Revival of North Gate Highlights The Plight of Historic Site Preservation in Taiwan

Revival of North Gate Highlights The Plight of Historic Site Preservation in Taiwan
Overpasses have long been concealing the front side of the North Gate in Taipei. Photo Credit:台灣少年@Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

What you need to know

The North Gate in Taipei has recently been under spotlight with the demolition of a nearby bridge, which makes the gate completely visible again after 39 years. However, it also draws attention to the preservation of other historic sites in Taiwan.

Translated and compiled by Vic Chiang

Taipei’s North Gate is a historic site that has long been concealed from the eye. Located on the important transport node where people living in the suburbs must go through when they enter the city, the North Gate has been surrounded by overpasses to reduce traffic congestion in the last 39 years.

On February 13, all the overpasses were demolished, and the North Gate is finally given back its original appearance. Apple Daily reports, the Taipei City Government plans to launch a “North Gate Square” project to add a historic vibe to the area.

An article on Thinking Taiwan emphasizes North Gate’s historical and aesthetic values by citing Taipei City Government’s Department of Urban Development Commissioner Lin Jou-min saying, “Humanity is the most important element of a city. Traffic is only a part of service the city provides.” The article says a great city should not be purpose-oriented, but realize that its history and its people are the core to the development of the city.

However, out of the hundreds of historic sites in Taiwan, North Gate is a lucky case. UDN reports, on February 15, a former shipyard built in the1960s in Keelung City was dismantled without any advance notice to the local government after the North Gate reviving project. The mayor called it an illegal demolition and ordered an immediate halt of the destruction, but the building has already been damaged greatly.

Cases like this have been popping up in Taiwan in recent years. As people gradually become aware of the significance of historic site preservation, the landlords of old buildings that bear historical value have started to tear down buildings before the government and NGOs can take any action.

Taiwanese netizens often jokingly say that in Taiwan, once a building is about to be designated as a historic site, it would soon “burn itself down.” Apple Daily reports, the latest related case just happened last month, when an old sugar factory built in the Japanese colonial period suffered from arson.

According to current regulations regarding historic site preservation in Taiwan, the most severe punishment for damaging a historic site is five years in jail or a maximum fine of NT$1 million, (approximately US$30,000) which fails to threaten the construction companies that could possibly earn millions from building new houses.

Common Wealth Magazine reports, the people who stand for the preservation are often the NGOs and social workers, while the landlords who own the old buildings often believe that reconstructing them into modern buildings can benefit them more financially. Since the preservation of historic sites has yet to form a social consensus in Taiwan, many landlords still favor demolition over protection.

UDN reports, with North Gate standing as a good example of reviving historic sites, many other historic sites are in great danger and urgent actions are required. It says that if other old buildings can also be fortunate enough to draw attention from the society, there might be higher chances to preserve these cultural assets.

Edited by Olivia Yang

Thinking Taiwan Forum
Common Wealth Magazine
Apple Daily