Reinventing Kaohsiung

Back in April 2013, Business Traveller Asia-Pacific published my article about the great strides forwards Kaohsiung was making in terms of livability. I won’t post the entire article, just the first few paragraphs; it’s now seriously out of date because the city has continued to make steady progress.

For much of Taiwan’s postwar history, Kaohsiung wasn’t so much lagging behind as written off. Business visitors described the oceanside city as irredeemably polluted, saying it had the sprawl and congestion of Taipei but little of the capital’s cuisine and none of its cultural attractions.

Until the late 1990s they were mostly right. An early sign of the city’s betterment was Love River changing color. Even before Taiwan made the shift from authoritarianism to democracy, public demands that something be done about the smelly, tar-black waterway were too loud to ignore.

Sewage plants are one reason why Love River now has a much healthier hue, but ecological engineering techniques also played a role. So the water’s edge would take on a more natural appearance, the river’s banks were covered with coconut-fiber matting in which aquatic plants could take root, but which will eventually decompose.

The fact that many of the city’s nastiest industries have migrated to the Chinese mainland has helped. Kaohsiung’s sky, like its river, is bluer than it used to be.

In late 2010, Kaohsiung City merged with the surrounding county, increasing the population to 2.8 million. The municipality now encompasses many rural districts, up to and including the south face of Mount Jade, East Asia’s highest mountain. But even before the reorganization, urban Kaohsiung managed to go from way behind Taipei in terms of green space per resident to slightly ahead. It’s little wonder “the general impression of Kaohsiung has taken a 180-degree turn,” to quote a mid-2012 article in CommonWealth, one of Taiwan’s most respected Chinese-language publications…