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2008 Happiness Survey

Sustainable Management Trumps Blind Development


Taiwan's cities and counties have entered a new era of competition based on balanced development. CommonWealth Magazine's latest survey of happiness reveals which localities are succeeding.



Sustainable Management Trumps Blind Development

By Benjamin Chiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 406 )

Taiwan endured a tumultuous Mid-Autumn Festival, with Typhoon Sinlaku enshrouding the entire island for days. Particularly hard hit was the hot springs resort area of Lushan in Nantou County, a casualty of the unbridled development of resort hotels and homestays on the island's hillsides and river banks.

"Many cities and counties have blindly promoted tourism, in the process sacrificing the environment and ecological protection," says a concerned Lin Chao-cheng, president of Tainan Community University.

Rampant development means that every new natural disaster only further accentuates the urgency with which Taiwan's cities and counties need to embrace sustainable development.  

The rest of the globe has already begun to champion such a movement. Municipal governments from New York, Vancouver and Tokyo to Beijing and Shanghai across the Taiwan Strait have all articulated visions for sustainable development that make environmental protection, economic vitality and quality of life integral objectives of city governance.

In this globalizing world, competition between countries has extended to battles between cities. Building sustainable, environmentally friendly, and happy living environments is now becoming the main administrative goal of many local city and county leaders.

Kaohsiung City Stands Out, Taipei County Leaps Upward

This year, CommonWealth Magazine's ranking of Taiwan's localities most conducive to happiness revolved around the theme of sustainability for the first time. The survey evaluated 23 counties and cities in Taiwan in depth based on 54 indicators grouped in five categories: economic vitality, environmental protection, governance, education and social welfare.

(While Taiwan actually has 25 county/city jurisdictions, the survey only compiled incomplete data for two small island counties in the Taiwan Strait – Lianjiang County, which includes Matsu, and Jinmen County.)

In this year's survey, Taipei City ranked first in the overall happiness index, earning it the distinction of being Taiwan's best place to live. It was followed by Hsinchu City, Tainan City, Taichung City and Penghu County. Rounding out the top 10 were Taoyuan County, Kaohsiung City, Miaoli County, Hualian County and Jiayi City. (Table 1)

The ranking proves that by making concerted efforts to improve its living environment, a small, poor county can outpace big cities with abundant resources. While the top four most livable locales were all commercially developed urban centers, Penghu County, with the smallest population of any of the 23 areas surveyed, relied on its commitment to environmental protection and administrative efficiency to crack the top five.

Tainan City continued its upward rise, climbing two spots for the second year in a row. Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair, a former legislator with a background in economics, has introduced corporate management methods to the city government, improving its financial structure and promoting a "healthy city." These and other initiatives have helped restore the municipal pride among local residents that existed 121 years ago when Tainan was still Taiwan's capital.

Taipei County made the biggest leap of the cities and counties surveyed, soaring eight notches to climb from 21st in 2007 to 13th in 2008. Kaohsiung City, spurred to give the city a facelift ahead of its hosting of the 2009 World Games next July, leaped six spots in the rankings.

There was little change at the bottom of the table, with Keelung City and Yunlin County finishing as the two lowest ranked cities and counties on the list for the third consecutive year. Taiwan's third largest county, Taichung County, continued its descent, falling to 20th in 2008 after having finished as high as 12th only two years ago.

In Taidong County, which ranked 21st, Commissioner Cheng Li-chen has gained a reputation for frequently traveling abroad in the name of promoting economic development, but that has not stemmed the net outflow of people and the county's decline in economic power. The county saw a net 2,100 of its 230,000 people move away last year.

What became clear from the survey's winners and losers is that administrative leaders who offer clear, achievable visions and pursue sustainable, balanced development are the biggest drivers of continuing progress in their areas.

That's why all five main components of the happiness index are now equally crucial in the competition between Taiwan's 23 main cities and counties.

