Democratizing Urban Politics and Civic Environmentalism in Taiwan
What makes urban policies more responsive to environment problems? Local politics in Taiwan is considered to have combined features of both the pro-growth urban regimes of Western democracies and the clientele network of an authoritarian regime. Such features have made the sector resistant to democratic reforms: long after the introduction of competitive elections, urban policies were still overwhelmingly controlled by a handful of power elites and thus the interest of disadvantaged groups was seriously under-represented. Nevertheless, cases of anti-growth politics in different localities indicate the possibility of democracy trickling down to the local level, thereby moving local politics beyond a mere preoccupation in rent-seeking activities towards a civic activism based on a shared agenda of social and environmental issues. How such a transformation can occur can be illustrated by the Hsiangshan Tidal Flat Development Project in Hsinchu city. That incident demonstrated that such procedural requirements as environmental impact assessment in public policy-making provided civic groups with a very powerful tool to prevent an unpopular developmental project from destroying the local ecosystem. The Hsinchu case illustrates the dynamics among institutional reforms, informal political arrangements and strategic responses of civil groups that have resulted in a transformation of traditional urban politics in Taiwan.