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Greener Cities

A large-scale planting project in New Taipei City’s Banqiao District is yielding edible results. (Photo courtesy of New Taipei City Government)
A large-scale planting project in New Taipei City’s Banqiao District is yielding edible results. (Photo courtesy of New Taipei City Government)
 
Taiwan’s municipal administrations are restoring ecological balance in urban environments by expanding and better managing green spaces.
 
In July 2015, Taiwan’s cities achieved a milestone in arboreal management via promulgation of a revised version of the Forestry Act. This came after years of efforts by conservationists to develop a new legal framework, including an additional chapter requiring regular surveys and health assessments for trees located on plains and in urban areas.
 
Chang Yu-sen (張育森), professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Taipei City-based National Taiwan University, describes the legislation as a significant start to building and maintaining an ecologically friendly and livable environment for enormous metropolis-dwelling populations.
 
Minsheng East Road (left) and Dunhua North Road are two major tree-lined avenues in downtown Taipei City. (Photos courtesy of Taipei City Government)
Minsheng East Road (left) and Dunhua North Road are two major tree-lined avenues in downtown Taipei City. (Photos courtesy of Taipei City Government)
 
Striking Balance
 
Urban greening addresses the issue of many people attracted to an area offering easy access to everyday amenities, but at the expense of natural ecological balance, Chang said. “While city residents would like to introduce plants to gardens, balconies and rooftops of their houses, urban administrations seek to return the environment to a more natural state by growing flora in public spaces like parks and road medians.”
 
According to Chang, urban trees have been improperly felled, pruned or transplanted to make way for construction projects. Such incidents are increasingly protested due to growing environmental awareness in Taiwan, he said. “In response, the law rules out unpermitted or unqualified treatment of protected trees.”
 
Vegetation and water-absorbing pavements are installed at Tianho Park in Taipei. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
Vegetation and water-absorbing pavements are installed at Tianho Park in Taipei. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
 
The next major move is the establishment of a central government unit devoted to overseeing urban trees, Chang said. He believes such an organization could be formed by reorganizing and merging parts of the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture like its Forestry Bureau and Taiwan Forestry Research Institute (TFRI).
 
Urban tree-related affairs are presently handled at the local level by municipal agencies. In 2003, Taipei City Government (TCG) was among the first to draft a law for protecting growths exceeding 15 meters in height and over 50 years of age. The legislation also covers any tree with a trunk diameter of 80 centimeters, circumference of 2.5 meters and crown of 1.3 meters, as well as those deemed culturally significant.
 
A committee was set up the same year tasked with various duties, including identifying suitable trees and reviewing conservation plans submitted by land developers. The body comprises city officials, representatives from TFRI and environmental groups, as well as academics like Chang.
 
Pruning classes are offered to contractors in New Taipei. (Photo courtesy of NTCG)
Pruning classes are offered to contractors in New Taipei. (Photo courtesy of NTCG)
 
Broad Mandate
 
There are more than 2,000 trees in Taipei eligible for protection under the tree law by TCG’s Department of Cultural Affairs, with technical assistance from the Public Works Department’s Parks and Street Lights Office. Director Michael Chen (陳榮興‬) said around 88,000 street trees in the city are managed in a registration system recording each growth’s height, size and species. “People can scan the QR Codes attached to trunks to obtain such information.”
 
By year-end 2019, green spaces in downtown areas accounted for 15.71 square kilometers or 5.94 square meters per capita. “They meet residents’ daily need for leisure activities,” Chen said. In total, taking in the surrounding foothill areas and nature reserves like Yangmingshan National Park, the 142.49 square kilometers of vegetation cover 52 percent of the city land.
 
In keeping with the international trend of sustainable urban development, Chen said his office’s decades of greening efforts are a response to climate change and the greenhouse effect. One project of note, which involved sprucing up roads with bright-colored flowers in 1996, 2003 and 2008, employed increasingly varied species of trees, plants and shrubs.
 
Subsequent undertakings in 2011 involved 39 tree-lined avenues, Chen said. “These improved air quality, alleviated the heat island effect and boasted a distinct local flavor.” In 2015, as per TCG’s so-called sponge city policy, new pavements, ponds and other facilities began to be installed at a number of parks to absorb and capture rainwater, with the help of plants, for further use and flood control.
 
