The area around Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall has undergone a tremendous transformation in the past few decades, and nowadays, you can hardly find traces of its past. However, a small community between Xinyi Road and Renai Road, just one block from the memorial hall, remains untouched by urban renewal.

As one of the remaining informal settlements in Taipei, the Shaoxing Community has been negotiating with National Taiwan University for its survival since 2011, when the university sued residents for illegally settling on its property.

“This type of settlement is the result of Taiwanese government’s policy failure in the early days,” said Helen Ko, Community Organizer of Concern Group for Shaoxing Community. “When NTU filed the lawsuit against the residents in 2011, several college students, including me, joined the residents to start protesting publicly, and we were able to settle the case with NTU in 2012 after a large scale demonstration on the school’s 84th anniversary.”

The settlement included a deduction in the compensation residents had to pay, which lowered the amount from close to NTD $2 million to NTD $20,000 for each household. However, the adjusted figure is still too high for most residents of Shaoxing Community, since over 70% of them are either eligible for government benefits or are currently on welfare. After more than four years of negotiation, NTU and representatives of the community finally signed a resettlement plan in June that will require residents to relocate to temporary housing managed by the Taipei City Government in Nangang, while NTU begins the construction for a new hospital, a public green space, and a residential complex that would be rented out to the original residents of Shaoxing Community.

“The scope and outline of the resettlement plan have been confirmed, which assures all residents that they have a way to return once the construction is complete,” said Ko. “Once they move back, the new residential complex would be rented out to them as social housing, even though the older folks find it hard to understand why they have to pay rent for where they used to live.”

To most residents, like a Mr. Chen I spoke to, what they care about the most is the rent of the new housing.

“What we care about the most is the rent, because if it’s too high, then none of us can afford it,” said Chen. “We have put this condition into the memorandum, so hopefully it will turn out to be an affordable price for all.”

With less than a third of the residents remaining in the neighborhood, the students put together an exhibition to showcase the community’s history, and how they coped with the resettlement and other challenges in the future.

“The exhibition is like an announcement, and we hope to showcase what the community has gone through in the past six years,” said Ko.

Urban renewal is a process that often sacrifices the benefits of the disadvantaged communities, but the case of Shaoxing Community may serve as one example where coexistence between original residents and new facilities is possible.  

The exhibition runs until October 15th. 

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William Yang

William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with a passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps.