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2007 Happiness Survey

Where Is Taiwan's Haven of Happiness?


The crucial role of chief executives, the felicitous influence of science parks, Jiayi City's precipitous rise in the rankings... This year's 'Happiness Survey' reveals the state of well-being in areas across Taiwan.



Where Is Taiwan's Haven of Happiness?

By Scott Wang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 380 )

Three years ago, CommonWealth Magazine first launched its Happiness Survey of Taiwanese cities and counties, because of a conviction that an area’s competitiveness was based not only on economic development, but also on quality of life and environmental protection. In this new era of development, the local economy, the quality of living, and the ecological and social environment are all crucial pillars of competitiveness.

Happiness Index Top Five

This year’s “CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey” evenly weighed the performance of 23 cities and counties in Taiwan in five broad categories: Economic strength, public security and the environment, clean and competent governance, education, and social welfare. A total of 37 indexes were measured within those five categories to determine the final rankings.

When the scores in the five categories were tabulated, Taipei City, Hsinchu City, Taichung City, Jiayi City and Tainan City emerged as the five administrative districts in Taiwan where residents are the happiest and have the strongest sense of well-being.

Penghu County, Taoyuan County, Hsinchu County, Yilan County and Hualian County rounded out the top 10.

The results reflect broader development trends. With all geographical sections of Taiwan and its offshore islands represented in the top 10, it appears that the regional imbalances caused by past development policies favoring northern Taiwan at the south’s expense have gradually abated. The survey also shows that big populations and metropolitan areas are no longer necessary to ensure regional competitiveness. Smaller cities, such as Jiayi, relied on distinctive local characteristics to score well in the survey.

Although Jiayi City only has a population of 270,000 and does not have a nearby science industrial park to bolster the local economy, it skyrocketed from 11th to 4th in the survey because of its strong medical and social welfare sectors.

Penghu County, located some 50 kilometers off Taiwan’s southwestern coast, and Yilan and Hualian counties in eastern Taiwan were ranked in the top 10 because of their clean environments and natural tourism resources. The leisurely lifestyle they represent contrasts with faster-paced western Taiwan.

The key to cities or counties placing high in the rankings, therefore, was not their size, but how they leverage their distinctive characteristics.

The three districts ranking the lowest in the “Happiness Survey” were Yunlin County, Keelung City and Taipei County.

Yunlin County faces a number of challenges, with many of its residents moving away and a medical system deficient in resources. The county finished last in the survey in the areas of competent and clean governance and social welfare, results that should catch the attention of county magistrate Su Chih-fen.

Keelung City finished second to last in the survey for the second consecutive year. Former Mayor Hsu Tsai-li, who died in February 2007, had a support rating of less than 30 percent, while more than 50 percent of city residents were dissatisfied with his administration’s performance. Recently elected Mayor Chang Tong-rong takes over a city that finished last in the survey in the area of economic strength, and his constituents are particularly focused on his efforts to revive the city’s economic development.

As for Taipei County, its magistrate Chou Hsi-wei seemingly scored a breakthrough this year when the Legislature passed a measure that designated Taipei County as a special administrative district, putting its staffing and budget on a par with those of Taipei and Kaohsiung cities. The county’s upgrade in status, however, did not translate to higher support ratings for Chou’s administrative performance, a gap that warrants the county government’s attention.

Other trends emerged when the survey results in the five categories were analyzed.

Economic Strength: Science Parks Prove a Boon

The 10 districts rated highest in terms of economic strength were all primary or secondary metropolitan areas located on Taiwan’s western plains. Outside of traditional powerhouses Taipei and Kaohsiung cities, high-tech industrial parks seemed to drive economic prosperity. The Hsinchu Science Park bolstered economic development in the greater Hsinchu area, with Hsinchu City and County tied for second in economic strength behind Taipei City. The Central Taiwan Science Park has promoted economic development in the greater Taichung area, with Taichung City and County ranking fourth and 10th respectively in terms of economic strength. The Southern Taiwan Science Park has done the same for the economy in the greater Tainan area.

The economies of Taoyuan and Taipei counties, located in the northern Taiwan technology corridor, also cannot be overlooked, with both finishing in the top 10.

Environment: Natural Beauty and Administrative Resolve

The public security and environment category covered environmental protection and local residents’ feelings of security. Most districts finishing in the top 10 were agricultural or island counties. Taipei and Tainan were the only two cities that made the top 10.

That these two cities were able to crack the top 10 reflects the courage and resolve of their leaders. Taipei City’s treatment of 85.7 percent of its wastewater, by far the highest of any jurisdiction in the survey, can be attributed to former mayor Ma Ying-jeou’s push for the expansion of the city’s sewage system during his terms in office.

Tainan Mayor Tain-tsair Hsu, who has positioned Tainan as a “healthy city,” was recognized by nearly 80 percent of city residents for his administration’s efforts in turning the southern city into a clean and beautiful metropolitan area.

