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2009 Happiness Survey

The Ascent of the City


The Ascent of the City


In 2009, city and county chiefs face pressure to perform, and urban areas claim a higher quality of life than their country counterparts. In this year’s Happiness Survey, which localities have risen, and which are on the slide?



The Ascent of the City

By By Benjamin Chiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 430 )

CommonWealth Magazine's 2009 Happiness Survey is a ranking of Taiwan's 25 cities and counties based on in-depth analysis of 53 indicators across five major categories, namely Economic Vitality, Environmental Protection, Governance, Education, and Social Welfare.

Taipei and Kaohsiung cities took the top two overall places, respectively, in the 2009 CommonWealth Magazine Competitiveness Survey, followed in order by Hsinchu City, Tainan City and Taichung City. (Table 1)

Cities nearly occupied the entire top half of the rankings, while counties seemingly had no chance to make it into the top five.

"Wealthy cities, poor counties,"former premier Su Chen-chang offers succinctly. Not only are county governments performing worse and worse in development, but the gap in their manpower and policy support is also widening.

In late June the Executive Yuan announced that Taipei County would be upgraded in status to that of a "special municipality"under direct central government administration (and renamed "New Taipei City”), and that Kaohsiung City and Taichung City would also be merged with their respective surrounding counties, and upgraded as well. Shortly thereafter, the merger of Tainan City and County into a special municipality was also announced.

The move initiated changes of unprecedented magnitude to the demarcation of administrative areas that had stood for the past 60 years in Taiwan, creating a system of five cities and 17 counties.

"The administrative redistricting has ushered in a new era of two different worlds in Taiwan. The strong get stronger and the weak get weaker,"frets Jiayi County magistrate Chen Ming-wen.

Chen says that the administrative restructuring will divide the competitiveness of Taiwan' s cities and counties into four distinct classes: the first consists of municipalities directly under central government administration; the second is outer islands and the east coast (protected by the Provisions Governing Outer Island Development and the Draft Provisions Governing Development of Eastern Taiwan); the third is counties and cities like Taoyuan County with an established industrial base; and the fourth is agricultural cities and counties. Thus, Jiayi County has now become a fourth-class citizen, says Chen. And the gaps dividing Taiwan's 25 cities and counties are set to grow wider.

Economic Vitality: status quo regions search for identity

Although the administrative redistricting set the tone for this year's competitiveness rankings, "County chiefs and city mayors must still lift themselves up and establish the competitiveness of their cities and counties,"stresses Miaoli County magistrate Liu Cheng-hung, who ranked second in this year's Governance rankings. There is still plenty of room for poorer counties to put up a fight in their own interests, Liu believes.

In the Economic Vitality category, which has the greatest direct bearing on competitiveness, cities occupied the top five places among Taiwan's 23 cities and counties. In order, the top five cities were Taipei, Hsinchu, Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Taichung. (Table 2)

However, more in-depth analysis reveals that cities and counties with comparatively fewer resources to work with are fighting hard against the tide.

For instance, Liu Cheng-hung was named in the survey as the city or county chief executive that has made the most efforts to develop the tourism industry and create job opportunities.

The Miaoli County government is especially adept at using large-scale events to raise its tourism profile. Last November's concert by famed Spanish tenor José Carreras drew over 42,000 visitors from outside the county in one night.

Nantou County magistrate Lee Chao-ching, a tireless promoter of tourism who ranked fifth in that category, positions Nantou as a county especially suited for rural tourism. Supporting this direction, international visitors to Nantou have quintupled over the past four years, and are expected to top one million this year. 

Nantou County government representatives undertook a tourism promotion tour with stops in Japan, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau, inviting over 100 Japanese and Korean travel agencies to survey the county's top tourism attractions. A 2D barcode was established for Nantou County, so that in Japan when the barcode is scanned with a mobile phone lens, pertinent tourism information comes up, making it easier for Japanese and Korean backpackers to plan trips 

Environmental Protection: DPP-run Regions Greenest

In the wake of the devastation of Typhoon Morakot on August 8, the issue people care most about, after development, is how their administrators approach the sustainable operation of their areas.

