In the past, politicians and businesspeople seemed to have a special distaste for urban green spaces and trees. Nowadays, even the blue skies behind and above buildings are at risk.
Some examples are Farglory Group’s office building behind the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei and the 29-story combined hotel and residential building behind the Lanyang Museum (蘭陽美術館) in Yilan County.
Both buildings block the sunlight and disturb the view to where the horizon gracefully meets the sky.
In the past, no one thought of such things as a problem, but our standards are now higher and we care about scenery and sunlight.
For example, Japan has had legislation to safeguard people’s right to sunlight for more than four decades, but Taiwan did not pass such legislation until last year. The US, the UK and Germany, as well as several Southeast Asian countries, have landscaping laws, which also safeguard access to sunlight.
Despite efforts to create similar legislation in Taiwan for more than a decade, the nation has failed to catch up to other countries due to pressure from interest groups. It has also failed to implement legislation to regulate landscape architecture licenses: Bills have passed a second legislative reading on few occasions, without ever making it to a third.
As a result, there is a never-ending series of landscaping disputes. Residents in Zhishanyan (芝山岩) in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) this year filed a lawsuit against the construction of two 14-story buildings in the area. The buildings are to look like a giant pair of chopsticks raising from the ground and poking holes in the Taipei sky.
Local organizations have also protested in front of Taipei City Hall, saying that after receiving the construction license in 2012, the developer changed the design.
Protesters say the Taipei Department of Urban Development (DUD) failed to submit these changes to the Urban Development Review Committee, as required by regulations, and instead twice approved the changes without involving the public or agencies such as the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs.
According to the protesters, the size of the site was increased by 193m2 compared with the original construction license, raising floor space by 2,000m2.
As Zhishanyan is an area with a rich ecology and cultural heritage, a set of specific rules for development there have been in place since 2013.
The rules state that an urban development review that allows for resident participation is required for any large construction projects with a far-reaching impact, or such that might cause major harm to public security, health or the preservation and maintenance of historical buildings.
The DUD ignores these rules, saying that the development is sanctioned under older legislation. However, many residents think that approving design changes without review after licensing shows that the DUD is conniving with the developer.
The view on beautiful landscape that should belong to all of us is now to belong exclusively to residents in a luxury compound.
The right to access to views of landscape and sunlight involves a host of interests, but when the public wants its share, it faces a monster.
Our elected representatives must work harder and pay more attention to public opinion instead of acting recklessly.
Lu Ching-fu is a professor at Fu Jen Catholic University’s applied arts department.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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