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williamchung taiwan Feb 22, 2015 11:33 PM

Taiwan's illegal rooftop dwellersBy Cindy Sui

BBC News, Taipei

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Owning a home unattainable for many Taiwanese

If you ever visit Taiwan's capital, your first impression might be that some of the buildings are a mishmash of units constructed haphazardly.

While skyscrapers stand out in Taipei's skyline, it's hard to miss the mosaic of metal roofs in varying colours. They belong to the thousands of units that have been illegally constructed on top of or next to buildings.

Not only in Taipei, but throughout Taiwan, home owners have been building additions to their property for decades, often without permits or adherence to building codes. What's driving this practice is the scarcity of space in the cities and high property prices.

Most people can't afford to buy a big flat. So they find ways to create more space.

Some turn balconies into enclosed rooms. Others take over fire lanes between buildings. And almost everyone with a top-level flat finds a way to build one or more units up on the roof.

The units are generally not torn down because any politician who suggested such a move would be committing political suicide.

The units provide rental income for property owners, or housing for their grown children. And if they decide to sell their property, they can count the illegal additions as part of their space, earning a higher selling price.

They also provide cheaper locations for small businesses, and affordable housing for students, newcomers to the cities and others on a tight budget.

Picture of illegal structures in Taiwan Officials are cracking down on illegal structures that may pose a safety hazard
For decades, the government has tolerated illegal construction, dealing only with violations that pose a risk to public safety. Many cities have even exempted illegal units built in previous decades from being demolished.

But a recent series of deadly fires involving illegal construction has prompted newly elected mayors in several cities to order some of the worst violations to be torn down.

One blaze at a bowling alley made of metal sheeting in nearby Taoyuan City killed six firefighters. Another deadly blaze in Taipei involved a rooftop constructed with several units, making it difficult for fire fighters to save the occupants.

Many cities, including Taipei, have ordered the most serious violations to be torn down. Taipei's newly elected Mayor Ko Wen-je for example has demanded property owners with three or more units on roof reduce the number or face the demolition crew and a bill for the demolition.

But city workers have been demolishing illegal construction for years; it's just they can't keep up with the number of new units being built each year. The government estimates there are nearly 600,000 such units in Taiwan, but the actual number could be much higher.

Officials admit they can only look into those that pose an obvious safety hazard or have generated complaints. And tearing down the ones deemed intolerable is also far from easy.

Chiang Fu-kuo, a Taipei City demolition official, says the process is long and difficult.

"The owners feel it's their asset…They've spent so much money on them, so some people feel very emotional, they threaten to jump off buildings or set themselves on fire," said Mr. Chiang. "So we have to first make sure the owners' emotional state is stable."

One man recently did just that, killing himself by jumping off a building.

Many owners use delaying tactics such as not replying to notices put up by the demolition crews and simply never being around when the workers come knocking on their door.

This photo taken on 18 August 2012 shows various buildings in Taipei, with the Taipei 101 building rising in the distance Taipei has a varied skyline thanks to illegally constructed units on top of buildings
Video still of Taipei city workers demolishing illegal rooftops Taipei city workers have been demolishing illegal construction for years
Unlike in poorer countries, in Taiwan the owners of illegally constructed properties are often middle class.

Bernice Chang has been living with her family in a rooftop addition for years. When she and her husband bought the top level apartment of a building, it came with the addition.

She used to rent it out to earn income. Now she, her husband and two children live in the three bedrooms on the rooftop, while also using the lower level apartment's kitchen and living room.

"We were young at the time and thought we could rent out the unit to help pay the mortgage," said Ms Chang. "But now that I know more about structural safety, I do think these units shouldn't have been built in the first place. They add weight to the building."

Video still of Bernice Chang Bernice Chang and her family live in the rooftop addition above their apartment
Some of the units are sought after by not only locals but expats like American John van Trieste.