"Only those cities and counties that pay attention to administrative efficiency, economic development, environmental protection, education and social welfare have the chance to truly become sustainable, livable places," stresses Shang-lien Lo, a professor in National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of Environmental Engineering.

Economic Vitality: Soliciting Investment the Major Focus

Of the 23 cities and counties surveyed, Hsinchu City, Taipei City, Taichung City, Tainan City and Kaohsiung City were the top five in terms of economic vitality.(Table 2)

Hsinchu City earned the highest economic ranking based on its high level of average household savings (NT$343,897 per household), as well as the perceptions of its residents, 38.4 percent of whom believed it would be easy to find a job in the next three years.

A closer analysis of the survey's results reveals, however, that those areas posting the biggest gains in the economic vitality index are former laggards Yilan County, Miaoli County and Penghu County. Among them, Penghu County jumped 10 notches, from 19th in 2007 to 9th in 2008, because of its development of tourism.

Yilan County in northeastern Taiwan also shined in the economic performance category, moving up five spots. The NT$116.3 billion in development funds Commissioner Lu Guo-hwa has attracted to the county will create an estimated 16,000 jobs.

Lu has capitalized on the opening of the Syueshan Tunnel (which cuts travel time between the greater Taipei area and Yilan from two hours to 40 minutes), soliciting investment by the low-emissions, low-pollution solar photovoltaic industry. Whenever a company is willing to consider Yilan as an investment destination, Lu immediately leads an investment solicitation team on a visit to the interested party and pledges to help the enterprise reduce the time and cost of building a factory.

This aggressive approach helped stem the net outflow of Yilan residents that had persisted for the previous decade, with the county recording a net population inflow in the final quarter of 2007 and the first two quarters of 2008.

Miaoli County's economic picture has also benefited from leadership at the top. Given its geographical location in between Hsinchu City and Taichung City, Miaoli County commissioner Liu Cheng-hung repositioned Miaoli as a hub in the high-tech corridor stretching between these two major urban areas. Liu also took a page from the playbook of Taoyuan County commissioner Eric Liluan Chu, improving the county's transportation network and basic water and electrical infrastructure and establishing a labor college and job fair to equip local residents with the skills needed to work in high-tech plants.

This year's survey rated Liu as the administrative leader who worked the hardest in bringing job opportunities to his city or county, his efforts earning the affirmation of 53 percent of county residents.

With the help of Liu's initiatives, Miaoli is gradually evolving from a traditional mountain county into a new industrial area that is part of a semiconductor and optoelectronics cluster. The county attracted NT$127.4 billion in new investment in 2007, more than five times the NT$20 billion-plus it drew in 2006.

Environmental Protection: Cutting Emissions, Conserving Energy

Most of the cities and counties ranked in the top 10 for environmental performance were rural or island counties. But industrial center Kaohsiung City also joined the elite crowd, shooting up nine places from 12th in 2007 to 3rd this year, after 48.3 percent of the city's residents said Kaohsiung's quality of life had improved in the past 12 months. (Table 3)

Kaohsiung has long been rated as one of Taiwan's cities with the poorest air quality, but that is changing as it faces pressure to clean up its act as the host of the 2009 World Games. The opening of the city's mass rapid transit system and the "Green Thursday" initiative that it began promoting three months ago, which allows passengers to ride city buses for free on Thursdays, has led to more than twice as many city residents using public transportation, from 4.3 percent three months ago to 9.6 percent today.

"Over the past three months, we have saved 170 tons of carbon dioxide emissions," boasts Mayor Chen Chu.

Governance: A Mixture of Management and Service

The five cities and counties ranked highest for effective governance were Hsinchu City, Taoyuan County, Penghu County, Taichung City and Taipei City. (Table 4)

"Big cities and counties rely on sound management and a vision for the future, while small administrative districts need to actively provide services at the grassroots level," says Taoyuan County chief Eric Chu, who as the head of Taiwan's second biggest county is forced to look ahead.