A park in Taipei’s Shilin District features eye-catching flowers. (Photo courtesy of TCG)
A park in Taipei’s Shilin District features eye-catching flowers. (Photo courtesy of TCG)
 
Forging Ahead
 
The measures are part of an ongoing park project in Taipei adopting eco-friendly construction methods. A dozen facilities across the city have been selected to conduct analysis of target fauna disturbance, humidity, light, plant growth, soil, temperature and water. Since 2014, for instance, the indigenous Aquatica ficta fireflies and related habitats have been conserved at Daan, Muzha and Rongxing Garden parks with considerable success.
 
“Support from the public plays a crucial role,” Chen said, referring to assistance from community volunteers, nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and scholars. Among other groups, the Society of Wilderness has helped manage Fuyang Eco Park since 2004, leading the way in tackling the tough job of local ecosystem maintenance and organizing environmental education-themed events, Chen said. Similar projects backed by NGOs or the business sector for parks and street trees save about NT$40 million (US$1.33 million) in maintenance each year, he added.
 
New Taipei City Government (NTCG) is busy promoting the greening programs in Taiwan’s most populated metropolis. Its Agriculture Bureau, according to Commissioner Lee Wen (李玟‬), was the first of its kind countrywide to work along the lines of the Trillion Tree Campaign launched by the U.N. Environment Programme in response to global warming. “We’ve planted more than 1.2 million trees since 2006,” Lee said, adding that NTCG was also the first local government in Taiwan to expand annual March 12 Arbor Day celebrations to wide-ranging forestation programs.
 
The indigenous Aquatica ficta fireflies and habitat conservation project at Daan park is recording significant results. (Photo courtesy of TCG)
The indigenous Aquatica ficta fireflies and habitat conservation project at Daan park is recording significant results. (Photo courtesy of TCG)
 
Strong Numbers
 
Statistics from the bureau’s Landscaping Office reveal that through public-private sector cooperation, New Taipei has seen the biggest increase in forestland nationwide, rising from 139,533 hectares in 2011 to 155,483 hectares by the end of last year. Forest covers 76 percent of the city, increasing from 68 percent nine years ago. The additional green spaces include more than 300 parcels of idle land—totaling around 190 hectares—in downtown areas managed under the New Taipei Green Homeland project over the last decade.
 
One of the many important issues for officials to consider is plant cultivation techniques. Conservation of the endemic Wulai azalea species once relied heavily on propagation by stem cutting. “This asexual reproduction approach compromises genetic diversity and produces more vulnerable offspring,” Lee said, adding that seedling growth methods have been adopted instead on the advice of academics.
 
With one eye firmly on protection, Lee said, New Taipei’s relevant law covers culturally significant and protected trees, as well as those situated on streets. Since 2014, NTCG has organized pruning and transplanting certification for those contracted to carry out such tasks.
 
As of last December, there were 2,254 licenses granted to experienced professionals, who must attend tree-related classes every three years to renew their certificates. In the future, at least 200 places will be available per annum.
 
Children take part in a forestation program in New Taipei’s Shazhu Bay. (Photo courtesy of Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation)
Children take part in a forestation program in New Taipei’s Shazhu Bay. (Photo courtesy of Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation)
 
Good Timing
 
According to Lee, three years ago the Landscaping Office began offering courses to introduce international standards for arborist training. In Taipei, locals with certificates from U.S.-based International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) have been helping perform environmental due diligence on protected trees.
 
ISA-certified Chang feels the time is ripe for the central government to take the lead in urban tree affairs. “The scope could extend to establishing a national certification, recruiting and training system,” he said, citing the revised Forestry Act stipulating relevant measures to be formulated in consultation with the Examination Yuan and Ministry of Labor.
 
Forestry Bureau numbers indicate that 30,000-plus horticultural specialists take part in greening around Taiwan. The bureau, with full consideration for labor rights, is drafting a related certification regulation. “Once the status of these professionals is fully documented, they can play an even bigger role in shaping a future filled with green, livable cities,” Chen said. 
 
Retrieve from TAIWAN REVIEW
 
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