapid and radical change. An important and highly contested part of this process has been the rediscovery of a cultural heritage in the built environment. In this paper, we examine a long-standing dispute over plans first to redevelop and then to preserve one of the few streets in Taipei that still contains a significant number of buildings dating from the late imperial and Japanese periods. In particular we look at the shifting positions adopted by the municipal government, the consistent opposition to preservation on the part of the property owners, and the critical intervention of civil society groups at a strategic moment in the story. We set this dispute within the context of the politics of planning and public space in Taiwan and the articulation of a Taiwanese culture that can be seen to stand alongside that of mainland China.

Urban landscapes and national identity

For a long time the state has had a controlling interest in definitions of the past and how the past is interpreted in the contemporary landscape. It retains that interest today, especially where presentation to outsiders is involved. However, though the state might have a controlling interest, it has no monopoly on the definition of identity through landscape, and often therefore prefers to work in concert with elite (normally corporate) groups. Where it finds itself in conflict with interests that it sees as inimical - often, but not always, marginalised groups - the state has tended to rely on its armoury of coercive measures (Mitchell, 1995; Blomley, 2004). Recent work has taken this area of discussion in two general directions. On the one hand, writers such as Mitchell (2003), Olwig (2005) and Beasley (2002) have drawn attention to the social injustices that lie behind the naturalised landscapes created by economic, social and planning systems, and to geographies of resistance to these systems. On the other hand, a considerable range and weight of recent scholarly writing has cast into relief the dilemmas faced by the state in its attempts to retain its overall authority over the creation and interpretation of key landscape features. A particularly fruitful ground for enquiry has been found in Eastern Asia (Bunnell, 1999, 2002; Kong and Yeoh, 2003) and in Eastern Europe (Young and Light, 2001; Forest and Johnson, 2002). In both cases rapid change has forced the state to rethink its approach to the control of national identity and, often, to form coalitions with elite groups. It is to this body of work that this paper largely addresses itself, although it does so within a conceptual framework that encompasses some of the issues of inclusion and exclusion, individual rights and communal interests that are also being actively addressed in the literature.

It is no surprise to find that the Chinese state has been active in defining national identity and state priorities through its controlling hand on the shape of the urban environment. In recent years, the state has carefully orchestrated the extent and nature of involvement of business interests in the redesigning of China's cities, inviting capital interests from Hong Kong, for example, in the construction of the Wangfujing business and entertainment district in Beijing (Broudehoux, 2004; Wang, 2000). Not only is this true of the headline sites of Beijing, but it also applies to residual tracts of old hutong housing that have been preserved as historical landscape and valorised on the market as historical commodities. In Singapore, too, the government has sought to define what it means to be Singaporean through an active intervention in the design of the urban landscape. In particular, it has played on polarities of traditional and modern, Asian and Western, to moor the island state securely within a discourse of globalisation that allows for the valorisation of local tradition. To do this, it has created separate territories of ethnic identity in which everyday cultures are inked out of the tourist picture (Chang and Yeoh, 1999, 110). …

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