He lives in a rooftop studio made of metal sheeting and plywood. It has a small bathroom and laundry room, but no kitchen. He tried to move out because he was worried about safety issues, but moved back in because he likes the peace and quiet of being on the top level.

"Basically you may not have any neighbours; it'll be quiet usually, but there's very little insulation, there's extremes of temperature, and maybe noise if it rains," he says.

"It's very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. It can be quite noisy when a typhoon comes because of the metal sheeting on the roof. When we get earthquakes, I worry is it going to be the time it falls on my head. "

"But they are everywhere. Where would they put all the people who live in them if they tear them down?" he asked.

That's exactly how the government feels.

So despite the demolitions, few people believe the problem will go away. Illegal units have become an integral part of Taiwan's housing and it seems they will continue to dot the skyline.

kalifese Feb 23, 2015 12:15 AM

why is it then that other cities can demolish old run-down buildings yet find places for those displaced residents to live? there's plenty of other housing those people can move to. i feel like people dont want to move out of those illegal structures. like the article says, illegal structures have become part of the culture in taiwan. people have no shame about living in such buildings. in places like u.s., europe, and cities like nyc, most people would be embarrassed to live in crappy ugly dirt illegally built concrete structures with tin roofs and bird cages on windows. heck even housing projects for poor people or homeless people in the u.s look better and are better designed those most middle class housing in taiwan!! most people there would want to knock them down and replace them with beautifully designed buildings and hire quality architects to design them. taiwanese still have a very third world mentality.

this statement is very sad:

"So despite the demolitions, few people believe the problem will go away. Illegal units have become an integral part of Taiwan's housing and it seems they will continue to dot the skyline."

williamchung taiwan Oct 5, 2015 5:15 AM

williamchung taiwan Nov 29, 2015 9:46 AM

williamchung taiwan Dec 15, 2015 9:33 AM

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Dec 8, 2015 @ 09:00 PM 27,916 views

Five Signs Taiwan Is Emerging, Not Developed

Ralph Jennings ,

I cover under-reported stories from Taiwan and Asia.

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Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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MSCI MSCI +%, the venerated New York-based architect of stock market indexes, will be back someday to reevaluate Taiwan after deciding last year the capital market was emerging, not developed. MSCI found “absence of any significant improvements in key areas negatively affecting accessibility in the…equity markets for the past few years.” That leaves Taiwan shares in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.

The MSCI deliberations raise a broader question about Taiwan: Is it developed? Hardly anyone starves to death, dies before age 1 or lives on $1 a day in a grimy gang-infested slum. Per capita income is $22,704 this year. But MSCI is looking at market maturity and would raise Taiwan’s level after “meaningful improvements,” per the 2014 statement. Markets are just one tool to measure development. Taiwan is still emerging in at least five other ways:

Motor scooters wait anxiously for a red light to change on a packed Taipei street, November 26, 2015. (SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Building construction

It’s hard to find an apartment building more than 30 years old without unapproved, jerrybuilt “granny flats” on the roof. Illegal units total about 7,000 in Taipei. Mayors talk about getting rid of them but seldom make more than a small crack in the issue. (Imagine the population of voters without roofs.) Older buildings also allow apartment owners to build outward through their windows or onto shared balconies. For buildings without centralized management, homeowners seldom pool money to maintain the whole property, leaving gray or yellow water stains on exterior walls among other signs of decay. Some units pose structural hazards. A lot more just stun tourists who visit Taiwan expecting a different kind of culture and scenery.


2. Green space

Urban trees help ease air pollution, cool hot cities and even calm aggressive drivers. But they’re a post-modern luxury. Most of urban Taiwan is too dense for serious street trees. Buildings come right up to the curbs — on streets that have even those. Legislators fault government for improper planting along streets that are wide enough, allowing otherwise hardy trees to fall easily during typhoons. But trees cost money, the top concern for an emerging country. For every 1% increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover goes up 1.76%, according to research compiled by science writer Tim De Chant on the website.

