Taipei: Blending the Urban and Rural

Taiwan is a truly remarkable place. After traveling there for a few days, I see it almost as a novelty in the Asian world, an effectively free country that appears to have done a lot of things right in terms of fostering a positive environmental and political discourse. So often I feel that scholars focus on the negative effects of the industrializing countries of Asia in terms of reckless pollution and political suppression, but in Taiwan these issues seem to be more muted. The city of Taipei, in which my peers and I spent the entirety of our stay, is almost seamlessly incorporated into the surrounding environment characterized by dense forest and rolling mountains. There are no skyscrapers besides the lone Taipei 101, which serves as almost a comical structure amidst the otherwise mid-ride urban building developments. As one of the local people said to me, “I think it is ugly. It makes no sense! We spent way too much money on that.” Nonetheless, the city of Taipei seems to dissolve into the mountains surrounding it, as one can see from any one of the gorgeous views seen at the top of one of the peaks surrounding the city, or the top of Taipei 101. These images made me think about American perceptions of what cities should be and how people are assumed to live in such environments.

I feel that in the United States urban areas are simply considered the opposite of rural ones. One can live in the city or the countryside. The compromise, which has become a popular American phenomenon, is the existence of suburbs that combine the conveniences of a city and the comforts of a less populated environment. But what I saw in Taipei was the mergence of the urban and rural, apartment buildings built right up to the tree line of huge mountains, for example. Or riding on a metro that suddenly went from traveling underground to a raised track overlooking a forest canopy. A local Taiwanese woman I spoke with said she lives 20 minutes outside of her downtown office, in a small, quiet apartment in the mountains. This account represented a unique harmony between what I previously assumed to be contesting lifestyles. I can certainly see how Taipei can be an exceptionally livable city, one in which people aren’t necessarily faced with the decision between inhabiting a peaceful environment and one that reaps the benefits of industrialization. Though there are various economic challenges faces the city and the country of Taiwan, from what I can see that Taipei has struck the balance between modernization and preservation of the ever-vital natural environment.

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