Tianmu’s ‘Jungle’ is in danger

by on Friday, 26 March 2010 Comments

Located in the north west of Taipei city, Tianmu is a pleasant quarter: a quiet and calm environment quietly bisected by the Huangxi River with Yanming Mountain rising at the back. Tianmu has become one of the favourite places for foreigners to live in Taipei and is well known as a pleasant place for a stroll. In Chinese ‘tian’ means ‘sky’ and ‘mu’ means ‘mother’ but I would say that more so than the sky, it is Mother Nature who has given Tianmu most of its beauty. Now development plans threaten to destroy much of this.

I have been informed by a resident of Tianmu that a huge real estate project is to replace the green space along the river. This green part of Tianmu, called ‘the Jungle’ by some residents, extends for 5,000 square metres. A big part of the space is a private ground owned by an old woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is not able anymore to fight for her land rights. Because she likes trees so much she protected this area all her life. Thanks to her acts, today this ground holds more than 30 different kinds of tree such as cotton tree, flamboyant tree and the money tree. Furthermore, 26 special trees are protected by the law due to their environmental value (most of these trees are more than 100 years old). You can also find squirrels, frogs, the blue magpie and a species of eagle (the Crested Goshawk) that cannot be seen anywhere else in Taipei. In concrete terms, if nothing is done to protect ‘the Jungle’ then it will be the end of this amazing green space along the river.

A very concerned resident of the Tianmu west road received me in his house and showed me ‘the Jungle’. In order to have the best view, we went on the roof of his building and from here I saw: a ground covered by trees with the river running in the middle and the Yanming Mountain in the back , what an amazing landscape! I also could hear birds and the sound of the river. For one second I forgot that I was in a city that has more than 2 million inhabitants. On these grounds, you will also find three rare traditional houses. The famous movie director Li Han Xiang, who directed more than 80 movies and won the best director award at the Golden Horse Awards in 1965, lived in one for 8 years. Less than 6 months ago, an old man who was still living in one of those three houses was asked to leave to allow the grounds to be cleaned. Since that day nobody knows where he now lives.

Tianmu8The lose of this rare green area will be a pity for all and because they are the most directly concerned by the situation, residents of Huangxi river area decided to gather and fight. They started a petition against the real estate project that has already been signed by 2,500 residents, or 95% of all Tianmu west road residents.

But it seems that the fight is unfair: residents on one side against banks and powerful companies on the other. The project that the Shilin Kaifa ( branch of the Shilin Dianxi Company) wants to build is a $2 billion NTD project, financially large enough to sweep environmental considerations aside. A first project was rejected by the competent authorities because of environmental consideration but another project that ensures the conservation on site of the protected trees was approved and the construction should start very soon. What does the approved project means by “preserve trees on site”? It does not mean that trees cannot be moved, it just means that you can uproot a tree and plant it again at a different place inside the ground. But according to research most of the trees die 2 or 3 years after replanting. When applied to century old trees, this process is even more delicate.

In April 2009, the building company destroyed 5 protected trees without authorization before a neighbour stopped them from destroying more trees. How much does the destruction of a protected tree cost? The price of the fine is only $70,000NTD per tree. Definitely not heavy enough to dissuade real estate companies. Having to pay $70,000NTD per tree is nothing compared to the potential gains of a $2 billion NTD project.

There remains time to get in on the act and defend the green around the Huangxi River. These kinds of ground are getting more and more rare inside cities and should be protected. Are we really to let this real estate project ruin the heritage of this old woman, a heritage that is enjoyed by the residents of Taipei? Banks and big companies surely have a huge influence but it is time to gather and show them that for some people preserving nature and a certain way of life is priceless.

 

More information can be found at: http://tw.myblog.yahoo.com/oldtree-911/archive?l=a

Or contact Anne ZHOU: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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Photos provided by Marie Delaplanche and the Old Trees association

June LEE (李禮君)

Former Managing Editor of Renlai Monthly (2004-2009). Board member of the Taipei Ricci Institute.

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