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Before It Turned Stunning

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Lu Wei Ping, Director General of Urban Development Bureau, Kaohsiung City.

Take a stroll along the Love River in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan today, and you’ll be blown away by its mesmerizing waters, scenic waterscapes, and graceful edifices that lined its sides. It’s the river of life and of love of the people of Kaohsiung, resonating from the times when life starts where the river flows.

This second largest city in Taiwan beams as a tourist city and ironically, an industrialized city, bustling with petrochemicals and heavy metal industries, just to name a few. It is also known as one of the 12 largest global container traffic ports in the world. Before it turned ‘stunning’, Kaohsiung was an industrial backwater, heavily polluted by the same industries that brought wealth into the city back in the mid 1900s. Its strategic location near the sea and topography makes it an excellent harbor. But this rustic scenic port and natural surroundings soon shed its glory in the face of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

More and more factories and industrial soot dotted the city skyline, making it undesirable, and to a certain extent an appalling condition to live compared to a 100 years ago. Realizing the need to sustain the environment and to create a sustainable lifestyle for its citizens, Kaohsiung City pledged to become a clean and sustainable city. With it, a series of public policy came to strike the iron while it’s still hot.

Love River – the backbone of Kaohsiung City.

The booming cement industry in 1956 had taken a toll on the quality of life of its citizens.

Heavily polluted river before 1980s.

21st century Kaohsiung City.

All public buildings must be green buildings.

“Before 2000, urban planning focused on the pursuit of comfort and grandeur. Today, urban planning has come to the forefront of public policy to find a way to a sustainable future,” said Lu Wei Ping, Director General of Urban Development Bureau, Kaohsiung City, at the 3rd International Conference on World Class Sustainable Cities (WCSC 2011) held in Sime Darby Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur.

But with a land so sparse, where else could Kaohsiung relocate its industrial activities? The mountainous terrain remains a challenge as it means limited land for development. Such constraints and contradictions to juggle, city councils drew up a plan, starting with the river, the spine of Kaohsiung.

The daily activities of people have often centered the urban river and it was also the focal point of development.

“To clean the river is one of the very important steps to creating a green city.”

Wetlands were created as a means to filter water in the upstream section of the river. As a result, 18 wetland parks covering an area of 900 hectares that not only act as recreational parks but also as large filters, with strategically placed interception points to collect rainwater for treatment, sewerage pipelines and on-site treatment. While water is discharged back into the river, sludge is channeled to the sewerage system.

The public sector too led by example where all public building must be green buildings, he says.

In addition, all new buildings must meet five out of the nine indicators – biodiversity, greenery, water retention, daily energy saving, CO2 reduction, waste reduction, indoor environment, water resource and sewage report improvement indexes.

Most buildings are incorporated with green roofs, solar panels and green architectural designs to harness and capitalize on the abundant sunlight, wind and rain. Practical ways, such as planting of more trees to avoid direct sunlight, are used.

“Architectural design is certainly important because modern buildings account for 40% of energy use and 35% of CO2 emissions.”

One may think a single building incorporating just a green roof alone may not be adequate but imagine every building doing the same; imagine the resounding impact it could create.

Kaohsiung too is one of the highest emitter of CO2 in the Asia Pacific, but the city aspires to achieve a zero carbon footprint, he says.

In the immediate term, the city vouched to decrease Green House Gas (GHG) emissions up to 30% based on its 2005 base level (3.8mil ton) by 2020; and in the long term by 2050, a decrease of 80%.

To tackle the increasing CO2 emission, Kaohsiung introduced the Development Industry Partners Fund where carbon emission fee is imposed on large companies. Part of the fund is dedicated to encourage the use of public transportation system and public bike rental system. Apart from the imposed fee, companies are provided with Research and Development incentives on carbon emissions reduction technology.

Though certain parties may not be happy with it, he said the government has to be firm and determined to stick with its plans to achieve its mission.

Emphasis is also placed on promoting recycling to the public and community where reduction of waste is encouraged through integration of resources and re-users, designing of regional recycling sites and right down to the kitchen waste collection system, among other initiatives.

Currently, there are 99 registered recycling institutions which are being audited regularly.

There is even a raw material and product management to integrate processes and recycle waste and energy, which are normally disposed, to be sold and reused in other industries that needed them.

The citizens, realizing and recognizing the government’s efforts and leadership by example, soon found themselves following the footsteps of their leaders, with increased participation in public environmental projects.

Kaohsiung City is a fine example of industrial and nature co-existing hand-in-hand. But one has to make the right choices. Evident in Kaohsiung, it is to know what you are doing and to move forward in the right direction. How does one determine the right direction?

“The pollution index has to reduce annually and in a systemic manner,” he says.

Now this industrial backwater has been transformed into a stunning riverfront beauty and tourist spot. It has even come to stage world class sporting events.

“Today, if you are not among those green cities having outstanding practices, you are not capable of boosting competitiveness in the future.”

And Kaohsiung City did just that, but not without perseverance and persistence. It took them 10 years; a decision that was made 20 years ago.