The top two places in CommonWealth Magazine's environmental protection assessment were claimed by Kaohsiung and Tainan cities, respectively, both under the administration of mayors belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In order, the next three in this category were Hualian County, Taichung City, and Taoyuan County. (Table 3)

Under the direction of Mayor Chen Chu, the industrial city of Kaohsiung rallied the people around the World Games, using the occasion to give the city a major facelift. From way back in twelfth place three years ago, Kaohsiung City climbed all the way to the top of this year's survey in the category of Environmental Protection.

Taoyuan County, another major commercial region, also made great strides in our environmental assessment, going from tenth last year to fourth this year on the strength of major improvements in waste water treatment efficiency and reduction of air pollution.

Governance: Strict Attention to Detail

Amidst competition where resources decide everything, the clearest indicator of the quality of governance is policy execution.

CommonWealth Magazine's 2009 Happiness Survey rankings broke the domination of cities, demonstrating the effectiveness of local administrators' policy execution and roadmap planning. The top five in this category went to Penghu County, Miaoli County, Kaohsiung City, Hsinchu City, and Tainan City. (Table 4)

The public named Magistrate Wang Chien-fa, of top-ranking Penghu County, second in terms of his efforts to close the gap between the wealthy and the poor in his county. Faced with a serious drain of young people, Wang is putting considerable effort into creating job opportunities. In addition, he is working on establishing a long-term care network for seniors living alone.

Education: Poorer Counties Also Move Up

Capable manpower is the key to success in the future worldwide competition among cities. In this year's Happiness Survey, Taipei City, Hsinchu City, Kaohsiung City, Penghu County, and Taichung City took the top five positions, in respective order. (Table5)

The survey indicates that over 30 percent of Taipei City residents had borrowed a book at a library at some point over the last year, and that Taipei City ranks third nationwide in average library borrowing per capita.

Top-ranked Taipei City has set up a supremely convenient citywide library book borrowing system. One can not only take out books at MRT stations and a Neihu super store, but even reserve courier delivery of books at municipal libraries.

Although Jiayi County's educational resources cannot hold a candle to Taipei's, Magistrate Chen Ming-wen's efforts at lowering the proportion of school drop-outs have allowed his county to tie with Taipei for second place overall.

Ten of Jiayi County's 18 townships are remotely located. "Many children come from single-parent families or are raised by their grandparents. Getting a child back to school can save one more family,"Chen Ming-wen fervently declares.

According to Ministry of Education regulations, a student cannot be reported as truant until at least three days of absence from school. However, by bringing together the powers of the Department of Education, Department of Social Affairs, and the police, "we can issue a truancy report when a student misses one day of school,"relates Chen.

The police station is responsible for searching places young people typically congregate, and the Department of Social Affairs dispatches young men performing alternate military service trained in psychological counseling to the student's home, together with a teacher from the school, to look into the situation.

Cross-agency integration has helped significantly lower the number of dropouts in Jiayi County, from more than 60 in 2005 to just 11 in 2009.

Social Welfare: Balancing Efficiency and Care

As Taiwan fights to pick up and rebuild after the recent devastation of Typhoon Morakot, everyone wants to know which of the island's 25 cities and counties place the greatest emphasis on social welfare. The answer is Taipei and Kaohsiung cities.

Most notably, the top six places in this category are occupied by cities, which lead counties by a wide margin.

Kaohsiung City is clearly the most improved performer in social welfare, moving way up from eighteenth last year to second this year. (Table 6)

"Kaohsiung City stresses putting the disadvantaged first. And we have established the channels for delivering social welfare services,"relates Mayor Chen Chu.

The Kaohsiung City government established well over 100 social welfare service nodes within three years, including 110 for the elderly and eight for foreign-born spouses.

The government's powers are limited, but the public's are inexhaustible. Under Kaohsiung City's cooperative arrangements with over 100 private charities, the city government is responsible for coordination and distribution of labor. The new poor, and other segments of society that fall on the margins of social welfare laws and regulations, are desperately needy, yet they are not covered by the government's protective umbrella. This is where private charities step in to look after them.

Additionally, Kaohsiung City has introduced a housing program for low-income households, making three-bedroom public apartments available for one million NT dollars. "Before handing over the keys, the city government conducts a thorough inspection to make sure the ground is level and all the pipes are clear. Service of this kind isn't necessarily available for most home buyers,"says Su Li-chiung, director of the Kaohsiung Bureau of Social Affairs, stressing that social welfare needs to be caring as well as efficient.

