[Field Notes] Climate Vulnerability in Shezidao 社子島的氣候脆弱度
Originally published on the GI Lab (Green Infrastructure Lab) blog.
本文為2021年臺英(MOST-ESRC)雙邊協議型國際合作研究計畫「達成氣候韌性鄰里的都市綠化」(110–2923-M-130–001-MY2) This article is a part of the “Urban greening for climate-resilient neighbourhoods” project funded by an ESRC-MOST UK-Taiwan networking grant.
Climate vulnerability: natural and socio-political factors
Cycling along Shezidao’s inner streets and zigzagging across plots of farmland wedged between factories, one is greeted with a picture that is quite distinct from that offered by the view from the riverbanks.
From an initial visit, one can observe clear signs of vulnerability to climate hazards and environmental degradation. These range from flooding risk, to soil contamination, industrial pollution, infra-structurally unsound settlements, etc. These risks are both the product of ‘natural’ characteristics of Shezidao as a low-lying alluvial peninsula, along with socio-economic factors that have shaped local developments.
On the one hand, Shezidao’s topography makes it historically vulnerable to overflowing from the surrounding Danshui and Keelung Rivers. On the other hand, contingent processes such as urban development and land use patterns, along with specific public policies (e.g. flood control strategies) have shaped (and further undermined) local resilience to climate risk in Shezidao.
The Taipei Area Flood Control Plan of 1973 designated Shezidao as a flood-zone, and enforced a development ban which has prohibited both construction and repair work for the past 52 years (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 1973). This policy has effectively banned Shezidao from intensive urban development, leaving the majority of the surface area zoned for agricultural exploitation / green space only. The potential lifting of this ban and the development model proposed by the government are at the heart of heated conflicts over the fate of the island, pitting pro-development factions against local activists concerned about risks of losing socio-environmental networks due to wide-spread evictions and relocations that would result from the current land acquisition scheme, known as ‘zone expropriation’ (區段徵收).
Housing conditions vary between permanent and highly informal. The development ban has meant that residents are effectively blocked from repair works and improving their living conditions, at the cost of losing their legal status.
Constructions extend to the edge of flood walls, despite high risks of flooding.
Evolutions in land-use patterns
As a flood-prone area banned from development, much of the land surface is zoned for agricultural use and green space. Shezidao is home to an extensive farming economy, with agriculture representing 58% of land use and totalling 170 hectares according to a survey in 2014 by the Taipei City Government (TCG, 2016). Much of the raw greens supply (e.g. Arugula) in Shezidao was consumed in the greater Taipei area. At the time of the survey, there were 377 farming households, with 90% of the latter cultivating all year-round (ibid.). This amounts to less than half of the farming population recorded in the 1970s, at a time when 50–100 tons of fresh vegetables were produced per day to supply the Taipei market (Taipei Lugong Farmland and Water Conservancy Association, 1993 cited in Hsu, 2021). Indeed, agricultural output has slowed down over time, particularly following the construction of the Zhongshan Highway, which facilitated the transport of cheaper agricultural goods from central and southern Taiwan, leading Shezidao to lose its location benefit (ibid.). Other factors include the ageing of the farming population, and the resulting increase of fallow farmland. In step with these trends, illegal factories have begun to develop exponentially from the 1980s onwards, attracted by cheaper land, flexible land use and the close vicinity to Taipei (Chen, 2019).
Scattered plots of agricultural land stretch across 170 hectares, predominantly growing vegetable crops.
Agricultural output has slowed down over the decades, partly due to an ageing population.
Shezidao is now home to approximately 500 factories spanning various industries, including metal processing, printing, wood/paper processing etc. (TCG, 2016; 彭杏珠, 2020a). Up to 99% of factories here are unregistered and operating illegally on land zoned for agricultural use. The boom in industrial development may be a reflection of wider structural factors, such as the often unaffordable cost of industrial lands, as small and medium businesses are often priced out of industrial parks surrounding Taipei (Liu, Lu and Teng 2016). The encroachment of industrial factories and dumping sites on farmlands may in turn generate various public health risks due to contaminated soil and water, untreated wastewater and industrial waste (彭杏珠, 2020b).
