Tainan Mayor Hsu Tain-Tsair
From Ramshackle City to Healthy Metropolis
Once saddled with the nation's highest unemployment rate and a back-of-the-pack environmental rating, how has Tainan City mayor Hsu Tain-tsair breathed new life into his city in just six short years?
From Ramshackle City to Healthy MetropolisBy Benjamin Chiang
Strolling at sunset through the cultural district surrounding Tainan's Confucius Temple, it is surprising to discover that the lofty wall that once surrounded Jhongyi Elementary School is no longer there, replaced by low-lying bushes, trees and a lotus pond in full bloom.
"In the last few years Tainan City has become beautiful," says Mr. Chen, a 70 year-old resident out for his evening constitutional amid the numerous couples snuggling and courting on the green lawn in front of the temple.
In the six years since the administration of Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair took office, Tainan has gradually developed into a healthy city. In this year's CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey, Tainan City surged ahead to claim third place, and in March the World Health Organization’s Alliance for Healthy Cities recognized Tainan with its "Award for innovation in monitoring and evaluation of Healthy Cities."
"A mayor should create space for the city to grow in value," Hsu notes.
In fact, Hsu says when he took office in December 2001 the city's "unemployment rate was the nation's highest, our budgetary deficit was approaching its upper limits, with the biggest deficit in Taiwan, and even our living conditions were rated in the bottom three in the nation by the Environmental Protection Administration."
Six years of effort have paid off, with Tainan finally shedding its image of perennial loser, last year posting the lowest unemployment rate of any Taiwanese city and being recognized as Taiwan's cleanest urban area by the EPA's "Clean Up Taiwan" project.
"Hsu Tain-tsair has made excellent use of priority management, each year proposing a clear and viable municipal theme and marshaling the resources to improve the environment," Legislator Chen Ting-fei observes.
Armed with a doctorate in business administration from the New School for Social Research in the United States, Hsu is one of very few Taiwanese mayors or county executives to run his various public agency as a corporate entity, introducing key performance indicators (KPI) management techniques to define objectives and produce results on a deadline.
Hsu used his first four-year term to focus on improving the city's investment climate and developing manufacturing-oriented industries. During his second term Hsu shifted the economic development focus to tourism.
His second year in office was devoted to attracting businesses, and the city government's team has been aggressive in doing so, with the number of companies setting up shop in the Tainan Science-based Industrial Park alone rising six-fold in just six years, creating an additional 13,000 employment opportunities. Hsu says the key to the city's success in attracting new businesses was in giving his team exceptional opportunities for advancement, promoting many thirtysomethings into management positions and instilling in them a sense of mission.
Acutely sensitive to numbers, Hsu recognized the inefficiency of Tainan's administrative organization and immediately set about to reorganize the city's administrative districts. He combined the Central and Western Districts in the city's center, an improvement in administrative efficiency that now saves the city more than NT$30 million annually.
Keeping a tight watch over his city’s public works, even Hsu's recreational walks become an opportunity for him to observe the efficacy of the city's policy implementation.
"Whenever he sees litter on the streets, Mayor Hsu picks it up and fires off a phone call to the city's environmental director, and he personally conducts random checks several times a week," Su En-en, director of the city's Office of Media and International Relations, reveals.
Historical Sites Form Tourism Circuit
The biggest change in Tainan over the past several years has been the transformation in living conditions.
"Green space has increased, and the resultant rise in land values means more tax revenue," Hsu says.
During his six years in office, public parks and green spaces in Tainan have increased by 267 hectares while during the same period average property tax revenues have grown at a 17-percent annual clip over the period 1995-2001. Reflecting that is Hsu's prioritization of environmental transformation, formulating a series of city beautification projects. The "Dismantle Ugly Signs" campaign eliminated more than 2,000 unsightly commercial signs from the cityscape, the scrap metal from which was recycled and auctioned off, earning several million NT dollars for the city's coffers in the process. The "Hopeful Corners" campaign designated more than 100 neglected vacant lots and turned them into green spaces with cobblestone pathways in a cooperative effort between the government and community residents.
"After completion of the Hopeful Corners campaign, these spaces were turned over to residents to manage themselves, turning these filthy vacant lots into beautiful Hopeful Corners," says Tainan Community University president Lin Chao-cheng.
Mayor Hsu used measures such as tax incentives and exemptions to encourage residents to turn over vacant lots and structures to the government to carry out beautification and plant gardens.
Over the past few years, walled spaces within the city have also been reduced. Initially the demolition of school walls prompted a flood of complaints from city residents concerned about school safety.
But the demolition of the walls has not exposed students to any discernible additional menace and instead has resulted in increased use of school athletic facilities by nearby residents.
"As soon as there are crowds of people, criminals will instinctively stay away," Mayor Hsu says. "Now lots of schools are looking at tearing down their walls and even the Japanese TV network NHK sent a crew to report on us."
While the walls were coming down, the Tainan city government embarked on a program to preserve the city's historical sites, initiating a free shuttle bus service linking the historical sites scattered throughout the city into a tourism circuit.
With the island engulfed in an economic downturn, Tainan has managed to show a unique vitality, with revenue from sales of admissions tickets to the city's historical sites set to break NT$100 million. Hsu's other major policy initiative was in constructing a healthy city. To that end, he recruited National Cheng Kung University associate professor Hu Shu-chen to serve as director of the city's Department of Health, initiated 21 model projects promoting a healthy city, and completed the nation's first healthy city white paper.
This year, the city's Department of Health has taken another step forward in pushing its healthy diet campaign, working with the Chinese Federation of Dietitians to mark the caloric content of food dishes in all the city’s chain restaurants.
"Tainan can only progress and can't look back," Hsu says. "Every battle must be fought as though our backs are to the wall."
"In my second term I have to work even harder, get more done so that future mayors will have an easier go of it," says Hsu, who leaves office at the end of next year.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy
Hsu Tain-tsair's 4 Main Principles in Transforming Tainan
1. Natural environment: Expanded construction of green spaces and environmentally friendly, energy-saving buildings.
2. Street culture: Transformed Hai An Street into an arts street.
3. Vacant lot and structure management: Promoted the "Hopeful Corners" campaign to turn unsightly vacant lots into tiny parks.
4. Concern for people: Put communitarian principles into practice, promoted one activity center per neighborhood.
Chinese Version: 百年府城 蛻變健康宜居城市