Taipei excels, as witnessed by an impressive run of restoration and beautification initiatives. Huashan 1914 opened in 2005 on the site of a long-defunct rice wine factory. The former squatter settlement of Treasure Hill made its debut as a revamped “artist village” in 2010, followed the next year by the completion of a 111-kilometer network of riverside bike paths. And in 2015, eastern Taipei’ s notorious Neihu landfill (n ot -soaf fe ction ately dubbed Trash Mountain by locals) was converted into a 16-hectare ecological park.
And the rest of the world appears to be taking notice. Taipei is now one of the highest-ranked cities in Asia on global livability and sustainability indexes, and was named 2016’s World Design Capital by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design for its efforts to “reinvigorate” the urban landscape. This is clearly good news for mayor Ko Wen-je, who recently brushed off criticisms that the administration’s vision for the capital was not “flashy” or “grand” enough by stating its top priority was “building a city where people can live their life happily.”
Aside from headline-grabbing projects like Huashan 1914, this means that a lot of the interesting transformations are happening at the neighborhood level. To understand them, one should start where Taipei essentially began: the western Gochic Bicycle 59 Qidong St., Zhongzheng; 886-2/ 2314-3296; gochic bicycle.com. Huashan 1914 Creative Park 1 Bade Rd., Zhongzheng; 886-2/2358-1914; huashan1914.com. Leputing 67 Hangzhou South Rd., Da’an; 886-2/23951689; leputing.com.tw. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park 133 Guangfu South Rd., Xinyi; 886-2/2765-1388; so ngshanc ulturalpark .taipei. URS 127 Art Factory 127 Dihua St., Datong; 886-2/2550- 6775; fb.c om /u rs12 7 artfac tory. URS 155 Cooking Together 155 Dihua St., Datong; 886-2/2552 0349; fb.com/cooking together155. URS 329 Rice and Shine 329 Dihua St., Datong; 886-2/2550-6607; ricen sh ine329 .com. district of Dadaocheng bordering the Tamsui River, which in the mid-19th century emerged as a key port for the burgeoning tea export trade. Populated by foreigners and merchants, it flourished in the early stages of Japan’s 1895–1945 occupation of Taiwan, boasting landmarks such as Taipei’s first rail station and modern movie theater. The fortunes of many of the families that dominate Taiwanese business to this day were based in the shops and godowns that crowded Dadaocheng’s Dihua Street.
Nonetheless, the city’s center of gravity soon shifted decisively eastward as its Japanese administrators erected the trappings of power in the more spacious Zhongzheng district, which is still home to most government offices and a fine legacy of baroque and neoclassical buildings like the stately Presidential Office (originally the base of the Japanese governor-general). More recently, as a new central business district mushroomed in Xinyi, even farther from the city’s old port, Dadaocheng was left to quietly go to seed.
Until, that is, it served as the basis for an experiment. For much of its history, Taipei had adopted the same blunt method of urban improvement as other Asian cities, essentially tearing down old neighborhoods and building new ones. But in a nascent democracy this often gave rise