WeOwn Taipei5

Fall 2014, We Own The City World Tour lands in Taipei, sparking engaging discussion replete with local stories, bottom-up and top-down practices and everything in between.

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We Own The City’s Asian tour included a jam-packed five-day program in Taipei October 13 – October 17, organized together with the Department of Cultural and Creative Industries Management, National Taipei University of Education (NTUE), and Community Empowerment Network, Taipei (CENT), and partnered with MONTUE, Community Empowering Society R.O.C., The Urban Design Center and U-Lab.


During the workshop discussion, co-editors Francesca Miazzo of CITIES and Tris Kee of Hong Kong University (HKU) were accompanied by Bishuang from CENT to introduce We Own The City in local context. Touching on diverse subjects, from urban farming, permaculture, waste and composting to art, environment, homelessness and the elderly, the role of community policy from 1965 to 2005 was noted to have included more creative work and social enterprises with NGO-based community support. For instance, there are current projects aimed at building a social enterprise around training homeless people to make hand soap with old oil and selling it in local markets; forming a discussion platform young people can use to create startups in their community; and engaging old shop owners in story telling to help preserve local identity. An emerging question is: how can lasting durability and necessary resources be combined with social incentive?

This question introduces a central theme of We Own The City, where institutions collaborate with auspicious citizen initiatives to enable durability, resources and success. On this note, Kee and Miazzo offered an introduction to We Own The City that offers examples and insights tied to Bishuang’s local contextual setting. Kee began with insights from Hong Kong, noting that neither extreme of top-down nor bottom-up works, so there is a resulting mix that includes diverse actors: e.g. elderly, women, practitioners. Spotlighting HKU’s interdisciplinary work in, for instance, architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture, the university pushes for students to pursue projects that make a real impact in society; that tap into pressing community issues; and that offer students an opportune environment to take chances, fail at times, and learn from their mistakes. In this way, Kee believes HKU is progressively transforming what university should be, and serving as a platform where community needs can be voiced and heard, in contrast to top-down planning. We Own The City emerges from its roots as an exhibition in Amsterdam to a globally researched publication as a larger example of work that challenges today’s working practices by targeting community needs, innovation and processes within a shifting, dynamic urban development landscape.

While a lot of knowledge about communities and community projects exist, Miazzo offered insights from Amsterdam’s case studies to share key issues discovered. For instance, relating to the locale, Miazzo highlighted that the Community Empowerment Center should work as an enabler facilitating community, people-driven initiatives, while the conceptual owner(s) and project should be from the community itself. Let the community lead, speak and be heard, projects often find trouble with accountability schemes, where local, people-driven projects require a mind shift from local authorities that are not open to such working practices, or projects that are more open ended; however, the importance of empowering citizens and enabling them to reach and achieve beyond circumstances is increasingly prevalent in contemporary urban society.


Next, the speakers addressed the audience, leading to an engaging discussion triggered by the question: what is your community?

The audience honed in on leadership and language. For instance, a local man who lives with his parents, commutes to work long hours in Taipei, and finds little time to engage in other, community-focused things, noted that a community leaders has to be capable of leading a transition, and that another form of elitism may arise. Miazzo shines new light on his concern, commenting that community leadership enables voices that may have remained silent to be heard. In this way, community leadership empowers through a new dialogue. A community leader differs from a top-down leader because they speak a different language, which is not meant literally, but in that community dialogue reaches different voices, concerns and needs than a top-down, institutional dialogue. From a community perspective then, it is an improvement to let people speak through community leadership than be silenced from authorities.

Once community momentum is gained through dialogue, leadership and action, then institutions are more likely to hear, engage and further enable community initiatives in inclusive development practices. This troublesome disconnect, however, between community/bottom-up and institutional/top-down leadership and language often requires mediation. It is difficult to identify particular and pertinent community needs, while also difficult, as YenYu from CENT commented, to talk with different stakeholders, apply flexible strategies to an undefined communication framework, overcome language barriers and discover stakeholder goals – a lot of emotional labor is required. This is where actors such as CITIES, HKU or myriad others who work with and speak languages of both communities and institutions are critical mediators; they are not top-down or bottom-up leaders; they are enablers.

Seeing cities, communities and neighborhoods in a new perspective, Miazzo emphasized the message that options to create community engagement and produce different forms of urban life are near endless, and as We Own The City portrays, imminent around the globe. In this way, the audience is encouraged to find opportunities for projects wherever they see potential – to look at the city as a space of possibilities rather than a place of constraint.


The evening program kicked off with notes on We Own The City’s 2011 beginnings and a book launch video. Following, local author YingTzu discussed her case study of Treasure Hill: Treasure Hill village is a ‘favela-like’ settlement sprawled on a hill bordering Taipei City and New Taipei City. When city government intended to demolish the settlement to make room for a new park, the Village’s long process of protest and coordination saved the land and transformed it into hybrid use. Under an adaptive reuse project aiming to open the settlement to more people, some original residents were relocated to renovated houses, while the rest of the vacant buildings house the Taipei Artist Village. (Nearly all attendees had visited Treasure Hill, and as part of the five-day We Own The City program, a field trip to informal settlements on 16 October will include a visit to the village.) YingTzu noted the shifting landscape, where in this case many elderly women have passed away, leading to a loss of local leadership and accelerating a loss of collective memory as different people and stakeholders hold an assortment of plans for the area. Today, the village contains features such as a cultural industry cluster, exhibition space, and youth hostel, with Treasure Hill becoming one of the most popular places in the city for young people to hang out. This transition highlights cultural preservation issues and government policy discussions. In result of a 2005 law allowing people – not just government – to point out preservation areas, there are now over 100 sites to preserve in Taipei’s diverse landscape. Today’s planning diversity has a history: the city’s main grid is a result of Japanese planning, with Taipei originally built within six walls embodying a utopian idea that resulted in a much less utopian and quite different reality than planned.

Stemming discussion, a Taiwanese architect connected to HKU and involved in a project in Huaguang raised the question of how individual designers look at community practice. The example surrounds a case where the government planned the fastest and shortest route for a high-speed line through the community, triggering individual desires to combine collectively. The architect was moved by the community’s 94 local families, who felt like they themselves and their way of life would be eradicated by the development. Here, individual desires combined collectively. Despite a fair amount of media attention, without funding or support the battle was long and resulted in 84 of the houses being relocated. Today, as public houses are redeveloped in an increasingly individualized community, questions emerge as to how to gauge the success of a project, and further, questions problems and presents opportunities for new practices surrounding the relationship between bottom-up and top-down actors.

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