Agricultural land can often be found wedged in between factories, raising concerns
surrounding the proper disposal of industrial waste and the potential contamination of soil and water.
Shezidao has been at the heart of a long-standing and highly politicized controversy over plans to develop the area. Several mayors have attempted to develop Shezidao during their tenures, but were met with various obstacles including public opposition, disputes over flood protection plans, and failed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs). In order to lift the construction ban on Shezidao, the current development plan must pass four stages of review (ensuring compatibility with both flood control policies and master urban plans, EIAs, and managing the process of land acquisition (under present scheme of ‘section expropriation’).
Traces of political resistance to current development plans are visible, including these posters, voicing a strong rejection of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-J’s strategy, and a wider distrust of public authorities.
Meanwhile, advertisements for land on sale are scattered across the island, pointing at a potential future where Shezidao becomes open for development
Living with flooding: coping mechanisms and adaptation strategies
With flooding representing the most acute natural hazard facing locals of Shezidao, we were able to observe signs of coping strategies developed at various scales. Flood events have formed and deformed the land over time, where fluctuating human settlements have been recorded since as early as the 17th century (Hideo Nishioka, 1993 cited in Hsu, 2021; 林素雯, 2009). Indeed, residents have learnt over time to cope with the challenge of living within a highly flood-prone area, engaging in preventative and impact-minimizing measures and passing down local knowledge over generations (ibid.).
The flood walls surrounding the island represent the most visible form of institutional adaptation resulting from top-down urban planning. Embankments have been constructed and strengthened following public pressure, and currently provide residents with protection against 20-year floods. However this level of protection remains inadequate in comparison to the rest of Taipei, where flood walls are engineered at a 200-year flood standard. Additional infrastructure include drainage ditches converted from old river channels or irrigation channels, along with the restoration of wetlands (author’s observations).
In the absence of strong government intervention, residents are likely to resort to household or community scale solutions. Modifications to the physical and built environment are amongst the most visible signs of coping mechanisms. Evidence of household infrastructural adaptation include the nearly systematic raising of foundations, elevated door entries, sandbags to prevent the ingress of water etc.
Elevated entries are a common type of household level infrastructural adaptation to flooding.
Flood walls surround the island, estimated to provide a 1 in 20 year standard of protection.
Grass-roots adaptation strategies and the role of social capital
Significant lessons can be drawn from a deeper understanding of how local communities are already coping with conditions of vulnerability, and have developed age-old traditions, particular relationships with their environment, social structures and other adaptive mechanisms.
Beyond physical forms of adaptation, local communities in Shezidao have also developed collective, mutual support networks. Unique forms of care and solidarity are embedded in local community organizations: what is lacking in material/financial capital is often balanced out with strong social capital.
Residents are often seen gathering in communal spaces, such as open air kitchens where resources are shared and food is prepared to be consumed collectively. These informal structures are forms of grassroots capacity: neighbours often provide the first line of relief and social care, in the context of lacking public service provision. The residents we spoke to showed a deep and tacit understanding of their community (e.g. people’s regular habits and needs etc.). This level of integration is tied to Shezidao’s particular rural context, where social cohesion is facilitated by networks that have been sustained through time, distinct from other urban settings where community relations are eroded and more transient in nature.
Religious belief also plays an important role in strengthening the social fabric of the island. Religious spaces such as temples and shrines play multiple roles, acting as spaces for rituals, community gathering and other local folk activities (e.g. Karaoke for the elderly). The role of religious belief could also signal the importance of what Wamsler terms ‘emotionally oriented strategies of adaptation’ (2007; 2018). Indeed, residents often rely on faith to navigate times of crisis.
Religious and folk traditions also reflect the importance of water to life on Shezidao. Yin (ghost) temples can be found scattered across the island, where lives lost to flooding are respected and remembered. Other key festivities, such as the Dragon Boat Festival (held on May 7th of the lunar calendar) include sacrificial ceremonies and river offerings, with the purpose of cleansing and purifying the rivers (康旻杰，2016；Hsu, 2021).
