Dongshui – more than just a suburb of Taipei

OVF intern Scott, Cherry (OVF volunteer), Joy and I went to historic town of Dongshui, which is now part of metro Taipei. We took the recently completed Dongshui line extension of the Taipei metro (MRT) rail transit system which now makes it within easy reach of central Taipei. While there we went to the local market and a cafe that is one of Joy’s local hang-outs. While there we met her cousin Wade as well as his wife and several friends. We also met Kareem who is a animated film director from France who has been in Taiwan for 8 years now and also several of his colleagues.

Joy received part of her college education at Tamking University in Danshui Taiwan (DanShui means fresh water). The city has a population of about 100k and is home to three universities including Tamking U.

Apparently the MRT (Taipei rapid transit) Danshui extension from Taipei really helped the local economy. That is because the city has a long history with many interesting landmarks.

While its linked to the MRT Dangshui (implying its just a suburb of Taipei) really is a city in its own right with a long and rich history that rivals the considerably larger Taipei.

On the ride in it seemed there was almost constant buildings. So the area along the mouth of the Dongshui R from the city of Dangshui to Taipei is pretty much built up (more than it looks from the google map of the area). It seems the standard size of the buildings are 5-10 stories in size. To me as a student of urban design, development and planning that the idea size of sustainable human scale urban development. And it seems the planners really embraced that  human scale idea by fostering an architecture that houses many spaces for a vibrant street level urban life. What’s interesting is that this kind of scale of development distorts our sense of the city as Americans. We typically see the compact part of the city as limited to urban core – something that is limited to the downtown.  In metro Taipei it seems that just about all you see (5-10 story buildings).

If we examine urban development within this framework we can see the idea of Linear Cities (just like Linear Parks) have been developing for some time now. In a way that observation of the evolving urban pattern might be seen as a validation for Soleri in relation to the relevance of his Linear City idea. However, the issue for Soleri and his legacy is the relevance of his idea to encapsulate and integrate such developments. Do we really need to do this and should we and if so then how do we start? More on this later…

Dongshui was originally an indigenous settlement (Ketagalan) that was later colonized by the Spanish, then the Dutch came and they stayed a bit longer and had more of a long term imprint on the place. Settled by the Ketagalan aborigines, the location was called “Hoba”, meaning “stream’s mouth”. “Hoba” and evolved into Taiwanese as Hō·-bé.

The Spanish arrived in the 17th century. In the fall of 1629, the Spanish established the first major non-aboriginal settlement comprising the town and mission of Santo Domingo. The Spanish occupied northern Taiwan for the purpose of securing Spanish interests in the Philippines against the Dutch (who were already established in the South of Taiwan by then), the British, and the Portuguese, as well as for facilitating trade with China and Japan.

A fellow by the name of Koxinga defeated the Dutch in 1661. Then there was a heavy Han Chinese immigration until the defeat of his descendants by the Qing Dynasty. Under the Qing, Danshui quickly became a major fishing and trade port due to its strategic location. Danshui was opened to foreign trade under the terms of the Treaty of Tientsin, exporting tea, camphor, sulfur, coal, opium, and dyes. Danshui became the largest port in Taiwan, with a notable foreign population and the British consulate at Hong Mao Cheng.

Here is more of what I learned from Wikipedia:

Canadian medical doctor and missionary George Leslie Mackay arrived in Danshui on March 9, 1872, proceeding to establish Taiwan’s first hospitals in Western medicine and formal educational facilities, including Oxford College (now part of Aletheia University), the oldest higher-education institution in Taiwan by some measure.

By the time Taiwan was ceded to Japan following the end of the Sino-Japanese War, Danshui’s position as a seaport was beginning to wane due to the accumulation of sediments in the Danshui River. By the 20th century, most of Danshui’s port operations had moved to Keelung, and the local economy had switched primarily to agriculture. However, public infrastructure construction projects by the Japanese led to Danshui’s rise as a local administrative and cultural center.

Following the end of World War II, Danshui reverted to being a small fishing town. With the expansion of nearby Taipei City, Danshui slowly became a center for tourism along Taiwan’s northwest coast. In the last ten years, the city has become popular as a suburb of Taipei in the local real estate market.

Following the completion of the Taipei Rapid Transit System’s Danshui Line, the town has experienced a sharp increase in tourist traffic, reflected in the completion of several riverside parks, the growth of open-air markets specializing in traditional handicrafts and street-stall snacks, the construction of a fisherman’s wharf, and the increase in passenger ferries traversing across and along the river.

Interestingly the sister city of Danshui is Chico, CA where Joy later went to get her degrees in marketing, political science and communications.

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