In most areas in China, a dual system of land ownership exists between urban and rural areas: state-owned land and collectively-owned land. When a certain level of urban development is reached, more land is required, and the rapid expansion of urban areas causes rural villages on the periphery of the city to be surrounded by high-rise buildings. Although, geographically speaking, this area belongs to the city, no unified urban planning and management measures have been established for these villages, thereby resulting in a perpetually unclean environment with overcrowded housing and incomplete infrastructures. This is the origin of a particular phenomenon that occurs during the urban development process in China: “the urban village”. The urban village is an agglomeration that is characterized by the presence of old, low-rise housing.
However, the urban village is not a phenomenon of the urbanisation process that is unique to China. Although the dual system of land ownership between urban and rural areas does not exist in Taiwan, the Huaguang community (華光社區), which is situated in the border area of the Zhongzheng and Daan Districts, just a five minute walk from the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, is representative of the urban village in Taipei.
The Huaguang community, where the former Taihoku Prison (台北刑務所) was located, included three types of residents: “legitimate residents”, “illegal residents” and “residents in illegal construction”. Because the land belonged to the central government, the “legitimate residents” of the community were civil servants who worked for the Judicial Yuan. The community provided a facility that was similar to a public servants’ dormitory. Because there were an insufficient number of rooms for all the qualified residents, the government allowed the residents to build another public servants’ dormitory. “Illegal residents” were those civil servants who had worked for the Judicial Yuan, but had changed jobs, or the offspring who still lived in the dormitory after their civil servant parents had passed away. “Residents in illegal construction” were residents who did not have any family members working in the public service sector, but who had built houses and were living in the Huaguang community without permission. Among these residents, many had moved into the area because they could not afford the high real estate prices in Taipei. The proportions of these different types of residents in the Huaguang community were as follows: 21% were “legitimate residents”, 26% were “residents in illegal construction”, and 53% were “illegal residents” . However, although most of the residents living in the Huaguang community were “residents in illegal construction” and “illegally residents”, they all possessed a doorplate and household registration, and they paid taxes and water and electricity fees to the government. From the perspective of these residents, the government had indirectly accepted their residency.
Compared to most areas in Taipei city, the Huaguang community had many incomplete infrastructures and much old, overcrowded housing. Many houses did not have a proper indoor toilet. Therefore, in the early 2000s, the government launched several development plans to renovate the Huaguang community, which was classified as an urban renewal area. In order to relocate the existing population, the central government presented the residents with two options for compensation: “sale by tender after evacuation (騰空標售) ” or “sale by tender in the present state (現狀標售) ”. “Sale by tender after evacuation” meant that the government offered residents NTD 1.5 to 2.2 million to move out of their house in the Huaguang community before the real estate auction. “Sale by tender in the present state” meant that the government carried out the real estate auction, and then the winning bidder was responsible for the relocation of the remaining residents . However, the compensation and relocation plan provided by the government for the residents applied only to “legitimate residents”. Although “illegal residents” and “residents in illegal construction” had valid doorplates and household registration, they did not qualify for the compensation plan. By March 2013, all 21% of the “legitimate residents” in the Huaguang community had been relocated. The number of “illegal residents” had decreased from 354 to 7 and the number of “residents in illegal construction” had decreased from 175 to 124. The remaining “illegal residents” and “residents in illegal construction” refused to move from the Huaguang community even after the central government recovered the land use rights.
After 2008, the residents were charged by the government for occupying state-owned land. In addition to seeing their houses demolished, these residents had to pay a fine. The government’s actions made the “Illegal residents” and “residents in illegal construction” feel that they were being unfairly forced out by the government and, starting in 2011, they organized a number of protests to demonstrate for their right of residence and to urge the government to establish a resettlement plan.
Throughout the process of urbanisation, illegal housing construction and shantytowns have been serious issues facing the government. The Taiwanese government has demanded that “illegal residents” and “residents in illegal construction” pay the required fine and move out. The residents who have remained in the Huaguang community argue that, because of their unique historical and geographical situation, the government should not issue lawsuits against the residents. In conclusion, both the Taiwanese government and the Huaguang community residents claim their respective rights, and conflicts continue to arise. It is clear that the Taiwanese government must improve its methods for the development of urban planning.
Ph.D. candidate of EHESS ( École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris) focusing on regional economic development in China and Taiwan.