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Democratizing Urban Politics and Civic Environmentalism in Taiwan

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Abstract

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.
... Borrowing John DeWitt's (1994) notion of civic environmentalism, Ching-ping Tang (2003) observed in mid-1990s Taiwan the emergence of this phenomenon: in addition to the grassroots mobilizations of the 1980s focusing on the "narrow" and "self-interested" problem of compensation for industrial pollution, "newly created civic groups engaged in issues of a broader public interest" (Tang 2003(Tang , pp. 1036. Although I would not label the early grassroots mobilizations Boudet 2012; Hager and Haddad 2015), I think the idea of a civic form of environmentalism can still apply today to denote a broad public interest and a scaling up of environmental justice topics. ...
... Borrowing John DeWitt's (1994) notion of civic environmentalism, Ching-ping Tang (2003) observed in mid-1990s Taiwan the emergence of this phenomenon: in addition to the grassroots mobilizations of the 1980s focusing on the "narrow" and "self-interested" problem of compensation for industrial pollution, "newly created civic groups engaged in issues of a broader public interest" (Tang 2003(Tang , pp. 1036. Although I would not label the early grassroots mobilizations Boudet 2012; Hager and Haddad 2015), I think the idea of a civic form of environmentalism can still apply today to denote a broad public interest and a scaling up of environmental justice topics. ...
... Following on previous discussions of civic nationalism (Calhoun 2007;Hsiau and Wang 2016;andMuyard 2012, 2018) and civic environmentalism (DeWitt 1994 andTang 2003), I posit that civic environmentalism crisscrosses between ecology and democracy when it stresses the importance of freedoms of speech and assembly, as well as elections and an independent judiciary. In addition, civic nationalism includes the protection of national sovereignty and the promotion components of the nation (ethnic groups, sub-nations of indigenous peoples, religious and sexual minorities), which implies efforts to contain ethnic hatred and homophobic movements. ...
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Despite the tremendous geopolitical pressure—or perhaps owing to it—Taiwanese civil society has consolidated the country’s democracy over the last two decades, resulting in the excellent scores on various democracy indexes. I argue in this chapter that environmental movements have played a significant role in this process, through what I call civic eco-nationalism, or a civic form of ecological nationalism. After introducing this argument, its theoretical framework, and the conditions that gave rise to it, this chapter reviews the main characteristics of Taiwan’s environmental movements during the last two decades, through the existing literature—which is abundant both in Chinese and English—and my own observation since 2008. A good deal of fieldwork was conducted as a participating observer, which enables an ethnographic immersion over the long run.
... While at the central level competitive elections were introduced decades ago, urban policies are still dominated by a minority of powerful elites, and the interests of disadvantaged groups have remained largely under-represented. Tang argues that numerous cases of anti-growth politics in numerous localities indicate the possibility that, as of recently, democracy is slowly reaching the local level, thereby shifting local politics away from a sheer interest in revenueseeking activities toward a civic activism whose main concerns are social and environmental (Tang 2003(Tang : 1029. Such a theory leads us to consider local authorities as unitary wholes sharing the same set of interests. ...
... It has to be noted that in Taiwan the situation has increasingly improved since the landmark case of the Hsiangshan Tidal Flat Development Project in Hsinchu (1992Hsinchu ( -2001, in which an EIA for the first time managed to prevent the realization of a highly damaging developmental project. In that particular case, also for the first time, a scientifically based discussion by scholars, academics and activists substituted previous emotional environmental protests (Tang 2003). ...
... Thus, public projects often become private, rent-seeking activities rather than being created for the public good. While in "young democracies" central-level politicians are usually committed to democratic principles (if for no better reason than simply because of their public profile), at the local level government officials still maintain patronage networks with their supporters, involving the employment of material gifts and favouritism (Tang 2003(Tang : 1030. ...
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Although Taiwan arguably needs civil and official collaboration on environmental protection, the implementation of an efficient system of environmental regulations has often been hindered by the many actors involved in the process of environmental governance (state, economic actors, civil society, media), whose interests are divergent. Consequently, there is no uniform, homogeneous authority for environmental governance but rather a variety of official and less official agents of authority whose interests and powers overlap and compete. In this paper we will introduce a case study dealing with the controversy surrounding the construction of an alternative road connecting Danshui ([Formula: see text]) with Taibei City (namely, the Danshui North Shore Road Project, [Formula: see text], Danbei daolu) to elucidate what the key influences are that govern environmental power dynamics between different agents with conflicting (or, sometimes, colluding) interests and how these multiple levels of interaction are negotiated by the various players. Our hypothesis holds that although environmental policies are, for the most part, mandated from the top, at the local level their implementation can be bypassed, altered or stalled by these various agents.
