The politics climate change resilience in Taiwan: the case of Shezidao (part 1)
Note: this piece is part of ongoing research on climate resilience in Taipei. For more information, please visit Taipei GI Lab.
Shezidao is a low lying, informal settlement located at the confluence of two rivers in north-western Taipei. Exposed to high risks of flooding, it is at the very frontlines of climate change.
Despite the stated goal of re-creating an ecologically friendly and climate resilient Shezidao, the latest urban development plans raise concerns regarding social equity and risks of maladaptation.
Pre-existing knowledge and practices developed over time play an essential role for communities facing environmental risks — yet these are often missing from climate vulnerability assessments and adaptation plans.
Overview: climate, topography, socio-economic profile
Shezidao is an alluvial plain located at the North-West of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, formed by the confluence of the Danshui and Keelung rivers. It is 7.2km in length and between 450m and 1.7km in width, covering a total of 10.4 square km. Shezidao is characterised by a low-lying topography — with an average elevation of 2.5m — and is thus prone to flooding, particularly in the event of typhoons. A total of 18 floods have been recorded in the last 30 years, according to a recent report by the Taipei City Government (2020).
Shezidao is home to 11,223 residents according to the latest census (2019). Local residents experience multifaceted levels of vulnerability. The median income in Shezidao is 373,500 NTD (£10,156) per year per household, which is 34% less than the rest of Taipei (2019 data). Socio-economic vulnerabilities are exacerbated by structural factors such as the ban on development enforced since 1973. This policy has implied that no legal construction/repair work or provision of public services can occur on Shezidao, where no households are legally linked to sewage pipelines for example (Peng 2020). Moreover, 66.23% of low-income households are either occupying land they do not own with a house they own, or occupying both land and houses neither of which they own (TCG 2016). The distribution of home ownership rights connects directly with the ongoing conflicts around the development plan and the associated risk of large-scale eviction, as will be discussed below.
The Taipei Area Flood Control Plan (TAFCP) of 1973 designated Shezidao as a flood-zone, and enforced a development ban which has prohibited both construction and repair work for the past 50 years (Ministry of Economic Affairs 1973). This policy has effectively banned the area from intensive urban development, leaving the latter predominantly zoned for agricultural exploitation and green space. This policy has endured, despite critics highlighting it as a form of environmental injustice, with the welfare of frontline communities being neglected for the benefit of preserving the more valuable inlands (Huang 2021).
The last bastion of expansive green space in densely urbanised Taipei
As a flood-prone area banned from development, much of the land surface in Shezidao has been zoned for agricultural use and green space. Shezidao is home to a relatively substantial farming economy, with agriculture representing 58% of land zones and totalling 170 hectares according to surveys undertaken by the Taipei City Government (TCG 2016). At the time of the survey, there were 377 farming households, with 90% of the latter cultivating all year-round (ibid.)
Agricultural output has slowed down over time, particularly following the construction of the highways which facilitated the transport of cheaper agricultural goods from central and southern Taiwan, leading to the progressive loss of Shezidao’s 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.
The map below details the latest distribution of green space on Shezidao, based on actual land use surveyed in 2019. The latter consists predominantly of productive land, with dried agricultural lands and orchards representing 27,17% of the peninsula's surface area.
To develop, or not to develop?
Nearly every mayor of Taipei has proposed plans to open up Shezidao for development during their tenures, yet most have been blocked due to their incompatibility with pre-existing flood management regulations, environmental impact assessments or resistance from civil society. In 2015, mayor Ko Wen-Je (柯文哲) established the Shezidao Project Office, and implemented a public voting procedure the following year in order to facilitate public discussion around the future of Shezidao. As part of the ‘i-Voting’ process, a three-pronged development plan was proposed, of which the ‘Eco-Shezidao Plan’ received the highest vote count (TCG 2016b).
Key characteristics of the current development plan approved in 2019:
Predicted population 30,000 (vs. 11,223 residents as of 2019)
Raising of street levels to 8.15m and 9.65m levee to be built
98% reduction of land marked for agriculture
248 hectares of private land (approx. 5,100 households) facing expropriation due ‘zone expropriation’ scheme
The potential lifting of the construction 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).
According to this scheme, which concerns 60% of land on Shezidao, households have the choice between receiving a discounted price when repurchasing their land post-development, or receiving direct financial compensation for expropriation (TCG 2020a). ‘Zone expropriation’ applies to up to 248 hectares of private land, affecting approximately 5,100 households. Residents we spoke to expressed concerns about the future of their land. 'We don't want our neighbourhoods to turn into this', we heard from locals pointing at the high rises in Luzhou visible across the Danshui river.
PART TWO: Shezidao - a unique entry point into the complexity of climate adaptation (incoming)
Huang, J. C., 2021. Redevelopment or retreat for informal settlers? A case study in Shezidao, Taipei, Taiwan. Journal of Environmental Studies and Science, 11. Accessible via: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13412-021-00687-0
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
Peng, S.J., 2020. The inconvenient truth of Shezidao (深入社子島 揭開不願面對的真相). Global Views Monthly. Accessible via: https://www.gvm.com.tw/article/74411.
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
Taipei City Government, 2020. Proposed Detailed Plan for Shezi Island Area in Shilin District, Taipei City. (擬定臺北市士林區社子島地區細部計畫案). Accessible via: https://www-ws.gov.taipei/Download.ashx?u=LzAwMS9VcGxvYWQvNzIzL3JlbGZpbGUvNDg1NDIvMTE2OTg4L2Q4NWRjNGNhLWNiYmQtNDlhYS05NDAwLWVmNDU1NmM1NDIzMS5wZGY%3D&n=5biC6YO95aeU5pyDNzY05qyh5pyD6K2w57Ch5aCxLnBkZg%3D%3D&icon=..pdf