Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Destruction of the Taichung People’s Park

(The Taichung People’s Park)

Anybody who reads this blog knows that in front of our apartment is the Taichung People Park where, on any given day, all of the city comes out for fun in the sun. I’m talking pure joy people: dudes with Frisbees, couples walking dogs, joggers going round and round, kids with guitars, parents strolling with ice cream, and children on roller blades. It’s the one place in the city where you can actually find some fresh air. So here’s a novel Asian concept… let’s destroy the place. (Aerial shot from my daughter’s window 19th floors up)

Another thing you’ve probably noticed is that this blog is also a personal battle with Asia. I’m taking Asia head on. I mean, look… I love it here. I choose to live here. I’m raising my kids here. And before you say… oh typical American thinks everything outside of America sucks, wants to bring his way of life to wherever he goes… NO! I’m just saying, when some things are wrong, they are wrong. And this is one of them.
(A female fiancé giggles at her impossible wedding gown and goofy husband to be)

The city of Taichung has a lot of problems. Gangsters run everything, the Hei Shu Hui (黑 社 会) Black Society, controls all aspects from bus routes to casinos to construction contracts to road crews. They allow what happens on all levels of local government. That is why there are dozens of these high rise apartment buildings in the city that sit empty awaiting all of the supposed Chinese tourists instead of building a city grid with sustainable energy, green technology… or just a freaking patch of grass to catch a tan on.
(Old man watching world go by with his Filipino House Maids)

Case in point, the Taichung People’s Park is the best place in the city. No argument. It is the largest stretch of grass for our nearly 2.6 million people. The only other place even remotely like this is in front of the newly constructed City Hall building, which is a football field sized stretch of cement with massive jumbotron attached to the building edifice.
(My favorite local drunk… the subject of a future short film documentary… has turned his life around from public nuisance to reliable park guard)

So why destroy it? Well, Mayor Jason Hu does have a plan. It calls for millions of dollars to be spent digging up the original park that stretches like a lovely oasis through the entire downtown, and constructing a new high tech looking sky bridge from the Science to Fine Arts Museum.
(Elderly couple finds new romance. I watched the couple on a ‘park date’ just strolling and laughing and talking and trying to secretly hold hands)

This is a nice idea. Yes, who could disagree with a beautiful park? But why dig up the original? Wouldn’t that money be better served building a new park just a couple blocks from here instead of erecting massive high rises subsidized by local tax payers? Do we really need another 15 story shopping center sitting next to already existing Sogo and Shin Kong San, which are sparsely populated with customers and overcrowded instead with overripe and bloated products that will never be sold because people just don’t have the cash anymore to pay for a $500.00 Marc Jacobs handbag?
(An Indonesian care giver walks her blind patron across the park before a rain shower)

I mean, this country is craving more places for kids to play. I have so many students that spend their Saturday afternoons locked in dark bedrooms playing video games or meeting their friends at Starbucks to window shop in controlled atmosphere environs. That’s all they have. How nice would it be to see them riding their bikes or flying kites or rolling through a skate park and jogging along an urban trail? But those things just don’t exist here, do they?
(Beautiful tattooed woman catching some park sun)

These are two examples that illustrate my point.
1. When I want to let my kids run around and play, I sometimes go to McDonalds to let them tear apart the play structure. McDonalds? Seriously. I’ve eaten McDonalds probably five times in the last ten years and each time resulted in almost immediate diarrhea. That McDonalds is the only viable option for a parent seeking a playground in a city is criminal.

2. The last month of school I took my 8th graders outside to sit in the grass and read. This little sliver of green under a tree while we thumbed through some Erma Brombeck. Yet they spent the whole thirty minutes complaining about ants and itchy twigs and sticky grass and Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! They couldn’t even sit still. They’d never sat in grass before. Seriously.
(Hidden visored woman fanning herself in the heat)

Do you know how many Asian kids have never stood on a baseball diamond surrounded by fresh cut green, or donned a jersey and kicked a soccer ball over chalk lines sliced on a manicured turf? I know. I know, you’re going to say, come on, Hartenstein, you’re from Portland, Oregon. It’s the greenest city in the world. Urban planners there are miracle workers, city trees outnumber people 3 to 1. Come on Asian urban planners, where’s your vision?
(A micro map of the proposed Taichung People’s Park Reconfiguration)

Yes, all that is true. But that doesn’t change the fact that money is still green and can be spent in many different ways too. It can be used to fence out the world or to broaden the dreamy lives of people. I remember telling my class how amazing it would be if the vacant lot next to my apartment could be used to build an elaborate forest of tree houses for kids to play in rather than a new 20 story hotel? But they just laughed. Oh, teacher… you don’t understand. We need to build more buildings. That’s how you make money.
Yeah, I don’t understand anything, do I?

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