Clockwise from left: Canvas bags at an outlet of homegrown design studio Mogu on Dihua Street in Dadaocheng; an old red-brick building on the same street; inside URS 155 Cooking Together, a foodthemed Urban Renewal Station.
rice wholesaler. Vacuum-packed bags of jet black and pearly white rice from organic farms nationwide are displayed invitingly on the shelves, alongside other agricultural treasures like plum juice, kitchen implements, and culinary-themed handicrafts. As at other URS properties, areas have been set aside for exhibitions; on my visit, a series of images taken by Taiwanese photographers of daily life in Vietnam took center stage.
While it might be reckless to claim these “stations” have revolutionized Dadaocheng, there is no doubt that the neighborhood is well on its way to becoming, dare I say it, trendy. According to the government, between 2011—the year after the URS program began in earnest—and 2015, Dihua Street welcomed 61 new businesses and saw a 65 percent increase in the usage rate of commercial buildings. Amid the shrines and driedseafood vendors, there’s now no shortage of bookstores, single-origin cafés, galleries, and emporiums such as Artyard, which features luminous ceramics from the likes of Hakka Blue and somehow manages to incorporate Le Zinc, a cozy wine and craft beer bar that feels a world removed from the clamor outside. Yet this transformation doesn’t appear to have displaced the area’s traders and residents, who continue to go about their daily routines. As if to underline this, when I stop to peer into a shop window and inadvertently block half the sidewalk, a sweet-looking elderly lady unceremoniously swats me out of the way with her umbrella.
balance of commercial, cultural, and community interests seems to have been maintained even in Taipei’s larger-scale regeneration projects. Take Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, which emerged in late 2011 from the grounds of the former Japanese (and subsequently Taiwanese) government tobacco monopoly. The park is an impressive feat—especially considering the proximity of the Xinyi business district—comprising multiple city blocks of broad plazas, shimmering ponds, and lush gardens, all based on the original layout. The former factories and administrative buildings, too, have been tidied up but left largely intact, slightly dilapidated but dignified nonetheless.
Of course, they now deal in dreams rather than cancer sticks. On any given weekend Songshan’s old warehouses are equally likely to be occupied by video game launches, theatrical performances, animation exhibits, or even teddy bear trade shows. There are jam sessions on outdoor stages, giant swings for the kids, and quiet bookstores and galleries buried deep within buildings where it’s