Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Global Walking Tour: Taipei
9 August 2018
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TAIPEI – Although Taiwan is an island and the city of Taipei was established along the banks of the Jilong and Danshui River, the city has had relatively few large-scale developments that have direct access to the waterfront. This is due in no small part to the flooding risk associated with these rivers, only exacerbated by the arrival of typhoon season in the summer months. Due to the effects of global warming, the typhoon season has been greatly extended with typhoons coming even late into December.

Consequently, any developments that are shorter than 5 or 6 stories tall are likely to have tall dikes that physically and visually cut them off from the river, rendering them unable to see over the partitions.These challenges forced organizer Richard Lee to take a different direction in arranging the walking tour, allowing the group to fully embrace the Urban Habitat or “UH” part of the CTBUH.

The tour, led by
CTBUH Taiwan Representative Richard Lee, Partner, C.Y. Lee & Partners, kicked off in the historic district of Dihua Street, which was established in the 1850s under the Qing Dynasty. This street remains one the oldest surviving streets in Taipei with some areas dating back to the 1620s when Taiwan was still a Dutch colony. It then grew quickly to become the commercial and trading center for the city with a port that allowed direct access to the river and the ocean.

The entrance to Dadaocheng Wharf (left); a colonial-era photo of the banks of the Danshui River
A map of Dihua Street

Most of the structures still retain the colonial period design of small three-story buildings with overhanging loggia and the street-side storefronts prevalent during the period of Japanese rule. This street has become a popular tourist destination and still functions as a vibrant commercial district, especially during Chinese New Year when residents flood in to buy dry food items, traditional medicines and other daily necessities.

Though most of the tour participants both work and live in Taipei, this was, for many of them, their first visit to the historic area. The tour route planned to walk along Dihua Street starting at its southern edge and finishing at its north end.

The group decided to prioritize time on the boardwalk as they chased the setting sun. As they made their way to the northern end of the street, they crossed through the mammoth flood gate and arrived at the river.

The tour group made their way through the historic Dihua Street on their way to the Danshui River and boardwalk

The area known as Dadaocheng sits within the Yanping Riverside Park, an area built and maintained by the Taipei City Government. Taipei is a highly dense city with a population of over 2.5 million, but only dedicates 2.4 percent of its land to public parks. Such a large and open park is valued highly, and joggers, cyclists and city residents are seen using the park frequently.

The tour group then made their way down to the pier, making note of some of the newer amenities. For example, Taiwan has a public bike sharing system called U-Bike (or Youbike) that has steadily grown in popularity since its inception in 2009. Many individuals rent bikes and ride them along the river, as the regular roads in Taipei are often clogged with small motorcycles and cars, and there are very few dedicated bicycle paths in the older areas of the city.

Dadaocheng is nestled in the publicly maintained Yanping Riverside Park (top and bottom left), which includes dedicated bicycle paths and a public bike sharing system (bottom right)

A program was recently put in place that would require dedicated bicycle paths in newly developed areas of the city, with attempts to incorporate new paths into the existing fabric of the city whenever possible. Unfortunately, this has proven difficult and slow-going.

Arriving at the Pier with its myriad small, temporary food stalls there was a collective sigh of disappointment that one of the favorite ones - a mobile camper renovated to sell homemade beer - was not there.

Most of the stalls are built of temporary materials with many providing rooftop viewing decks. All sell food or drinks, mostly imported beers or wines from small, boutique sources. The Taipei Walking Tour group found a table, bought a round of drinks and food and settled down to enjoy the sunset.

The sun begins to set over the Danshui River.

Slowly more people, both tourists and residents, arrived to take pictures of the sunset as well and stay to get some food. Children played in the small play area and many tourists noted their surprise that a city as noisy and densely developed as Taipei had such an open quiet area with amazing river views.

One attendee even remarked that a ferry service could take him directly to his home of Danshui at the mouth of the river, 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) away. This would allow him to bypass the commuter rush on Taipei’s Mass Transit system, if only the ferries operated during the week.

The conversation was so happy and raucous that it was almost 8:30 p.m. before the group thought of dispersing. They joked that the Walking Tour had turned into an impromptu happy hour, and all went home happy and with a new appreciation as to the aesthetic and functional effects well-designed public space can have on residents and tourists alike.

The Walking Tour Group relaxed over drinks and conversation at the pier as the sun set in Taipei

All photos and images courtesy of Richard Lee.