A Tale of 2 Taipei

“In the city, society and nature…are inseparable…yet, simultaneously, this hybrid socio-natural “thing” called “the city” is full of contradictions, tensions and conflicts”

Swyngedouw, 1996:66

There are two Taipei.

The first Taipei is a relentless, plundering industrial machine: as its cogs turned, it fell timber, guzzled industrial chemicals, churned out asbestos, and extruded smog and sewage (Williams, 1992). This Taipei had a glamorous sheen – it was poster child of the “Taiwan Miracle” – a rapid industrialization history from 1965-1986 that cemented Taiwan as an ‘Asian Tiger’ economy. This Taipei sent towering buildings into the sky, and heavy metal leachate into the earth. Both are still present today (Hseu et.al, 2010).

As part of Taiwan’s aggressive export strategies, numerous industries – such as the textile factory pictured above – experienced strong economic growth during the latter half of the 1900s. This period of rapid industrialisation will become known as the ‘Taiwan Miracle’
Source: https://www.soas.ac.uk/gallery/retracingoursteps/

The second Taipei is borne from the shell of its industrial past. It is conflicted, because it knows that its industries brought both riches and pain. It is, however, reeling from decades of indiscriminate pollution and understands the acute need for environmental stewardship. Across various institutions and grassroots communities, the second Taipei is rethinking environmental geographies in convivial ways – seen in initiatives such as state-owned musical recycling trucks, radical eco-business models (see: battery-sharing kiosks for electric scooters) and the collective rallying against climate change when an impressive alliance of universities and NGOs marched in unity.

In a climate change rally last month, protestors pressured the government to act decisively towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The picture above shows a participant imitating a swim through a flood caused by rising sea levels
Source: https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2020/09/28/2003744220

What then, of these tales of 2 Taipei? They are different – but inseparable, for they are but stories of the same city and its relationship with nature. We need these 2 contradictory dialectics to communicate with each other – from past to present, nature to urban. In short, to see the 2 Taipei as two parts of a same whole.

Revisiting Taipei through UPE

How can such reconciliatory dialogue occur? I allude to UPE’s ontology of ‘urban metabolism’:

‘Urban metabolism’ builds upon Latour’s (1993) argument that modern society’s material flows are hybridized networks that straddles both society and nature. Seen from this perspective, all urban objects thus possess an ‘Ariadne’s  thread’ that ‘pass with continuity from the local to the global, from the human to the nonhuman’ (ibid:121). Accordingly, tracing this ‘Ariadne’s thread’ – following the movement of materials and its transformations in urban space – will reveal how extant socio-ecological forces ‘create’ the city from complex interrelations (Swyngedouw, 1996). Doing so requires transcendence across space (urban/nature), and also time (historically embedded infrastructure and practices)

As Taipei’s eco-consciousness gains traction, it must reconcile the discordant environmental rhetoric of its past and present. To this end, UPE enables this by asking two key questions:

  1. What are the socio-ecological circumstances that allowed existing society-nature relations to come into being?
  2. What are the intervening points within this network that allow Taipei to envision better urban encounters with nature?

These are all interesting questions, which I am excited to explore further in the weeks to come!

(454 words)


Swyngedouw, E. (1996) “The city as a hybrid: On nature, society and cyborg urbanization”, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 7, 2, 65-80.

Latour, B. (1993) We Have Never Been Modern, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Williams, J. (1992) “Environmentalism in Taiwan” in Simon, D. F. and Kau, M. Y. M. (eds) Taiwan: Beyond the Economic Miracle, New York: M. E. Sharpe

Hseu, Z. Y., S. W. Su, H. Y. Lai, H. Y. Guo, T. C. Chen and Chen, Z. S. (2010) “Remediation techniques and heavy metal uptake by different rice varieties in metal-contaminated soils of Taiwan: New aspects for food safety regulation and sustainable agriculture”, Soil Science & Plant Nutrition,  56, 1, 31-52.

Hioe, B. (2020) “March Against Climate Change by Young People Takes Place in Taipei” (WWW) Taiwan: New Bloom. (https://newbloommag.net/2020/09/27/climate-march-youth/, 28 Oct 2020).  

4 thoughts on “A Tale of 2 Taipei

  1. Formative feedback:

    -Great use of examples and links, I especially like the part where you link to examples of convivial environmental initiatives in the first blog post.

    -You seem to have a good grasp of the literature as shown by the way in which you link it to your examples and the two key questions highlighted in the first blog post.

    -I can’t really fault anything but perhaps the writing style can sometimes come across as too formal for a blog (mostly when talking about the literature).

    Well done!


  2. Pingback: The Urban Question

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