Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 14 April 2009
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Taiwan still suffers from an outdated administrative system.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.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009 01:16

Local power in a time of global crisis

The recession is a global phenomenon that requires global measures: coordination of economic policies, regulation of the world financial markets and instruments, as well as fiscal stimuli… At the same time, the crisis has revealed that too strong a reliance on the “global” side of economics jeopardizes the vitality of “local” territories: during the last two decades or so, local planning has been more or less identified with inserting these territories even more closely into global trends, networks and exchanges.

The crisis calls for a revitalization of local territories. Revitalization can apply to a number of actions:
-Diversifying economic activities, by developing alternative industries, encouraging “niche” services and products, fostering the revival of know-how that can be of economic value, be it in the field of agriculture, tourism or craftsmanship;
-Concentrating stimulus packages on needed infrastructures, especially in the fields of water access and sanitation, healthcare facilities and carbon dioxide reduction;
-Stimulating citizens’ participation when it comes to (a) solidarity with the population most affected by the crisis, (b) the common invention and planning of the territory’s future and (c) the impetus to nurture economic activities with a clear social and environmental outlook.

These are not only “side measures.” It might be actually in the flourishing of local initiative that the new economic paradigm we are looking for might be devised, tried and confirmed. “Globalization” will be beneficial to all if and when fully associated with a “localization” of economic, social and cultural dynamics.

Such turn of events requires a revitalization of local powers, without which local initiative will not come through. Though decentralization and grassroots democracy were the talk of our global village for long, the very globalization of exchanges and services has eviscerated the power bestowed to local communities. Today, the revitalization of local territories cannot be reduced to an experiment in economics, it has to be an experiment in politics as well.

The Greek city has been the place where modern politics has taken shape. Nowadays, our counties, metropolis and regions shape the space, both virtual and real, in which are found new ways of identifying challenges, fostering participation, giving room to dissenting opinions, devising consensus and mobilizing creative energies. Recession has come partly as a result of “political regression’, i.e. of the weakening of the public sphere. Now, the local public sphere is the space where political progress and inventiveness might foster a new model of sustainable growth that will make the network of our local territories the agents of globalization with a humane face.

Photo by C. Phiv

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