“There’s nothing Taiwan can do about typhoons, but perhaps the authorities could try to educate people about the value of trees for shade, reducing energy consumption, air quality, biodiversity and flood mitigation,” says Steven Crook, a writer on Taiwan environmental issues.

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3. Law enforcement

Enforcement of most laws only follows complaints. Traffic cops who see someone double park or deny someone else the right-of-way do nothing. Code enforcement officers don’t walk about the neighborhoods looking for rampant illegal gambling or dogs barking above the legal decibel levels. They wait for complaints before investigating and follow up based on a sense of who’s morally right or wrong rather than the word of law. Taiwan’s white-collar crime suspects such as people in the companies linked last year to tainted cooking oil may get light sentences because their companies contribute heavily to the economy – and to decision makers in government.

4. Quality of life

Noise in Taiwan can be severe enough to disrupt sleep. Factory smoke, underground gas lines and other industrial spill over into people’s neighborhoods, some of which have complained over the past five years against some of Taiwan’s top manufacturers. Gas lines exploded one night in 2014 in a dense residential tract of the southern industrial city Kaohsiung and killed 32 people. Formal complaints are less common against more local quality-of-life threats such as standing water that breeds mosquitoes or remodeling noise late in the evening. Having food on the table is enough of a blessing for those old enough to remember Taiwan’s widespread poverty.

5. Stranger-to-stranger relations

Historic fear of scarce resources – poverty’s sidekick in any emerging country – can keep human relations strained and competitive. People act politely face to face, but when backs turn (or if two people have never met) so do a lot of common courtesies. Watch Taipei commuters rush madly into a sidewalk bottleneck ahead of others instead of doing the you-go-first maneuver. Ever had your clerk interrupted by the next guy in line before your transaction is finished? University students leave their packs on library tables to ensure a study space after coming back from a lunch, blocking classmates who need a place to sit. A new arrival at work will be watched for signs of an easier job or higher pay compared to colleagues and ostracized if either proves true.

williamchung taiwan Dec 19, 2015 3:47 AM


taiwan-city forum

williamchung taiwan Feb 14, 2016 6:26 AM

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The demolition of cross-rail bridge is finished.

williamchung taiwan Mar 9, 2016 2:38 PM

Zhongxiao W Road reopens as demolition finishes early

‘THINK SLOW, ACT QUICKLY’:Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je attributed the quick work to good preparation and said the experience should help the government in the future

By Tseng Ying-yung / Staff reporter

People cross the street in front of Taipei’s North Gate yesterday after the reopening of Zhongxiao W Road.

Photo: Tsung Chang-chin, Taipei Times

Taipei’s Zhongxiao W Road was reopened to traffic yesterday morning after work to tear down an overpass to the Zhongxiao Bridge (忠孝橋) was completed ahead of schedule.

However, authorities advised commuters to depart at least 20 minutes earlier or to use public transportation if they are required to pass through the area on their way to work tomorrow morning.

Taipei Department of Transportation Commissioner Chung Hui-yu (鍾慧諭), Public Works Department Director Peng Chen-sheng (彭振聲), Traffic Division head Wu Yao-nan (吳耀南) and other officials used a whistle to signal the reopening before traffic resumed at 8am yesterday.

Peng said a steel structure is to be built by Nov. 30 to fill in a gap in the bridge after the overpass is demolished, but the Public Works Department is in talks with the construction’s contractor to move the completion date to July.

Once the structure is completed, the project is to enter its second phase, in which a bus station used by Kuo-kuang Motor Transportation Co (國光客運) is to be demolished.

As Zhongxiao W Road has been reduced from four lanes to three in each direction, people are advised to use public transportation or use the Jhongsing Bridge (中興橋) or Taipei Bridge (台北橋) when commuting to Taipei from New Taipei City, Chung said.

