Northern Taiwan: a Virtual Metropolitan Region

by on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 Comments
The geographical area of Northern Taiwan groups together ten millions people on a surface of 9,000 km2. As a comparison, the Greater Shanghai area comprises 18 millions people on 6,300 km2, the Tokyo metropolitan area accounts for 12 millions people living on 2,200 km2, while Seoul and Hong Kong have to deal with even greater densities for populations of respectively 6 millions and 11 millions people.

Thus, though more rural and extended than its regional counterparts, Northern Taiwan can compete in the league of the greater Metropolitan areas of East Asia – or even of the world (the metropolitan regions of London, Paris and Milan comprise between 14 and 8 millions people.) The problem is: northern Taiwan is divided into eight cities and counties — Taipei City, Taipei County, Keelung City, Taoyuan County, Hsinchu City, Hsinchu County, Yilan County and Miaoli County. Till now, political bickering and local rivalries have made it hard to group together and create a unified metropolitan region. The redrawing of the political map of Taiwan is on the agenda. Amendments to the Local Government Act passed by the Legislative Yuan in April 2009 pave the way for a reorganization of Taiwan’ system into 3 metropolitan areas and fifteen counties. Still, the law remains unclear, initiative is supposed to come from local government, with financial incentives provided by the central State, and devolution of powers are not part of the envisioned changes.

Creating metropolitan regions has obvious advantages when it comes to international promotion, planning of transportation system or waste management. Still, governance of such giant regions is never an easy matter, and local identities and memories often oppose mergers, seen as more bureaucratic than truly beneficial to grassroots communities. In the case of Northern Taiwan, another obstacle is to be taken into consideration: the merger of the eight administrative units would create a region comprising almost half of the population of the whole country, thus creating an imbalance harmful to the national equilibrium.
Taiwan still suffers from an outdated administrative system. Reform and mergers are a key for enhancing the country’s global competitiveness. However, determining the optimal size, frontiers and competences of local governments remains an issue that is far from being settled.

June LEE (李禮君)

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

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