Sunday, March 9, 2008

New-look Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung: old and new

fisherman's wharf...its being yuppified; a bit like San Francisco's wharf area

I spent a couple of days in Kaohsiung last week. And I was impressed by how much the southern city is changing - trying to shed its image as a dirty, polluted industrial hub, and become a modern, world class city, emphasising art and culture.

Dancers peform at the unveiling of The Dome of Light, at R10 MRT station - also known as Formosa Boulevard station

One step towards that goal: the opening of the first section of the city's new mass rapid transport system, or MRT, one section of which (the Red Line) was finally opened to the public on Sunday.

Section of The Dome of Light - the largest glass art in the world

The Red Line of the MRT runs from north to south, and connects the high speed railway station in Tsoying, as well as Kaohsiung’s international airport, to the city centre.
R10 - also known as Formosa Boulevard station - is set to be the busiest on the line, as it will intersect with the east-west Orange Line, which is due to open later this year.

Italian artist, Narcissus Quagliata, spent five years constructing his amazing work - which is 30m in diametre - and is the centrepiece of the station. It displays the four cosmic elements - water, earth, light and fire - and also takes as its inspiration the human life cycle: birth and growth, creation and destruction; resolution and rebirth.

"It's a poem to make people dream", he told me when I asked him to tell me about the inspiration for the work.

He also said he had been heavily influenced by spending some time in Kaohsiung and learning about its history (the MRT is the closest station to the spot where the Kaohsiung Incident occurred - a landmark moment in Taiwan's democratisation).
"I was here and decided what to do after I spent quite a bit of time here studying the place. I did exactly what they don’t other words, I tried to make for a utilitarian city something that is very frivolous, something that is for pure enjoyment..not for utility. "

R8 Sanduo Shopping district station Central Park - on the MRT's Red Line.

The entire transport project – originally planned 17 years ago and costing more than $5 billion US dollars – is seen as an important part of Kaohsiung’s transformation from a polluted, heavily industrialised city, into a modern world-class city

Construction, which began more than six years ago, was beset with problems, including several road collapses and rioting by Thai labourers. Many officials were also indicted - and found guilty - for their part in corruption scandals surrounding the project.

the finishing touches on a "windmill garden" outside Central Park MRT

Central Park MRT
The exterior of this station was designed by British architect, Sir Richard Rogers. He wanted to design the exit as a flying leaf...showing the area's green scenery, and symboling Kaohsiung's hopes of flying higher.

"I think for the public construction, its very normal that you have to encounter and conquer all these problems", said Fan Chen-Bou, President of the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corporation, which runs the operation.

"I think for the citizens, its worth it. we are all very proud. for such a long time, our workers, engineers sacrificed their time, energy. The MRT...will change the city, change the style of living for all the citizens in this them a better life, an easier life", he said.

Its clean, fast and efficient. Unlike a similar system in Taipei, the stations in Kaohsiung each have their own look and feature some stunning public artwork.
Man inspects another amazing glass art work - Emerald Laminata, at R4 - Kaohsiung International Airport Station, which looks like a wall of flowing water

Local people I spoke to also seemed extremely proud of their new transport service - despite the long wait and the general inconvenience of the construction over the years.

City officials say the biggest obstacle will be to convince Kaoshiung’s population of 1.5 million to abandon their motorbikes – with more than 1 million registered – and turn to public transport, to help the city become cleaner and greener.


hiroshiken said...

Thank you for this great introduction, the citizens of Kaohsiung are really proud and appreciating.

Hope you can visit Kaohsiung again while the cross network of KRTC is fully open.

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

As a KS citizen, I love the new MRT system here. However, I also worry that MRT is really too costly and wasteful in deco and construction. Its stations are too big and too spacious, far exceeded the need of the KS city, compared to London underground which is very practical one.

Why build a MRT over-decorated? I think it is merely served as a propaganda used by DPP.

Anonymous said...

- MRT is really too costly and wasteful in deco and construction

This is the first time I heard comment like this about KS MRT: 'over-decorated'?

Lee Iacocca said: Everyone wants economy and they will pay any price for it!

The cost (excluding land cost) of the construction of KS MRT is only a fraction of Taipei's MRT. However, when you compare the public art, then there is no comparison between them. KS is much better. So, I guess that saying was right that Taipei was paying much higher price to get some economy class MRT. It is a very funny logic. It sounds like KMT's logic: if it's too good to be true, then there got to be something wrong with it! And, they will just make up some excuse to blame it

Anonymous said...

i actually think the kaohsiung mrt is TOO underdesigned and similar to taipei's mrt, which is a boring, clinical-looking mrt system. but kaohsiung's system definitely is much more interesting and better designed than taipei's. the money invested in art and design is definitely worth it. if citizens enjoy the art and become more culturally aware of the importance of art in society and appreciate it, then the money was definitely worth it. kaohsiung being such a drab, polluted industrial city definitely can use more culture and arts in it's environment.

Bicyclesidewalk said...

Thanks for posting the pics and the great write up. My wife and I and are thinking about moving to Kaohsiung this fall - stories such as this really put my mind at ease...

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