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COMPASS MAGAZINE, September 2002.

Cover Story :

TAIWAN BOULEVARD : Bringing Taiwan's past, present and future together in Taichung

By Douglas Habecker

       Ask any Taichung resident--Taiwanese or foreign--for directions to Taiwan Boulevard today and they will probably look at you a bit strangely and tell you they've never heard of it. As catchy as it sounds, there simply is no such road anywhere in Taiwan.

       Or is there? According to a group of Taichung academic, business and government leaders, Taiwan Boulevard already exists, right under our noses, and will be the key to packaging and promoting Taichung tourism, business and investment domestically and internationally in the future. If all goes according to plan, Taiwan Boulevard will be as well known among Taiwanese and many visitors as the Champs Elysees, Broadway, the Bund, Rodeo Drive and other famous roadways around the world.

       Before readers shake their heads and write this off as a pie-in-sky dream with no substance, they should consider the fact that the Taiwan Boulevard Association, primarily made up of local business and academic representatives (including the COMPASS' editor-in-chief), was officially registered in July and has already held a series of well-attended seminars on the subject.

       Furthermore, the city government under Mayor Jason Hu and Taichung County Magistrate Huang Chung-sheng have also thrown support to the idea. As this article was being written, specific plans are being made to develop the Taiwan Boulevard plan over the next several years and the city government has requested a three-year budget proposal, which will also be forwarded to the central government for further funding. Organizers have also received positive feed-back from the private sector, which is expected to share development costs.

Where is it? What is it?

       So, where is Taiwan Boulevard? No "Taiwan Boulevard" street signs currently exist and no road maps list it, although these things are already in the works. Simply enough, Taiwan Boulevard stretches about 24.2 kilometers between the Taichung railroad station and Taichung Port, over what is more commonly known as Chung Cheng (Jung Jeng) and Taichung Kang (Taichunggang) roads. According to planners, the current road names will not change, but will be subsidiary to the larger Taiwan Boulevard name and concept.

       However, the Taiwan Boulevard plan goes far beyond the provision of a catchy name to an existing roadway. Rather, it is an effort to give Taichung something that it has, to its detriment, lacked for some time--a defining central theme. It is this theme under which the city's and, as the name implies, the nation's past, present and future history, culture, commercial and economic development can be showcased and promoted. The fact is that Taichung's "culture city" moniker has worn thin over the past decade or two of drastic change and is hardly mentioned with a straight face anymore. At the same time, city residents and leaders are left scratching their heads when asked to define what Taichung is, or what its central strongpoint or theme is.

       Dr. Thomas Liou, associate professor of Feng Chia University's Graduate Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning, has been among the individuals driving the Boulevard plan, together with business leaders like Ho Chen-hsiang, president of Mystore Bakery Company and two flour mill companies. According to Liou, one of the greatest purposes of Taiwan Boulevard is to simply remind local residents of what they already possess in Taichung, and inspire them to cooperate with those strengths.

       "Since about 1987, when the science museum and art museum opened, nothing significant has happened in terms of big public projects. People are always talking about a new mass rapid transit system, or an airport, always about what is going to be. The Taiwan Boulevard concept tells people that this is what we already have, to hold on to it and make it better. Instead of asking for something, to take what we have and learn to appreciate it....Taichung city has a lot of strong points to be brought out," he said.

       Ho, whose family-run Mystore Bakery was founded in 1945 and is one of the oldest businesses in the city, grew up in the heart of old Taichung's Central District and watched it decline over the years. Searching for a central theme to rejuvenate his home town with, he hit upon the idea of Taiwan Boulevard, which had not been used anywhere else on the island. Since then, he has worked tirelessly to promote his dream.

       According to him, the key here is Taichung's important role in and strong link with Taiwan's overall history and development over the past century. A lot of people, not least residents themselves, are ignorant of the fact that the city was originally designated as the island's first capital, or that its lay-out was designed by an Englishman. (See "Interesting facts about Taichung's earliest years".) From the late 19th to the early 21st centuries, each step of the island's evolution from colonial backwater to modern economic powerhouse is represented in some way or some place within a short radius of Taiwan Boulevard. As Ho and Liou would like to remind residents and outsiders, it's all right here--history, culture, business, shopping, recreation, trade, dining and much more.

