2015年12月5日 星期六

Environmental justice applies to all

Political commentator Yang Hsien-hung (楊憲宏) once presented what he called the “golden toilet theory”: What if someone were to give you a pure gold, high-tech toilet on the condition that it must be placed in the center of your living room, so that anyone who wants to go to the loo will have to do it in the living room. Would you accept it?
Yang said the point is no matter how valuable, high tech or advanced the toilet is, no one can deprive you of the right to choose whether to accept the offer.
Yang’s theory shows that the quality of a toilet and where it should be placed are two different matters, but people often confuse one with the other and think that as long as it is advanced technology, it can be placed anywhere. The proposed relocation of Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) is such a fallacy.
Supporters of the relocation view themselves as members of the scientific elite. They believe the scientific basis for their arguments to be objective facts. For instance, they say the airspace of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and that of Songshan airport overlap, the primary runway of Songshan airport is so short that big airplanes cannot land or take off — and think these are facts that cannot be challenged. Hence, Songshan airport must be relocated and all aircraft should use Taoyuan airport instead. The real goal of those elites is to repackage a public policy issue and turn it into a scientific issue. They reckon that public policies are purely the domain of scientific research, that they are value-neutral, and can only be discussed and determined within the scientific context that they have established. Whoever dares to object is anti-science and uneducated.
In fact, this is an example of technological determinism, an idea that was popular in the past century.
Political elites and technocrats usually manipulate this discourse to replace democracy and take away the public’s right to choose. Given the magnitude of air traffic that would be transferred to Taoyuan airport, has anyone ever asked the opinions of residents of Taoyuan — especially, those living in Dayuan District (大園)? And is there really no way to resolve the issue of overlapping airspace? If not, why are there still airplanes in the air right now? Moreover, must all airports be built to accommodate big airplanes? Why must there only be big airports and no small or medium-sized ones? Perhaps these elites have forgotten that technology is used to help people make choices and not to make the choices for them, just as you have an absolute right to choose to reject a gold toilet.
This discourse is not only intended to prevent democratic choice, it is also designed to hide the oppression of the disadvantaged by the advantaged, a matter that belongs in the realm of environmental justice. In 1987, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice published a report on toxic waste and race in the US, showing that toxic waste sites were predominantly near minority communities.
This posed a serious threat to their health and lives, and subjected them to much higher risk than other ethnic groups and communities. In the late 1980s, hazardous waste facilities, incinerators and landfill sites were primarily situated in black communities in the southern US. Moreover, 11 out of 14 proposed nuclear waste sites were in native American communities.
This utterly unfair distribution of risk shocked the US. Academics started calling for environmental justice, opposing the various means that majority groups and capitalists used to badger minority groups into accepting unfavorable facilities, including airports. In light of this, then-US president Bill Clinton ordered that certain public constructions not only have to undergo environmental impact assessments, but also environmental justice assessments, to protect socially disadvantaged groups.
As National Dong Hwa University professor Chi Chun-chieh (紀駿傑) has said: “Environmental justice basically advocates for the minority and disadvantaged groups’ freedom from environmental injustice, the proportionate distribution of social resources and sustainable usage of resources, all of which will improve the quality of life for all.”
Development in Taiwan is extremely imbalanced. That the north is prioritized over the south is a well-known phenomenon. For a long time Taipei has received a great many benefits: air quality, water quality, transportation infrastructure, medical facilities, arts and entertainment, etc, all are the best of the nation. How can it be so merciless that it would remove something it does not want and place it in another city?
Everyone wants Taiwan to be a better place, but it should be a better place for all, not just for Taipei, leaving other cities in shambles and on the receiving end of evils that Taipei does not want.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor in National Chengchi University’s land economics department.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
發表在《Taipei Times》,2015/12/05。

