Sonntag, 17. Juni 2007

Kaohsiung (高雄) – A city advances! – Eine Stadt steigt auf!

When I wrote my remarks about the communism in China Lu Er Fu and my wife complained: Why you show Kaohsiung (高雄) in this way as an ugly result of capitalism? Do you ignore the changes and all those recent improvements the second biggest city of Taiwan? Okay, I regret.

The German Ruhr Area in the 1960s: Wanne-Eickel´s Röhlinghausen district

Even pictures, on the one hand of my old home town Wanne-Eickel, located in the coal mining area of the Ruhr (I still remember the impressing big black mountains of stored coal that covered big parts of the city during my childhood.) and on the other hand of the tropical paradise Kenting, that shows the real beauty of Taiwan, could not calm „wo de Tai Tai" (my wife). So here is an article about the „real" situation in Kaohsiung – of course from my point of view.

Kenting in April, 2007, a love harbour for Taiwanese-German couples

Recently I read an article about the Holcim Forum 2007, that discussed about "Urban_Trans_Formation". One of their speakers was Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia. During his three year term (1998-2001) as Mayor he led massive efforts related to transportation, land use and housing for the poor, pollution abatement, and the critical need for public spaces.

Of course, you can´t compare the situation of Bogotá and Kaohsiung. The conditions are too different. Bogotá is the capital of a developing county. Kaohsiung reached almost the level of an advanced city, although its history is quite short. However, Peñalosa describes what is a good and sustainable city. This counts in South America as well as in Asia or Europe. Here are some of Peñalosa´s thesis summarized and combined with the situation in Kaohsiung:

View from "Kaohsiung shrine" or also called "Martyr´s shrine" to the city of Kaohsiung. The first guide book that I first purchased about Taiwan, written by Werner Lips, described the women of Taiwan as the most sad women of the world. But, can men be happy in this environment?

Peñalosa: "The 20th Century will be remembered as a disastrous one in urban history. The question is: Do we dare create a different, better city? How do we want to live? The measure of a civilization’s success is not its gross domestic product or its technology, but its citizens’ happiness. A quality city can provide much joy. And it is a magical good, because its capacity to provide joy does not wear out."

The children in a kindergarten of Kaohsiung enjoy the program of their volunteer assistant English teacher with German accent. How will be their situation, if they leave the class? Can they play later in a garden or do they have to face the terror of traffic?

"Beyond survival, happiness we need 1) to walk, 2) to be with people and 3) to not feel inferior. A city that is good for children, the elderly, the handicapped, the poor is good for everybody else. In every detail a good city must show respect for human dignity. In terms of transport, a good city is not one with great highways but rather one where a child in a bicycle could go safely everywhere. A transport system tends to produce a kind of city and a city is a means to a way of life. Therefore the urban design and transport issue is the same."

Motor scooters and cars dominate the traffic in Kaohsiung. The German city walker feels very often like poor rabbit. Local people are seemingly used to this, like the lady on the left who collects potential recycables to supplement her scarce pension. The driver of the car on the right doesn´t respect the traffic rules and ignores a one-way-road. Inbetween the garbage truck plays "Für Elise" composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, wrongly in the clip labelled as "A Maiden´s Prayer" by Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska:

"Most of what destroys quality of life in modern cities results from trying to make more room for cars. Polluting or clean, cars represent problems to urban quality of life. There is a competition for space and money between cars and people. Government funds for roads in big cities compete with funds for schools, nurseries, parks, housing, libraries in those cities and rural areas. Is a city friendly to cars, or a city friendly to people sustainable?"

20 lanes of concrete occupy the space around the toll station at highway 10 northbound. The loss of orchards and fields in the surrounding of Kaohsiung was during the last decades enormous. New road and industrial zones cover the ground where the parents of today still could play as children.

"Cars are extremely recent in human history. They are a means of social differentiation. There is not a "natural" level of car use in a city. It is Government which determines, explicitly or implicitly, how much will the car be used. Political pressures from car owners and other car related interests are so massive, that often it is forgotten that cities are for people, not for cars. If there was more space for cars, there would be more cars. If there was less space for cars, there would be less cars."

In Kaohsiung is free space for parking scarce and fees are high. If you don´t respect the rules easily your car can be towed away. At least they write the number of the license plate and a telephone number on the pavement, to get the information, where you can pick the car.

"Solving traffic jams with more or bigger highways is like putting out a fire with gasoline. Despite giant highways, eg Atlanta has more traffic jams every year. A long time ago advanced cities such as Manhattan or Zurich decided they would NOT build more road infrastructure in order to alleviate traffic jams. There are frequent traffic jams in Manhattan and nobody thinks that is a problem. If you are in a hurry, you take public transport. Traffic jams are effective means to achieve public transport use and Density. For traffic it is the same to double the number of cars, as to have the same cars do twice the distance. Be careful with the demands of the higher income groups: They rarely use the city. They only care for its roads, in order to drive from one private space to another."

This is a Picture of the picture of the construction site at the main station placed by Kaohsiung´s city government. The Zhong Shan Road crosses elevated the station area. However, what will be the future? The project provides an improved public transport and reduces the cut caused by the railway in the centre of Kaohsiung - or will the railway tunnel only offer more space for cars?

According this model of Kaohsiung´s future we can call the city "little Germania". The historic station building looks like a fly´s shit.

"When shopping malls replace public space as the meeting place for people, it is a symptom that a city is ill. Great cities do not have shopping malls. Their best shops always face public space."

The "Dream Mall" in Kaohsiung is the biggest shopping mall in Taiwan. Does it mean the city is ill?

"With good design, a modern city should still have communities. Density is the most important element of good transport, regardless of whether we use trains, buses, taxis, bicycles or walk."

A new residential area with high density is under construction at Nei-Wei-Pi Cultural Park in Kaohsiung. I worry if high density, a museum and a park are enough to form a good community.

"Can we design a transport system without knowing what kind of city we want? Transport is a peculiar problem: It gets worse as a society gets richer, clearly a not sustainable model. Which is the objective of our transport policy? a) Provide efficient mobility for all or b) Minimize traffic jams for the higher income groups? Transport cannot be solved simply with money: It takes changes in our way. In developing country cities transport is clearly not a technical, but a political issue. Who benefits from the policies adopted?"

The central park of Kaohsiung was in spring 2003 the place a light rail exhibition. A Siemens tramway connected two station on a former sports ground. It was a big event for the kids and their grandpas. The project is postponed, although its much cheaper than the metro construction. Because it seizes the oversized car roads of Kaohsiung its also a social and democratic concept according Peñalosa.

A virtual trip of 6 minutes with the tramway in Kaohsiung. The second part of the post will show the really beautyful places.

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