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TAICHUNG CITY, TAIWAN Yes, he’s gaga about his city. That’s Mayor Jason Hu who heads Taichung City, Taiwan, the country’s third largest city with well over 2.5 million residents in this western city alone, plus millions more in its surroundings. And gaga, well that refers to the mayor’s infatuation with Lady Gaga, the pop sensation who the mayor managed to lure to Taiwan for a concert performance that sent the crowds wild. Before being elected mayor in 2001, Hu represented Taiwan’s government in Washington from 1996 through 1997 as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has been re-elected twice as Taichung’s mayor. His city has recently received the non-profit policy research organization Intelligent Community Forum’s award as the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year. The Intelligent Community Forum studies and promotes the best practices for adapting to the demands and opportunities presented by information and communications technology (ICT) –
Taichung is Taiwan’s third largest city. How is your economy doing and what stands out? Is your employment staying steady?
Perhaps my experience of being the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affair gives me the vision that Taichung should be very “global.” In my imagination, Taichung is “Taillywood,” and a city of intelligence, baseball, creativity, and the world’s center for agricultural products. To put it simply, we began to build “the world’s big Taichung” from scratch.
Taichung City is full of five–star hotels, and the number of visitors to the tourist and recreation areas, such as, ubiquitous historical, tourist, cultural and artistic sites, has increased exponentially. Moreover, Taichung City has become the nearest city to southeast China after cross-strait direct flights were approved. Combining the transportation advantage of airplane, shipping and High Speed Rail after the integration of Taichung City and County, Taichung can become the most economical and convenient city for cross-strait transportation.
During my first term as the mayor of this city, I had been devoted to building Taichung as a cultural city and promoted the campaign of “culture, economy, international city” since the end of 2011. I applied this campaign to stimulate service-industry focused businesses and local prosperity.
If the city of Taichung and the county merged, does that mean you oversee the entire merged population or just that of the city?
The integration of Taichung City and Taichung County goes smoothly in many aspects and has the effect of “one plus one equals more than two”.
Before the integration, Taichung City’s population was 1.06 million. After the integration the number of that has grown to 2.62 million (currently close to 2.7 million), increasing 1.47 times. Due to the enormous increase in the land size, population, and debts, municipal administration has also become more complicated and more difficult.
However after the integration, the greater Taichung city has a land area twice as big as Hong Kong and three times as big as Singapore, with a population of only less than 40% of Hong Kong’s and 60% of Singapore’s. Taichung still has lots of space and land for development. Thus, before the integration, I pivoted my election campaign on “the world’s big Taichung” and was successfully elected as the first mayor of Taichung as a special municipality. My focus policies were to make Taichung international, learning from Hong Kong and Singapore, and also competing with them in a good way. Especially, we should focus on the development of our harbor and airport.
What infrastructure or environmental issues do you believe Taichung needs to address?
I think Taichung has done a wonderful job of saving energy and reducing carbon emissions. But there is still room for improvement.
Any metropolis always gives people a negative impression of cramped, danger, and polluted. Economic development can be thought of as a double-edged sword, whose rapid growth will meanwhile bring about unprecedented pressure, impact on natural resources, and energy overuse. Under the pressure of global warming and climatic change, a city should not overly expand but needs to return to the philosophy of mutualism and the balance between humankind and Mother Nature.
Over the past years, a trend of green and sustainable development has become significant. This trend has helped introduce many new ideas about a big city’s transportation and foods to create a green and low carbon-emission life. The idea of “green” used to build a sustainable and livable city has become the core for a metropolis’ development. In Taichung, this idea has been made into reality as it applies low carbon-emission transportation as a foundation to build a green and livable city.
In order to pursue a “low carbon-emission living environment”, green transportation is an imperative part of the work. In order to contribute to the collective goal of making a city of green energy, the Taichung City Government, Nissan, and Nissan Taiwan have signed a trilateral memorandum of cooperation to promote zero-emissions electricity-powered cars together. Since February 2012, the Taichung City Government officially introduced LEAF, which is the city’s first type of electric cars for the pioneering green transportation project.
Is the high-speed rail working properly for you and what advice could you give the U.S. in establishing our own system?
The biggest challenge the US’s high speed rail (HSR) is encountering a lack of budget. Therefore, I could only provide Taiwan’s experience of building the HSR for the US as reference.
According to the report of Associated Press, the U.S. Government Accountability Office expressed that, the current political atmosphere in Washington thinks that California’s HSR is still falling short by USD $39 billion and can’t rely on the support from federal government. The opponents of the HSR project think that California already has a complete transportation network and the HSR is unnecessary for California. Moreover, the opponents also think the planning of the HSR’s route is inappropriate since it avoids the most heavily populated metropolitan areas.
You have 17 colleges, correct? That’s quite a large number. To what do you attribute that to?
Taichung City has 17 universities that provide training and education to cultivate students according to the job market’s demands.
Taichung is in the center of Taiwan and is reckoned as the heart Taiwan immersed in a profound cultural foundation. Taichung is the economic locomotive of central Taiwan, the city’s 17 universities are the cradle for Taiwan’s talent. The young and gifted population not only makes the city energetic, but also facilitate the continuous growth of creative ideas nourishing Taichung City’s developmental advantages.
I always like to encourage the young people to be brave about speaking out their creative ideas. Based on this faith, the city government works in collaboration with schools to provide various platforms for students to showcase their creations. The subjects are not confined only in the field of science but also in all life aspects where students’ creativity can be inspired and make Taichung a genuine city of “creative life” which will benefit marketing of Taichung City and bring in business opportunities.
What is the biggest problem facing your city?
After the integration, the biggest problem we are facing is the municipality’s finance and the gap between the urban and country areas.
The original Taichung City was financially healthy, in 2001, the long-term debts accounted for 8.17% of the annual expense and decreased to 1.01% by 2009. However, because Taichung City took over the debts from the Taichung County after the integration, the city government does not currently have additional funds for infrastructure construction. In order to respond to the needs of municipal development, we will continue our efforts to attract more foreign investment. In addition to hastening the pace of city development, we will work on increasing tax income to fix the problem of financial gap.
And do you like pineapple cake? And what’s your favorite food?
Besides pineapple cake, my favorite is the sun cake.
As Taichung City’s mayor, these two pastries bear a special meaning to me. First, I was born and grew up in Taichung City and to me Taichung’s local pastries are not only delicious dessert but also represent a kind of nostalgia, especially when I studied and worked abroad. In Taiwan, Taichung is “the city of pastries” because one can feel the pastry culture pervades in our daily life. In recent years, we actively market pineapple cake, sun cake, and other local pastries to other countries. Not only in New York and Shanghai, even in Thailand and Singapore, we all seize every opportunity to share our pastries with our friends around the world.