Geography Constrains Taipei’s Urban Growth
Because geographic barriers separate the east and west coasts of the island of Taiwan, urban expansion has been restricted to the western plains areas and the low hills around Taipei in the north of the country.
The capital itself has been limited in its potential growth because it is bounded on the north and east by volcanic mountains which have heights up to 1,000 meters, on the south by the northern foothills of the Central mountain range, and on the west by the Linkou terrace at a height of some 200 meters. The confluence of three rivers in the metropolitan area means that the city is periodically challenged with serious problems relating to flooding and slope control.
Because of these geographical constraints, a system of cities developed in the Western portion of the country.
Traditionally, two of the metropolitan areas, Taipei and Kaohshiung, represented major growth poles in the north and south respectively, while Taichung and Tainan, Taiwan’s third and fourth largest municipalities held the center.
Scattered around and between these four major cities were several smaller towns which represented subregional and manufacturing centers.
All urban regions were linked by a network of highways and railroads introduced during the period of Japanese occupation and extended considerably since that time.
Growth Poles or Urban Corridor?
While growth poles are one way to visualize Taiwan’s urban form, a revised — and more accurate approach — would be to conceptualize the western portion of the country as an urban corridor linking Keelung and Taipei to Kaohshiung and Tainan in the south.
In the north of the country, the subregional centers blur into and are dominated by Taipei, forming part of the capital’s urban landscape. In fact, the city has spread its tentacles as far as spatially possible with urban and industrial expansion constrained by the expense and scarcity of the land.
Aside from geography, government policy dictated that industry would be located in the countryside. Associated factors include:
- lower land prices
- an inexpensive and convenient transportation network
- accessibility to a surplus rural labor force.
Especially important was the government’s provision of low-cost or free industrial sites and infrastructure.
A policy decision to build a new airport in Taoyuan — within Taipei’s metropolitan area but at some distance outside of the city center — permitted a downscaling of Sungshan Airport in the north central part of the city.
The government’s policy of establishing export processing zones to promote exports also led to the dispersal of industry. This trend dominates the country’s labor intensive phase, starting with the founding of export processing zones in Kaohshiung in 1965 and in Nantze (outside Kaohshiung) and Taichung in 1969.
Between 1968 and 1981, the government (in conjunction with private corporations) established 62 new industrial zones in Taiwan. Only 10 of these were in one of the five largest cities. Twenty-two were in one of the four metropolitan counties surrounding these cities and 30 were in the remaining more rural counties. This directly reflects the success of AID and the KMT government in attracting multinational organizations.
Export processing zones were particularly attractive to foreign investors interested in forming joint enterprises. By 1972, they employed about 58,000 workers, most of whom were unskilled women whose pay was well below the average manufacturing wage in other parts of the country.
Migrants Flow Into Taipei From the Countryside
Nevertheless, despite the success of policies encouraging industrial dispersal, Taipei did expand rapidly, particularly in the 1960s when a strong concentration of industry was established in the locales immediately surrounding the city. These districts attracted migrants from other areas of the country and were soon part of metropolitan Taipei.
So many new arrivals flowed into the capital that the World Bank estimates that during the 1950s and 1960s rural-urban migration accounted for over 40% of the city’s growth. And unlike the pattern in much of the less developed world, since most males were in the military, young women aged 20-25 dominated the migration stream.
Sixty percent of the newcomers were from rural areas of Taiwan hoping to find jobs in manufacturing and services. In general, they were more educated than their urban counterparts, and they moved quickly into white-collar positions.
The migrants preferred the newer sections of the city, reinforcing the momentum toward decline which had already begun in the older districts of the capital (Lungshan, Kuting, Sungshan, and Ta-an). These areas experienced a ‘graying’ of their population, then gradually emptied while population in the newer districts multiplied.
After the early 1970s, the migration stream declined and, by 1978, 100% of the population growth in the capital could be attributed to natural increase.
Photograph by DaveWilsonPhotography .