2015年11月28日 星期六

台灣要好 就要一起好









Confronting the nation’s land policy conundrum

A group of government officials, business people and academics specializing in land administration and real estate have formed the Taiwan Land Social Alliance.
The group recently held a press conference and unveiled its Taiwan Land Manifesto. During the conference, alliance founders demonstrated how the nation’s lack of a comprehensive land policy has contributed to numerous social problems and called on the central government to carry out an immediate land policy review.
The problems with Taiwan’s current land policy can be broken down into three areas.
First, land policy has overlooked the universal value of land ethics. Land is a purchasable commodity, but it is also an important environmental resource that provides Taiwanese with a place to call home.
For this reason, the manifesto makes particular mention of the fact that in a society based on the rule of law, land is the key basis for orientating a nation toward democratic governance, human rights, economic development, social equality, cultural preservation and environmental conservation.
Unfortunately, because governments are focused on achieving a fixed set of goals, land policy always ends up being dependent on other policy areas. This has resulted in the important issue of land ethics being cast to one side.
In Taiwan, land has now been reduced to a tool for investment and speculation. This has widened the wealth gap and caused Taiwanese society to develop in an unbalanced way.
Second, current land policy lacks both a strategic and legal framework fit for modern times. The alliance’s manifesto calls for land use to be planned and used in a rational manner in order to enhance public welfare. When the authorities intervene, they should do so with due legal process to ensure the public’s basic human rights are upheld.
Although the Martial Law era ended many years ago, the systems that are currently in place are an echo of that authoritarian age. The right to interpret what is in the public interest is still in the hands of a favored few. For instance, a variety of committees, made up of a handful of people, make decisions that affect the lives of the majority. The side effect of this system is excessive land expropriation, forced demolitions for urban renewal projects and other serious infringements of fundamental human rights.
Third, the government has forfeited its chance to use land policy to shape an ideal vision for the future by building a better society and doing something worthwhile. It is well known that increases in land values are generally a social effect, so these profits should be shared with all of society. Instead, land is almost entirely privately owned, which is unreasonable. Therefore, there is an urgent need to build a just and fair system of real-estate taxation so that the fruits of land value increases can be shared with all of society.
Furthermore, in accordance with land use zoning rules, agricultural land should be used for farming. Instead, much of the nation’s best agricultural land is now covered in luxury villas. This has contributed to a severe erosion of the agricultural environment.
A robust and rational land policy is needed in order to develop a better society.
The alliance recommends that the government gather together experts from industry, government and academia and convene a national land conference to fully review issues concerning land in Taiwan.
The government should then formulate a clear policy on land to address the nation’s land issues and the related social problems.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor of land economics at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Edward Jones
(發表於《Taipei Times, 2015/11/19, P.8)



2015年8月19日 星期三







欠缺實質民眾參與、欠缺公平合理審議及欠缺行政救濟保障,可謂我國都市計畫的嚴重問題,而這也違背了美國都市計畫學界及實務界非常強調「規劃的道德倫理守則(Ethical Principles in Planning)」。很遺憾地,21世紀的今日,我國依舊在施行非常專制保守的都市計畫體制,而這也是人民會屢屢走上街頭抗爭的主因!

發表於《蘋果日報》,2015/8/19, A16。

2015年7月26日 星期日

Land rights ignored in the hunt for quick profit

Many Taiwanese might find themselves in a difficult situation as government plans nominally intended to benefit the public interest actually deprive people of their land and the homes which they rely on for their survival.
Why do we have this problem? It is primarily due to financial and political factors. As the government is laden with debt, it constantly makes plans for major construction programs, overstates economic efficiency and population growth and relies on urban planning measures to turn non-taxable farmland into urban land in order to collect land tax and the incremental land tax.
In 1990, the Executive Yuan ordered that farmland should be converted into urban land, all of it by means of zone expropriation. Through this process, the government created large lots of land that could be sold off to private buyers for construction purposes, thus giving the government a financial boost. In the words of former Miaoli County commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), this strategy was a “cash cow” for his government. To increase the self-liquidating rate of public construction projects, land development has been used to finance construction. Regular expropriation has also been used.
Land has huge underlying profit potential that can be converted through political forces. This is the reason over half of all local political factions are engaged in industries related to land development. Local politics is tantamount to land politics, in which urban planning has become a field for political-economic interest exchange and for co-opting local power brokers.
Local development is dominated by an alliance of political-economic interest groups that promote land development and view land as a lucrative commodity. This alliance of interest groups are like vultures that, aside from using urban planning projects and land expropriation, use self-managed urban land rezoning and urban renewal measures and have savagely devoured the land and homes of good people.
Although the Constitution explicitly stipulates that “The right of existence, the right to work and the right of property shall be guaranteed to the people,” the alliance between government and business does not only ignore their importance, it also intentionally misinterprets them. For example, zone expropriation has been misleadingly interpreted as cooperative land development between the government and the private sector in order to avoid the strict requirements that are placed on land expropriation. In addition, self-organized rezoning committees are full of nominal members and as long as the directors and supervisors control half the property rights and members, they also control the remaining property rights.
These practices are quite shocking and could possibly be serious constitutional violations. In particular, rezoning plans that do not go through fair, just and open democratic review processes, but are instead passed by a majority vote, is nothing less than bullying the minority.
Unfortunately, national plans and programs that should be in the public interest have now developed into a system of land exploitation controlled by the alliance of political and business interests. This is a severe invasion of basic human rights, which has led to an increase in difficulties for a number of people. Pope Francis recently said that the poor should be given the right to work, abode and land and that these rights should be protected, calling them “sacred rights.” One can only speculate as to whether this is enough to open the eyes of those in power to the suffering of the poor.
Translated by Zane Kheir
發表於Taipei Times,2015/07/17,P. 8.