... These environmental movements challenged the rule of the authoritarian Kuomingtang (the Nationalist Party, KMT), as Taiwanese citizens were angered by the exploitation of natural resources and the negative impacts on human health. Furthermore, these polluting industries and construction projects were controlled either by the KMT government or local authorities (Tang 2003;Grano 2015b;Ho 2011). Growing environmental protests have also encouraged the blossoming of environmental movements within civil society (Ho 2011, 284;Grano 2015b, 43), which have collaborated with political opposition movements during the process of democratisation (Tang 2003(Tang , 1036. ...
... Furthermore, these polluting industries and construction projects were controlled either by the KMT government or local authorities (Tang 2003;Grano 2015b;Ho 2011). Growing environmental protests have also encouraged the blossoming of environmental movements within civil society (Ho 2011, 284;Grano 2015b, 43), which have collaborated with political opposition movements during the process of democratisation (Tang 2003(Tang , 1036. At the same time, these environmental activists have shown their sympathies to the KMT's opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (Grano 2015b, 43) and the two entities later formed a partnership (Ho 2011, 285). ...
... A number of incidents have heightened the population's concerns over nuclear power, including a fire in the country's third nuclear power plant in late 1985. Moreover, grassroots protests against petrochemicals have pressured the government over compensation (Tang 2003(Tang , 1036. These forces later formed different grassroots environmental groups and also led to the establishment of a national environmental authority (Grano 2015b, 45). ...
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Waste management has been a problem for Taiwanese society over the past two decades due to rapid economic growth and urbanisation. The building of incinerators, however, has stimulated controversies and social discontent over the impacts of incineration on both environmental and human health. In Beitou, a district in the capital city of Taiwan, not-in-my-backyard activism was launched against the building of an incinerator, but the community later promoted the idea of a ‘zero-waste city’ and played a role in the decision by Taipei's government. Using in-depth qualitative interview methods to interview local community actors, and green society members to understand the dynamics between actors, this research discusses these changes and employs the participatory governance approach to networks among residents of the local community and other actors. This paper also concludes that there has been a power shift in state–citizen relationships at the local level, deepening and consolidating democratic politics in Taiwan.
... Although the KMT government temporarily reverted back to authoritarianism during Hau Pei-tsun's premiership (1990)(1991)(1992)(1993) several turning points which will be discussed below (Tang 2003(Tang : 1041(Tang -1044. ...
... The WBSH's decision to participate in the EIA was proved to be the right one as their report was very influential in the EIA process. After one year of investigation, WBSH stated in its final report that there were 26 species of birds in the tidal flat that were subject to legal protection according to the Wildlife Protection Law (Tang 2003(Tang : 1043. Moreover, as the EIA act was enacted during the Hsiangshan Tidal Flat controversy, this case thus become an important example to demonstrate that the EIA was not simply a 'paper tiger'. ...
... The successful preservation of Hsiangshan Tidal Flat may appear "idiosyncratic" because it was the first case to be ruled on under the EIA Act so the government might try to demonstrate the credibility and neutrality of the EIA by "consciously isolating [it from] undue interference" (Tang 2003(Tang :1045. Moreover, it was actually quite rare in Taiwan for local civil groups to be able to exert such a great influence on the decision-making process and even to put a stop eventually to the state's project. ...
Thesis
The central thesis of this study is derived from a pair of seemingly anomalous cases involving anti-high-speed-rail campaigns in Hong Kong and Taiwan, respectively. While the unprecedentedly high degree of public participation in the anti-Express Rail Link movement in early 2010 stands in stark contrast with previous social movements in Hong Kong, the conspicuous absence in Taiwan of an organized force of opposition against the High Speed Rail development in the late 1990s also sets this case apart from other similar local contentious responses. By probing into the contrasting and distinctive cases of the high-speed rail controversies in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the cases of Choi Yuen Village and Liujia Village in particular, this study highlights the salient role of the political opportunity structure in determining the forms of political interaction with the state — namely, transgressive contention and contained contention. Contrary to the depiction in the “expanding political opportunity” literature, this study finds that while a constricting political opportunity structure encourages the emergence of transgressive contention, a further expanding of the political opportunity structure will indeed give rise to contained contention. Finally, this study also pinpoints the importance of organizational dynamics in determining the intensity of mobilization.
