Nestled deep in the heart of Taipei’s central Da’an district, Jinhua Park provides a tiny oasis of greenery in amongst the sea of grey concrete residential blocks. The residents here are very proud of their greening efforts, and almost every street is filled with potted exotic plants and flowers. Jinhua is one of the many micro-parks that are scattered across Taipei’s patchwork landscape - and no matter where you find yourself, you will always be just a short walk away from the next miniature oasis.
To prove this, I set off on foot to photograph the many micro-parks in the central District of Da’an (and a few just outside for good measure). After a long day of taking notes on the many shapes and sizes, layouts, noise pollution, and aesthetic / atmospheric qualities - I found myself looking at an inconvenient pattern emerging. Not convinced with the scope of my case studies I decided to go out again; but this time to the neighbouring district of Zhongzheng. There are fewer micro-parks here, but the pattern emerged once again...
They are all so stubbornly flat!
As an avid naturalist I find myself slightly uncomfortable writing negatively about these parks — but for all of the beautiful reserves, forests, and hiking trails that surround central Taipei — the micro-parks are disappointingly uninspiring. This is not simply due to their size, as there are some incredible (and tiny) eco-parks located slightly further from the centre (see Fuyang Eco Park). The issue is that they have no identity. The designs are defiantly monotonous and sanitised -- saturated with unnecessary concrete planters that sharply divide ‘nature’ from gratuitously wavy pathways. The wildlife is largely limited to a few local bird species, butterflies, and squirrels — and the furniture is almost identical across the parks (save for a few bespoke pavilions). There is a plethora of larger parks that stage richly diverse ecosystems, require minimal maintenance, and support local activities (see Da’an Forest Park) — so why do the micro-parks fall so far short of their larger counterparts?
One answer could be that too much onus has been placed on the fictional lifestyles of immediately local residents. These residents need formal benches to sit on, perfectly smooth terrains to run around, and distinguished strips of grass to mark their passage. But perhaps these residents would be equally responsive to more rugged terrains, inaccessible peaks, rocky seating, and indirect pathways? Another reason may be down to safety in repetition. Why experiment with new environments that could fail or cause local disapproval when the gains are so minimal? This argument again places too much emphasis on local engagement.
Perhaps the onus should not be placed on human experience at all — but instead, on cultivating environments for other species to thrive. Many of the staged environments at Taipei Zoo are now completely without formal barriers. A natural moat stops the Formosan Rock Macaque’s from escaping, and a simple lack of neighbouring foliage keeps the Zoo’s ‘Insect Valley’ in good working order. So why not translate these design techniques into micro-parks to educate the local community; rather than continuing to prop up a fictional culture of purism?
Fortunately, a new wave of designers are beginning to shift the balance in favour of urban wildlife — and are turning away from the two-dimensional park typology to experiment with multi-tiered landforms. To find out more about these projects, read my next article on Taiwan’s future green infrastructure [Article Coming Soon].