Chu has encouraged the county's high-tech industries to develop as an integrated network, and has proposed a blueprint for the future – the creation of a Taoyuan international aviation city – giving county residents a clear picture of the local government's future priorities. Chu's plans will also incorporate the mass rapid transit line to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and county rapid transit systems as extensions of the Greater Taipei rapid transit network.

Hsinchu City's governance was rated as the best of any city or county in Taiwan, with nearly 70 percent of the city's residents affirming the municipal government's administrative effectiveness. Some politically influential figures in Hsinchu City have criticized Mayor Lin Junq-tzer for spending too much time attending private functions such as weddings and funerals and for lacking a long-range plan for the city, charges Lin disputes.

"I want the people to feel that the mayor is at their side at all times. My cell phone is never turned off, and I always answer it personally," Lin explains in justifying his attention to the grassroots that would be more typical of a borough chief.

Worth noting is that Taipei City's governance has begun to slide, falling from 1st in 2007 to 5th in 2008. Only 25.5 percent of city residents believe Mayor Hau Lung-bin has presented a vision or blueprint for the city's future, leaving him trailing far behind Miaoli County's Liu (46.1 percent) and Taichung City mayor Jason Hu (41.4 percent).

"Taipei City's urban development is stuck in a dense fog. The capital still has not found a distinct developmental vision," worries Huang Li-ling, an associate professor in National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning.

After former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou became president in May 2008, many of Taipei's top officials left to join the new government, weakening the city government's lineup. Taipei's new administrative team has yet to establish an identity.

In terms of incorruptibility, Penghu County was Taiwan's cleanest local government in the eyes of its residents for the second consecutive year.

The island archipelago's government reflects the people's reputation for being honest and unsophisticated. For construction project tenders, which are often the most likely to be riddled with corruption, Commissioner Wang Chien-fa has stipulated that the bid review committee for each tender will include one county government employee, to be randomly selected by computer by the county's Department of Civil Service Ethics. Once the choice is made, it is immediately sealed and only opened on the day when the tender is held. The other committee members are hired experts from civil society.

"Not even I know which county employee will be on the committee. This prevents county officials from becoming embroiled in corruption related to public works projects," Wang says.

Education: Investing in the Future

The top-rated counties and cities for education among the 23 surveyed were Taipei City, Hsinchu City, Taipei County, Taoyuan County and Penghu County. (Table 5)

Hsinchu City mayor Lin received the highest rating of any local leader for his commitment to educating the next generation, with 59 percent of Hsinchu City residents affirming his genuine involvement in education. In contrast, in Taipei City, which has the most abundant education resources of any administrative region in the country, only 28.7 percent of city residents said Mayor Hau was genuinely concerned with education issues, the fourth poorest showing of any local leader.

Taoyuan County's investment in education, science, and culture was the highest as a proportion of total spending of any city or county government.

"Education is the hope of the future. We want to expand students' international horizons," says county chief Eric Chu.

Taoyuan County has opened 45 new elementary, junior high and high schools over the past six years and created three "English villages" in cooperation with the King Car Education Foundation. All new principals have been required to undergo training in Germany before taking on their job, and selected students are sent to Taoyuan's sister city Dallas, Texas, on cultural and educational exchanges.

Taipei County showed the most marked improvement in education in this year's survey, vaulting 16 notches to rank 3rd. To cater to the more than 20,000 children of new immigrants, the county created a new immigrant service center offering services in six languages, where volunteers help teach non-native parents Chinese while assisting their children with schoolwork.

Taichung City and Yilan County were the two districts where residents most frequently attended an artistic or cultural activity.

Unlike Taichung Mayor Hu, who frequently invites prominent international performers to put on shows in his city, Yilan County chief Lu prefers to nurture local talent, encouraging every school to set up a band.

"Every year, I attend at least 50 performances to promote an appreciation of the arts among Yilan's people," Lu says.

