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positions: east asia cultures critique 13.2 (2005) 379-410

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Place, Identity, and Social Movements:

Shequ and Neighborhood Organizing in Taipei City

Introduction: An Urban Legend

One summer afternoon in June 1995, a college student on the way home after classes walked, as she did each day, through a neighborhood park. Since she had been walking this route since childhood, she was shocked to see a newly minted sign posted at the gates announcing the demolition of a section of the park to make way for a new road. In disbelief, she went to ask local officials about the sign. They told her that a decision had been made and that there was no way of altering it, since the project had been publicized earlier and nobody had objected to it then. Undeterred, the young woman then turned to several of her classmates for help, and they began a petition effort. Six days later, after they had gathered some five hundred signatures, the hastily formed group held a public hearing, to which they invited the director of the Department of Urban Development. More than a hundred [End Page 379] residents of the area showed up. Seeing the strong opposition, the department director declared that the plan would be reexamined and promised that in the meantime construction and demolition would be suspended.

The college student was Chen Hsin-yi, a twenty-one-year-old Taiwan University economics major.1 The park was called Yungkang (literally, "well-being forever"), after the street that bordered it to the west, and the area is also called the Yungkang community by the locals (see fig. 1). Nicknamed the tree-preservation (baoshu) movement (for the park's more than forty banyan trees) by the area's residents, this accidental mobilization initiated a process of community reconstruction in one small southern Taipei neighborhood. In less than a month, the group (now named Friends of Yungkang Park) called a community meeting to discuss renovating sections of the park that had already been destroyed by the road construction. After the group set forth its preliminary plan, however, the residents of the area were soon divided over how a section of road that bordered the park to the east should be used. The group staged a referendum, albeit a nonbinding one, in August. Hailed by some in the media as a significant step toward a deepening of the democratic process, the referendum proposed that the area be turned into a pedestrian promenade barred to cars and motorcycles.

This article examines the Yungkang Park area residents' efforts to recreate a community during the course of the reconstruction projects that followed the referendum. The Yungkang Community Association (YCA), a spin-off of the Friends of Yungkang Park group, was formally established in June 1996, when concerned area residents took control of the reconstruction projects.2 In the context of post-martial-law Taiwan, this sort of changing mode of mobilization around the complexity of real life has gained momentum as many people have come to believe that earlier, statist, universalistic plans for modernization had ignored, or even destroyed, local differences. Manuel Castells has pointed out what he calls "the crisis of place," in which "the meaning of places for people" is wiped out in the spatial process of capitalist development.3 Often referred to in Taiwan as a "return to the community" (huidao shequ), local mobilization against the obliteration of meaning has confronted profit-motivated developmentalism and in doing so has attempted to salvage the idea that place is not a given but something that can be constantly reimagined and reinvented—a space where the diversity and distinctiveness of common people's lives are acknowledged.4 [End Page 380]

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Figure 1
Chen Chen-shien, The City and the Neighborhood. Courtesy of the artist
[End Page 381]

Community mobilization in the Yungkang Park area is an example of this longing for place. In this article, I examine the politics of place and space in the Yungkang Park area mobilization. I...


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