       Such ambitions dovetail nicely with local government leaders' on-going efforts to boost Taichung's image and reputation nationally and internationally, not to mention business, trade and investment. Plans range from Mayor Hu's high-profile efforts to woo a branch of the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum of modern art to the city to former Mayor Chang Wen-ying's efforts to develop Taichung into the island's "high-end culture and living capital". Expanding on that theme, the current mayor is aiming to create a "cultural, economic and international city" and make Taichung the island's most livable city within four to five years.

"Gateway to Taiwan's Heartland"

       As Taiwan Boulevard Association members readily admit, such an ambitious plan will require a multi-pronged approach and will develop and be implemented over a number of years, beginning with some very basic steps. As noted above, the city government has already requested a three-year budget proposal, estimated at NT$900 million, towards landscaping, environmental improvement and other costs. Plans call for overall funding to be split three ways between the city and central governments and the private sector.

       Current plans call for Taiwan Boulevard--the "Gateway to Taiwan's Heartland"--to be separated into five zones, based on fairly natural divisions as one travels from the train station to the harbor. The station to the city's "green belt," around Chingkuo Boulevard and the science museum, will be the "Historic Taichung," followed by "Commercial Taichung," which continues up to the north-south freeway and includes many of the city's top shopping, dining and entertainment areas. "Technology Taichung," encompassing the Taichung Industrial Park and the planned Science-Based Industrial Park continues to the Tunghai University area. Beyond that, on top of the Tatu Mountain and including the Taichung Metropolitan Park, is "Scenic Taichung." Finally, there is "Harbor/Bay Taichung," encompassing the entire port area.

       Within these zones are dozens of existing attractions, plus planned ones, that will be packaged and promoted under the Boulevard plan via special maps, tours, signs, special bus routes and other means. The very broad range of existing sites includes Taichung Railroad Station, Stock 20 Warehouse art gallery, Taichung Park, Taichung Winery, Taichung Central and Tiger City malls, the city's department stores, major city hotels, well-known restaurants and dining areas, Chunghua Night Market, Taichung City Hall, Taichung Cultural Center, Taiwan Museum of Art, National Museum of Natural Science, First Square, Chingming 1st Street ("tea street"), Taichung Flower Market, Tunghai University, Taichung Industrial Park, Taken Scenic Area, Taichung Port Area Art Center, Taichung Metro Park, Chingshui Park, and Taichung Port.

       Boulevard planners are also proposing the development of other new attractions and features, including a Taiwan Boulevard Memorial Hall, a Taichung Museum, 9-21 Earthquake Memorial Hall, world exhibition and convention center, and ROC military museum. To conveniently tie all this together transportation-wise Liou and others are pushing for the construction of a monorail system that runs up and down the Boulevard. With an estimated cost of NT$200 million per kilometer, or NT$5 billion in its entirety, a monorail is being touted as the least expensive and easiest route to developing a mass rapid transit system.

       As Liou notes, the Boulevard's five zones and various existing and planned attractions also essentially reunify Taichung city and county, which were divided into separate administrative units about 50 years ago. The new plan provides an opportunity and encouragement for city and county governments to work together and illustrates the reality that the two areas are in fact very connected.

       More basic, practical development will include the creation of visitor information centers, new signs, redone sidewalks in some areas, public art displays and other beautification projects. All this will require a joint effort between the government and private citizens and businesses, stress organizers. Towards this end, the city is being asked to come up with uniform zoning codes, with a "carrot-and-stick" system of encouragement and enforcement. The private sector will also be encouraged to clean up and contribute. According to Liou and Ho, one key incentive will be the organization of large-scale promotional activities--such as a proposed Taiwan Boulevard Marathon Race and various international festivals--to orchestrate public consciousness.

       "You may have a messy house but, when guests come, the first thing you do is clean up. If there are large, seasonal activities, people will clean up to welcome visitors," said Ho.

       As private and public representatives work together to see this plan through, Taichung residents and visitors can expect to see and hear more of Taiwan Boulevard in the months and years ahead. Liou says that concrete, visible changes can be expected within three years, but stresses once again that the Taiwan Boulevard, indeed, already exists. The educational process and reminder that the Boulevard provides to the people of this city is every bit as important as any future construction or development.

       "The first major step is to wake up people who are living in Taichung, to let them see how great what they already possess is," he says. "It's a learning process--learning to enjoy what we already have."

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