This is an open letter to expose the gross ineptitude and mishandling of public space projects throughout Taipei by the Taipei Parks & Street Lights Department (Parks Department). By way of this letter, the hope is to shed light on the rampant ignorance, cronyism, and belligerent disregard for the design process by the Parks Department.
The development of quality public space should be the number one pledge of the Parks Department. However, it is apparent that the Parks Department is completely unable to effectively manage and lead a public space project of any kind and should therefore be restructured or decommissioned. The Parks Department is mired in blind egoism and contempt, and the quality and safety of public spaces certainly comes last.
A cursory look online at the government’s procurement website shows a multitude of bid proposals at any given time. The volume and scope of many of these bids is exciting. Taiwan is adept at issuing public bids for design work, and compared with similar opportunities in other locales, Taiwan posts much more bid proposals per capita than many other countries- it’s a good thing. It shows that the government has a vested interest in creating, renovating, or developing public spaces.
If this trend on the volume of bid proposals is followed back in time- say only ten years- Taipei (and Taiwan in general) should be a veritable Mecca for landscape design showcases-park after park of innovative, thought-provoking, sustainable, and well-thought-out landmark landscapes. Sadly, this Mecca does not exist in the least. Yes, there are isolated hints and glimpses of good design work. However, when the overwhelming majority of public space is sub-par at best, and that is held up side-by-side with the budgets of those projects, it just doesn’t add up. Citizens should demand more from this government organization. Citizens should ask for their money back. Move these allocated funds to more worthy causes- infrastructure updates, increased maintenance for existing public spaces, social welfare, etc. – but stop this waste.
The Taipei Parks & Street Lights Department is the bottleneck for the lack of thoughtful public space design in Taipei, and it is incumbent upon the Parks Department to either restructure or step aside. The status quo is not working for the citizens any longer and a new mindset is long overdue. It’s the right thing to do because the people of Taipei deserve first-class public space. It’s time to bring the quality of public space and life into the 21st century and up to the standard seen by other neighboring countries; and only landscape architects have the ability to affect that change. Let’s match the quality of public space to the visionary thinking that brought Taipei’s MRT and the HSR to fruition.
DYSFUNCTION CREATES CHAOS
The Taipei Parks & Street Lights Department insists on adhering to an ethos of cronyism, ignorance, and committees within committees within committees. From the top down, there are no landscape architects in any key decision making positions, much less an individual with the experience and expertise for developing quality public spaces. This handcuffs the entire design process because there is no intellectual dialogue and deep exchange of ideas required for the betterment of any project. Instead, the process is dragged down with a myriad of white papers and painful minutiae with little or no relevance to the concept design or details.
This dysfunction and hullaballoo breeds design firms which play into the Parks Department dysfunction, and this cycle of dysfunction is on a never-ending loop. Any design firm with the stomach to work in that toxic atmosphere has sold out long ago in order to survive there. Other firms quickly give up and work on private residential or developer work, or do work in China. Unfortunately, those are the very designers and companies needed for this most important public space design.
THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
The Parks Department does engage in community meetings in collaboration with design firms. Community meetings are complicated in the fact that sometimes the person or small group screaming the loudest attracts the most attention. All groups, including the silent majority, must be taken into consideration. In order to arrive at a suitable compromise, the Parks Department should vet all of these voices, and weigh them in consideration to one another within the context of the greater good of the community, the city, and the park itself. The design firm should assist, but not lead this charge, as the Parks Department is the ultimate mouthpiece of the citizens.
The Parks Department has no ability to do this and needs a qualified director and a staff of landscape architects with leadership expertise to make this happen. Flimsy campaign-style promises and doubletalk are not sustainable for the community. It is a complete disservice to the citizens. Sham meetings, NGO’s with their own agendas, and vague promises seem to benefit the Parks Department in its slippery pursuit to merely ‘get the job done’.
Landscape architects are the last vestige for creating great public space in Taipei. It starts and stops with this profession. Stop denying the citizens of Taipei with the innovation and development of quality, first-class public spaces that so many other countries already enjoy. Restructure or decommission the Taipei Parks & Street Lights Department now.