Social Welfare: Jiayi City, Hualian County Lead the Way

Among the 23 cities and counties surveyed, Jiayi City and Hualian County stood out for their attention to social welfare. (Table 6)

Located in the heart of the Yunlin-Jiayi-Tainan region in south-central Taiwan, with a population of 270,000 people, Jiayi City has more medical professionals and inpatient beds per capita than any other administrative district. The city's concentration of health care services is nowhere more evident than around the main circle at the city's center, densely packed with hospitals and clinics.

Formerly a high school teacher, Jiayi City mayor Huang Ming-hui brought together the city's doctors' and pharmacists' associations along with its two major hospitals – St. Martin de Porres Hospital and Chia-Yi Christian Hospital – to conduct intensive health screenings in the city's communities, and she also built a community medical care network. The city was also the first local government in Taiwan to offer elderly residents pneumonia vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Hualian County in eastern Taiwan stands out for its commitment to helping children.

"Although Hualian does not have a lot of resources for child welfare, county chief Hsieh Shen-shan, aside from working hard to implement central government policies on child welfare, also separately provides local funding to invest in child care," says Child Welfare League Foundation executive director Alicia Wang.

Hsieh's preoccupation with children differs from most other counties and cities in Taiwan, which tend to devote the larger part of their social-service funding to women, because they have a vote, giving short shrift to children, who don't vote.

Leader Approval Ratings: Second Term's the Charm

The opinion survey on the overall level of satisfaction with county and city chiefs, much like a customer satisfaction survey, can be seen as the ultimate test of their performance over the past year.

To provide a complete picture of the level of satisfaction with local leaders' performances, this year's CommonWealth Magazine survey analyzed responses to 11 diverse questions on levels of satisfaction with various aspects of Taiwan's 25 county and city chiefs.

Hsinchu mayor Lin Junq-tzer and Taoyuan County chief Eric Chu once again had the highest overall satisfaction indexes of any local leader. (Table 7)

When their constituents were asked directly if they were satisfied with their local leader's administrative performance, Lin also topped the table with a satisfaction rating of 73.8 percent, while Chu followed closely behind with a 72.6 percent level of satisfaction. (Table 4)

Of the leaders ranked in the top five, all except one – Miaoli County's Liu Cheng-hung – are in their second term.

"They work even harder in their second terms to build a foundation for those that follow them and to open doors for themselves after their terms expire," observes Tainan Community University board member Huang Huan-chang. As long as administrative chiefs can maintain positive momentum over two terms, they often will be given further opportunities to develop at the central government level.

Although Taipei City and Taipei County are ranked 1st and 13th respectively in the CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey, the first-term heads of these districts with the biggest populations and highest profiles of any in Taiwan, Taipei City mayor Hau Lung-bin and Taipei County commissioner Chou Hsi-wei, ranked only 17th and 21st, respectively, in the satisfaction survey.

Chou has worked to clean and dredge the Danshui River, but while its waters are now the cleanest they have been in 30 years, only half of the county's residents perceive that he is improving the environment. Therein lies a dilemma for all local executives preparing re-election bids.

Aside from helping the people build a sustainable society with a developing economy, a sound environment, clean government, universal education and social welfare, local leaders must also be policy salesmen, who help constituents appreciate the benefits of their policies. Only then can they earn respect and a mandate from their constituents.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier

About the Survey

This survey was conducted between July 18 and August 14, 2008, treating each city and county as a separate unit. A total of 10,225 valid responses were obtained from randomly selected individuals, with valid responses per county and city ranging between 385 and 435, depending on total population. The poll has a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of plus/minus 4.7-5.0 percent. To ensure that comparisons between cities and counties were synchronized, the surveys in all cities and counties were conducted at the same time.

The survey addressed Taiwan's counties, as well as Taiwan's seven "first tier" cities, which operate at administrative levels equivalent to that of a county and are not subordinate to any county government. Information for two smaller counties, Lianjiang and Jinmen, was incomplete.

Chinese Version: 永續管理 比盲目建設重要