Resource sharing is a common feature of social life on Shezidao. As many others across the island, this open-air kitchen has been disused since the Covid-19 outbreak in April 2020, due to fears of community spread and the vulnerability of seniors, many of whom live in multigenerational houses where the risks of contagion are higher.
In conclusion, this initial field trip has provided enriching insights into both the range of climate and environmental risks facing residents of Shezidao, along with ways in which social resilience is deeply embedded in particular forms of socio-ecological relations that have been preserved through time.
In a time when climate change adaptation is rising on urban planning agendas worldwide, we argue there is great value in turning our attention towards existing adaptive mechanisms developed by local communities, in order to better inform policy decisions and safeguard just and equitable transitions.
Archival Compilation Group of the Taipei Lugong Farmland and Water Conservancy Association, 1993. History of the Taipei City Lugong Farmland and Water Conservancy Association. (臺北市瑠公農田水利會會史編纂小組，1993. 臺北市瑠公農田水利會會史)。
西岡英夫 (Nishioka， Hideo)（20011200）。[浮洲村落「社子」–鄰近島都的特殊村落之鄉土觀察記]。《數位典藏與數位學習聯合目錄》。
Hsu, S., 2021. Flood Control Infrastructure, Human-Water Relations, and the Tensions of Shezidao Landscape in Taipei (堤外廣土水環流：防洪建設、人水關係與社子島地景張力). National Taiwan University Master Thesis. Accessible via: https://tdr.lib.ntu.edu.tw/handle/123456789/8503
Liu, K., Lu, K.C. and Teng, K.Y., 2016. Taiwan’s Industrial Land Crisis. Commonwealth Magazine, 611. Accessible via: https://english.cw.com.tw/article/article.action?id=18
Ministry of Economic Affairs, 1973. Flood Control Plan Proposal for Taipei Area (62年台北地區防洪計劃建議方案). Accessible via: https://www-ws.wra.gov.tw/Download.ashx?u=LzAwMS9VcGxvYWQvNDIzL3JlbGZpbGUvMC8yMzkxOC9kNDU3OGNiNy01NjU3LTQyYzYtYWFiZS1lODhjOGI5N2RjNzYucGRm&n=NjLlj7DljJflnLDljYDpmLLmtKroqIjlioPlu7rorbDmlrnmoYgo6I2J5qGIKS5wZGY%3d
Taipei City Government, 2016. Modification Plans for Shilin and Shezidao areas (變更士林社子島地區主要計畫案). Accessible via: https://www-ws.gov.taipei/Download.ashx?u=LzAwMS9VcGxvYWQvcHVibGljL0F0dGFjaG1lbnQvNjkyMTYxODUxNzAucGRm&n=NjkyMTYxODUxNzAucGRm&icon=..pdf
Wamsler, C., 2007. Bridging the gaps: stakeholder-based strategies for risk reduction and financing for the urban poor. Environment and Urbanization, 19(1).
Wamsler, C., 2018. Mind the gap: The role of mindfulness in adapting to increasing risk and climate change. Sustainable Science, 13(4).
彭杏珠, 2020a。僅2家工廠合法登記 社子島違章工廠達99.6％。遠見雜誌2020年9月號。 Accessible via: https://www.gvm.com.tw/article/74418
彭杏珠，2020b。深入社子島 揭開不願面對的真相。遠見雜誌2020年9月號。 Accessible via: https://www.gvm.com.tw/article/74411
林素雯，2009。社子島：社區？社群？還是社會？東吳大學人文社會學院第26屆系際學術研討會。Accessible via: https://www.scu.edu.tw/artsoc/109celebrations/12-3-1.pdf
康旻杰，2016。社子上河圖-社子島地景敘事體的實驗性建構。Accessible via: https://twstreetcorner.org/2016/08/16/min-jay-kang