If traffic congestion extends to 3km, the department is to allow only large vehicles and motorcycles to directly exit from the Zhongxiao Bridge, while cars are to be directed through the Huanhe (環河) gateway, Chuang said, adding that if traffic backs up for 5km, cars are to be directed to the Jhongsing or Taipei bridges.

The department expects traffic in the area to stabilize after a week, she added.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said he was satisfied with the demolition work being completed earlier than planned, adding that while work continues on the city’s west area gateway project, the overpass had accomplished its mission and Taipei’s North Gate (北門) is now once again visible, opening a new page in Taipei’s history.

“Good preparation is the reason the demolition was successful and ended sooner than planned,” Ko said, adding that the result could not have been accomplished without careful planning and precise execution.

He said his administration is following the mantra of “think slowly and act rapidly,” adding that he hopes the government can learn from the success to make the city better.

Additional Reporting by I-chia Lee

williamchung taiwan Mar 9, 2016 2:41 PM

Top News

Taipei City places premium on urban aesthetics



Publication Date: February 25, 2016
Source: Taiwan Today

Taipei City places premium on urban aesthetics
The beauty of Taipei City’s historic North Gate is in stark contrast to surrounding signage and heavy traffic flows. (UDN)

Enhancing the look and feel of Taipei’s designed urban environment is a top priority for the local government as it transforms the city into one of the world’s most aesthetically pleasing metropolises.

An initiative capturing headlines is the demolition earlier this month of the concrete overpass to Zhongxiao Bridge and consequent uncovering of the city’s historic North Gate.

Constructed more than 130 years ago, Beimen has been effectively hidden for 39 years, robbing Taipei of a cultural asset and denying tourists the opportunity to see the city’s sole surviving gate from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

The beauty of the landmark is in stark contrast to unsightly advertising signs adorning the western part of Taipei. This had led to calls from urban planners and the public for the local government to pay more attention to aetheticizing the city center.

According to the Taipei City Government Department of Culture, efforts are underway to address the issue. These include projects assisting merchants designing less obtrusive retail signage, as well as adorning over 9,000 electricity boxes with eye-catching murals.

But Agua Chou, head of locally based consultancy Agua Design, believes the public can accomplish more when it comes to enhancing Taipei’s appeal.

“The problem with Taiwan’s billboards, which are mostly rectangular plastic boxes, is not their dull appearance but lack of personality,” she said. “Their color selections also leave a lot to be desired as they take no consideration of the surrounding environment.”

Chou is an expert on the matter. In 2013, her firm implemented a DOC-commissioned store sign design project that struck a chord with retailers and members of the public alike.

Citing garish, oversized store signs as an example, Chou said such displays are eyesores and trample the public’s right to pleasant views.

“But this does not mean signage must be standardized to create more orderly street scenes,” she said. “It is important to encourage community dialogue and reach consensus on the relationship between signage and the neighborhood.”

Echoing Chou’s remarks, Wu Szu-ju, CEO of Taipei-headquartered art consulting firm Union Vision, said urban environment issues show the value of forging a win-win relationship between merchants and the public.

In 2014, the art consulting firm carried out a DOC-commissioned mural project involving 28 transformer boxes in historic Dalongdong in Datong District. The lively artwork captured the spirit of the area’s vibrant traditional Chinese religious heritage.

“Aesthetics is a highly subjective matter, and laws and regulations offer little help in this regard,” Wu said. “But by stressing the need for pleasing designs and regular maintenance work will make a difference in reshaping the appearance of Taipei’s streets.” (SFC-JSM)

Write to Taiwan Today at

williamchung taiwan Mar 11, 2016 1:37 PM

New Taipei Bike Path
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williamchung taiwan Mar 20, 2016 1:17 AM


williamchung taiwan May 14, 2016 5:35 AM

Taipei city government continue to construct new bike paths and extend the width of pedestrian path in city centre. I support this policy even it will cause serious traffic jam.

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