Competence and Clean Governance

The “competent and clean governance” category gave respondents the chance to evaluate the integrity of their district’s administrative head and elected representatives and the competence of their local government. The administrations ranking in the top five in this category were Taipei City, Taichung City, Penghu County, Hsinchu City and Taoyuan County.

Education: Hsinchu Mayor Has the Brawn

The top administrative districts in the category of education were Taipei, Hsinchu and Tainan cities, with Taichung City, and Yilan, Taoyuan, and Hsinchu counties all tied for fourth.

The chief executives of Hsinchu City, Hsinchu County and Jiayi City were given the highest marks by their constituents for caring the most about “educating the next generation.”

Social Welfare: Balancing Work and Life

The final category evaluated was the strength of each district’s social welfare system. The top five finishers were Jiayi City, Taichung City, Hualian County, Tainan City, and Taoyuan County.

Jiayi and Hualian counties benefited from their smaller populations, which made their per capita medical resources more extensive than in other cities and counties. But residents in top-ranked Jiayi City also said they were happy with their daily lives, with 87 percent responding that they had enough time to spend with their families and enjoy life.

Residents of Taichung City also said they led balanced lives. Not only did 47 percent of respondents say they were not exhausted by their jobs – the highest percent in all of Taiwan – 85 percent said they had enough time to spend with their families.

Comparative Satisfaction with Chief Executives

If a city or county functions as a brand, and residents are consumers, then the mayor or county magistrate serves as a CEO. And such an administrative CEO’s performance is similar to running a large-scale enterprise. Consumer satisfaction directly reflects the effectiveness of city and county government services.

When last year’s survey of Taiwan’s 25 cities and counties was conducted, 10 chief executives were newly elected, and local residents had yet to become familiar with their policies. As a result, the 25 chief executives only averaged a satisfaction rating of 54 percent. This year, the average level of satisfaction rose above 60 percent, giving local leaders a passing grade.

Lin Junq-tzer Has Highest Support, Jason Hu on the Rise

Hsinchu Mayor Lin Junq-tzer had the highest support rating in this year’s survey, with 76.7 percent of the city’s residents saying they were satisfied with his administration’s performance. Taoyuan County magistrate Chu Li-luan ranked second with a 76.1 percent satisfaction rating. Although Lin beat out Chu for the top spot, there was in fact little to separate their administrative performances, with satisfaction levels for each leader rising around 5 percent compared to last year when Chu finished 0.5 percent ahead of Lin to top the charts.

The only other administrative chief to score a satisfaction rating of over 70 percent was Taichung mayor Jason Hu. His 70.8 percent rating and third-place ranking represented marked improvement over his 11th-place finish and barely acceptable 60 percent rating last year. His dissatisfaction rating also dropped, from 28.9 percent last year to 20.5 percent in 2007.

Liao Da-chi, a professor at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Graduate Institute of Political Science, attributed Hu’s higher satisfaction rating to the sincerity he demonstrated following a car accident that nearly took the life of his wife Shirley Shaw in November 2006. Hu’s handling of the traumatic event clearly scored points with Taichung residents, Liao said.

Liou Yaw-hwa, the director of Feng Chia University’s Department of Urban Planning, suggested, however, that while Hu himself is charismatic, it is not yet clear if that will translate into an overall upgrade of the city’s competitiveness. Many planned urban projects, such as the light rail system, have yet to get off the ground, delaying Taichung’s transformation into an international city. Taichung’s crime rate and public safety also need to be improved.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier

Survey Methods

The “2007 CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey” was conducted between June 30 and July 31, 2007 and had a total of 10,225 valid responses. Surveys in each city and county were conducted independently through random telephone calls. There were between 385 and 435 valid responses in each city and county, with a 95 percent confidence factor. The margin of error of each survey ranged between ± 4.7 percent and ± 5.0 percent. The survey was conducted during the same time period in each city and county to enable accurate comparisons of the data across Taiwan’s cities and counties.

Ranking Methods

CommonWealth Magazine used five broad categories and 37 reference indexes to rank the development of Taiwan’s cities and counties. These indexes included surveys conducted at different levels of government, official statistics, and CommonWealth Magazine’s polling of local residents.

Of these indexes, 23 reflected statistics for 2006, while 14 reflected poll results. To obtain the rankings in each of the five broad categories, the raw data in each of the indexes were divided into 10 groups from highest to lowest. The cities and counties in the top group would get 10 points, those in the second group received nine points, and so on to those in the group with the lowest scores receiving one point. Those ranking points were then averaged to get the final score in each broad category. The final ranking  in the survey was obtained by taking the average score of the five broad categories and multiplying it by 100.

Note: Because the data for Kinmen and Lianchiang (Matsu) counties were incomplete, the two counties were not ranked.

Survey Methods

In Taiwan, the largest cities are administered separately from their surrounding counties. (For example, Taipei City and Taipei County are distinct jurisdictions, neither subordinate to the other.) Collectively, these “cities and counties” make up the administrative level below the central government.

However, several of the smaller Taiwanese cities are subordinate to county governments, and these cities were not addressed separately in the survey.