As the country's largest county, Taipei County has devoted considerable effort to establishing a medical care network to cover remote areas, upgrading the status of local health departments spread out around the county to that of 24-hour township health centers.

For example, residents of the northeast coastal township of Gongliao had to spend over an hour of transit time to see a doctor at night in Ruifang or at Keelung's Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, delaying emergency response time.

However, recently the Gongliao health department set up 24-hour emergency services, staffed by rotating physicians from Sijhih Cathay General Hospital. The facility also purchased additional optometry, operation room, and X-ray equipment. During the day regular health department staff see patients, and doctors and nurses from Sijhih Cathay General Hospital cover the night shift. "All it took to set up 24-hour emergency medical services on the northeast coast was NT$10 million in additional funding,"stresses health department director Hsu Ming-neng.

Chief Executive Satisfaction: Major Reshuffling

This year the futures of numerous county and city chief executives lie in the balance. A total of 10 incumbent county magistrates and city mayors will face election races in early December, seven will step down after two terms, and another seven will match up in next year's upgraded city mayoral elections.

"Good performers have a chance to get Cabinet positions,"offers Jiayi County Magistrate Chen Ming-wen. This is why the 2009 city and county Happiness Survey rankings can be seen as preliminary battles for the year-end elections and indicators of whether departing chief executives can move up to Cabinet posts.

Hsinchu City mayor Lin Cheng-tse kept the top position in CommonWealth Magazine's 2009 ranking of city and county chiefs' overall performance satisfaction. Second place went to Kaohsiung City mayor Chen Chu, whose ranking shot up nine places from last year. (Table 7)

Popular satisfaction with the performance of county and city chiefs in this year's survey was heavily influenced by the recent administrative redistricting.

For example, Eric Li-luan Chu, who took office as vice premier in the recent Cabinet reshuffle, dropped from second last year to twelfth this year. Despite being hopeful of moving up in status in a merger with Taoyuan City, Chu's Taoyuan County was unexpectedly left off the list of upgraded jurisdictions announced in late June. "This is a huge blow to the people of Taoyuan County. After eight years as county magistrate, I feel like I've let them down,"admitted outgoing chief Chu in an interview with our reporter.

The day the list of upgraded and merged jurisdictions was issued, the county magistrate's e-mail box was overwhelmed with messages of protest from constituents, and even the county assembly and township chiefs wanted to organize groups to protest to the central government. Magistrate Chu made an effort to reassure each one in turn.

The job performance satisfaction ranking is the most stringent test for city and county chiefs. The considerable administrative resources at their disposal do not correlate directly with high performance satisfaction ratings from the public. On the contrary, even poor counties can make a splash under good governance.

Whether or not they sit at the helm of municipalities upgraded to direct central government jurisdiction, city and county chief executives must put every possible effort forth into making their area competitive, if they are to be considered right for the job.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman

About the Survey

The 2009 CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey was conducted by telephone between July 12 and August 9, 2009. A total of 10,176 valid responses were obtained through stratified random sampling. Each city and county was surveyed as a separate unit, and surveys were successfully completed in 23 out of the 25 cities and counties under the jurisdiction of the Taiwan government. (The two counties of Jinmen and Lianjiang (the outlying islands of Jinmen and Matsu, respectively) did not return a sufficient amount of data for valid analysis.)

Valid responses per county and city ranged between 385 and 435, depending on total population. The poll had a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of plus/minus 4.7-5.0 percent for each area surveyed. The margin of error for the entire area surveyed was plus/minus 1.0 percent. Statistical representativeness verification and weighted processing were applied to all data, based on gender, residence, age and educational level.

Happiness ranking: In order to understand the emotional states of the people of Taiwan, CommonWealth Magazine undertook a ranking of the area's cities and counties based on five major categories and 53 indicators, including surveys of government agencies at various levels, statistical data, and the CommonWealth Magazine public opinion survey.

Chief executive ranking: CommonWealth Magazine also ranked the mayors and magistrates of all counties and cities according to relative satisfaction with their performance in ten areas. The percentage of positive responses for each question was directly used as points for calculation. The satisfaction level for governance accounted for 50 percent of the overall ranking, and the average of points from all other questions accounted for 50 percent.