... According to Professor Dang, however, the review process, is still often dominated and hijacked by the pro-development faction. This means that, even in those cases where the law states that a project should be halted, other more powerful dynamics of clienteles and corruption inhibit the EIA from being an effective and transparent policy tool (Tang 2003), as seen in the case of KPT (Interview 5 2011). ...
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In representative governments, a healthy turnover of power among ruling parties is viewed as a critical sign of democratic principles. In a political environment where voters’ opinion is the key political driver, the greatest challenge facing the NGO community is often that environmental concerns only represent secondary aspects of the policy-making process. This article focuses on the transformations (or lack thereof) in Taiwan's environmental governance, under different political parties, particularly during the past few years. I begin with an overview of the key issues that have characterised Taiwan's environmental movement and its battles, starting with the democratic transition of the mid-1980s, before focusing on two developmental projects – Taiwan's eighth petrochemical plant and fourth nuclear power facility – to bring to light the most significant changes and continuities in the environmental-policy realm. I pay special attention to the post-2008 period and the ensuing renaissance experienced by the environmental movement, among others. The final section considers the consequences of the KMT's second electoral victory – in January 2012 – for environmental policies and, in light of the article's findings, summarises what has changed and what has consistently remained the same under different ruling parties.
... Civic activism-from the formal to informal-can also be understood as localized expressions of counterpower (Castells, 2008). Civic environmentalism advocates community collaborative and integrated approaches-in contrast to top-down, technocratic approaches-for addressing complex socio-ecological problems (Tang, 2003;Yang, 2010;Karnoven, 2010). Proponents of sustainable cities, eco-cities or livable cities suggest that civic empowerment and engagement are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for realizing urban sustainability or livability. ...
Article
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Civic non-profit associations are experimenting with Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) as tools for transforming their work. The hybrid “info-sociation” concept—combining information and association—is introduced here for studying ICT-linked transformations. An info-sociational diagnostic supports comparisons of ICT praxis at civic associations in Hong Kong and Taipei, including transformations in: governance; organizational and participatory practices. These case studies also explore how civic environmentalists are experimenting with ICTs, including: green new media; map mash-ups for urban monitoring; digital storytelling; and e-platforms for public participation. The working diagnostic introduced in this paper serves three ends: 1) studying the shift from associations to info-sociations; 2) comparing civic strategies for ICT uses; and 3) theorizing about the co-evolution of local civic associations and ICTs. Full text at: http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/807/948
... As such, urbanization studies have seen a shift to institutional influences, especially the forces and effects that are driven by mobilization and the alliance between an urban regime and surrounding property developments (Stone and Sanders 1987; Logan and Molotch 1987). The regime refers to a set of informal social arrangements that can supplement formal political institutions to prepare and implement urban development policies, because political elites are normally constrained from effectively governing a city by a lack of resources, so they seek alliances with strategic economic elites (Molotch 1976;Stone and Sanders 1987;Stoker 1995;Tang 2003;Ward 2009). It is suggested that the interwoven practices of planning institutions and urban regimes not only affect but even create the spatial development form and sustainability of urbanization. ...
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As a part of the inevitable process of industrialization, urbanization and its associated spatial forms generally have a substantial effect on sustainability. This paper considers the spatial form and sustainability of urbanization by evaluating the interaction between land-use planning, urban regimes and the fragmented structure of land ownership. This paper conceptualizes the structure of landownership as an institution that affects the form of spatial development and thereby determines the spatial implications of urban sprawl on sustainability. With reference to the Ilan experience of urbanizing Taiwan, it shows that the development of spatial form and sustainability is the product of planning institution and urban regime mobilization, and it reflects the institutional impact of a fragmented landownership structure. The conclusion also discusses policy implications.
... For example, in both Taiwan and Korea, the role of local political leaders in the coalition is noted to be much more dominant, compared with local businesses and land-based elites. With the mayor taking a pivotal position in the coalition, the other "partners" resemble more closely a client under a patron-client network ( Bae and Sellers 2007;C.-M. Park 2000;Tang 2003). Similarly, Chinese cities are found to increasingly manifest entrepreneurial governance that is dictated by the strong local government and mayor, whose political ascendancy is linked to their cities' growth indicators ( Wu 2002;Xu and Yeh 2005). ...
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