Sunday, December 21, 2008

A brief introduction: my Taipei neighborhood

After a long journey, I've finally settled in back at home in Taiwan. And since it looks like I escaped the cold December rain in Philadelphia only to return to somewhat less cold December rain in Taipei, I thought I'd spend the morning beginning a long-delayed series of posts centered around my neighborhood here.

To begin with, the Taiwanese aren't nearly as into naming their neighborhoods as Americans are, and more often than not, place names don't get any more specific beyond administrative district boundaries. So I can tell you that I live in Neihu, but that's about as precise as saying that I live somewhere in South Philly. However, I could narrow it down a bit by calling my neighborhood the National Defense Medical Center area. Catchy and extremely marketable, I know. Interestingly, it happens to be one of the few parts of Taipei where one can easily find what can very well be described as rowhouses or townhouses, made possible by large expanses of vacant land that opened up for development in the 90s. Most of the area was entirely built up over the past decade, and as land prices have skyrocketed in recent years, new construction increasingly consists of higher-density towers.

Nonetheless, the neighborhood was built largely to satisfy middle and upper class demand for quieter, "surburban" living, and it shows. Much unlike the rest of the city, zoning prohibits any commercial development on all but major streets, and gated developments and street-facing garages are common. I'm well aware that these are highly antithetical to good, walkable urban design, but somehow they don't seem detract from my enjoyment of the neighborhood as much as one might expect them to. In general, I've noticed that many things that pose atrociously difficult obstacles to pedestrian life in North America have hardly any effect in Asia. Plus, the general lack of motor traffic in the neighborhood makes it one of the most bicycle-friendly parts of the city, a fact I am very thankful for.

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