2012 / 11月
interview by Chen Hsin-yi /tr. by David Smith
Social design was the focus of the Taipei City Government’s recent Design & City Exhibition, where the main venue was located at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. The event is unique in that it also features a separate exhibition, Taipei Design Clusters, happening simultaneously in four different areas of town. Through their interactions with each other, the creative workers taking part in the exhibition invite local residents to take a new look at the cultural treasures hidden in the city’s back streets.
The exhibition was carried out under the direction of Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner Liou Wei-gong, who describes creative clusters as “backstreet urban renewal, and design clusters with a faith in creativity.” He believes that design and creativity are a soft power that remakes a city.
Q: What is the difference between a creative cluster and an ordinary shopping district?
A: A shopping district focuses on commerce, while a creative cluster focuses on aesthetic living, value systems, and lifestyles.
Creative clusters still fall under the purview of industrial policy, but they are different from capital-intensive, flagship-style industries. We are more concerned with micro-businesses, youth employment, and spatial regeneration. At its core, it is about creativity and R&D.
Q: What is the importance of creative clusters to urban development?
A: Now that globalization has gone as far as it can possibly go, cities are beginning to turn back and seek out what is uniquely local. We experience delight when traveling abroad precisely because the street scenes there give expression to the creative spirit that built those streets, and because the people there are proud of how they live.
The point of a creative cluster is to afford more people the opportunity to know the place they live in, and go on from there to find their own values and lifestyles. This is an indispensable part of urban development.
If a city is to develop sustainably, it cannot rely solely on rapid transit systems and other physical infrastructure. It also needs a confident citizenry.
The touristic appeal of Taipei City is growing. More and more backpackers from Singapore, Hong Kong, and even mainland China are coming here and exploring Taipei with a lot more curiosity than that typically displayed by traditional tourists. These backpackers provide a niche where creative clusters can thrive. But comprehensive planning and packaging is needed.
Q: How is the Taipei City Government going about guiding the development of creative clusters?
A: In its work pertaining to creative clusters, the Department of Cultural Affairs concentrates mostly on the marketing side. We organize guided tours, push for the installation of streetside display cases, and make maps, for example. With streetside display cases, the idea is to get every shop to become a miniature art museum, so that beauty just naturally becomes a part of the street scene.
Our main focus this year is on four areas: Beitou, Wanhua, Dadaocheng, and the Wen-Luo-Ding area around Wenzhou, Roosevelt, and Dingzhou roads. Each of these places has its own unique local culture and historical background, and each attracts a different sort of creative person to work there.
For example, the defining feature of both Wanhua and Dadaocheng is a juxtaposition of the old and the new. Southern Wanhua, where creative forces are relatively weak, presents the biggest challenge. Our approach there is to treat Youth Park as a unique green asset, and to implement a comprehensive plan to attract creative workers to the area.
We also intend to foster the development of creative workers. We are going to find unused space where we can set up a “Taipei Academy of Creativity,” for example. Creative workers have to continually improve their managerial methods, and what the government can do is to set up a platform and improve the overall business environment.
Q: How do you go about attracting creative workers to take part in the building of a cluster environment?
A: Design workers can play different roles in urban development, which is why “social design” has been chosen as the theme of the Design & City Exhibition. When human-centered concerns constitute the motivation and purpose of design, and when we begin to focus on important issues relating to urban living, such as environmental protection and reuse of resources, then design can be a source of strength for residents in their quest for aesthetic living.
The Department of Cultural Affairs is planning a set of systems that will allow design workers to express their identification with the local community, and their ideals for it, whether it be through something so small as redesigning a neighborhood bulletin board, or something as significant as proposing creative solutions to a community’s environmental issues.
Q: A lot of creative clusters are located in areas zoned for mixed residential and commercial use. How do you strike a balance between the quality of residential life and development of commerce?
A: Taipei neighborhoods have always featured mixed residential and commercial use. It would be very difficult to have a purely residential neighborhood. And besides, purely residential neighborhoods don’t necessarily make for a livable city.
As I see it, when you promote creative clusters, you are working with intangible infrastructure, whereas with a shopping district you’re dealing with physical infrastructure. We are trying to get beyond the old emphasis on things like “foot traffic” as the benchmarks for measurement of local development. Instead, we want to develop ways to operate sustainably.
As we go about our task, we are steadfastly against engaging in price competition. We don’t put out a lot of advertising all over town, nor do we publicize shops that are already really well known and have long lines of people waiting to get in.
Ideally, once there are creative clusters scattered throughout Taipei, foot traffic will no longer get concentrated in a few specific areas. The key is to get every area to develop its own distinctive character.
Long experience has shown that doing a good job with “public interest” concerns is profitable, but if we forget our responsibilities as members of a community, we will meet with pushback. Controversy has arisen in the shopping district near National Taiwan Normal University in part because people doing business there have taken a “just passing through” attitude. They don’t see themselves as members of the local community. So we would strongly encourage design workers to develop in the direction of becoming “social enterprises,” by which I mean that they should include public interest concerns among their lines of business, or use commerce as a means to resolve societal problems.