Hsinchu City Mayor Lin Chih-chien
Lifting Up the ‘Sandwich Generation’
Taiwan’s youngest city mayor heads up a city that will mark its tricentennial next year. On the strength of a series of popular initiatives, Hsinchu City Mayor Lin Chih-chien is helping reshape Taiwan’s own “Windy City” to face the challenges of the new century.
Lifting Up the ‘Sandwich Generation’By Jason Hsiung
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 631 )
A normal work day in August for most people was a special day for the elderly residents of Hsinchu City’s Guandong Ward. As noon approached, the anticipation of those gathered at the community outreach point grew as they turned their eager focus to the doorway.
It is “lunch with the mayor” day here. More than 60 elderly people in their seventies and older have been seated in orderly fashion by the volunteers. Suddenly, a dozen or so matronly volunteers, like star-struck fans, call out “Hello, Mr. Mayor!” as they rush toward the door. Detecting the youthful mayor’s embarrassment at being so surrounded, the elders break out in laughter.
This is the scene at “Lunch with Senior Citizens,” introduced by Hsinchu City Mayor Lin Chih-chien. The gatherings take place twice each week at noon. To date, over 9,000 senior citizens have shared lunch with the mayor at 45 community outreach points around the city.
This is just one of Lin’s difference-making platform initiatives since taking office more than two years ago. Aware of Hsinchu City’s distinction as Taiwan’s youngest urban population at an average age of 38, the 42-year-old Lin rolled out a series of policy initiatives tailored to those in his own “sandwich generation.” These measures have proven popular, helping boost his approval ratings each year.
From Back of the Pack to Third Place
According to the 2017 CommonWealth Local Leader Approval Survey, Lin has steadily moved up from the back of the pack (18th place) shortly after assuming office to tenth place last year, and further defying expectations to command third place this year - just barely behind Hualien County Magistrate Fu Kun-chi among chief executives on the main island of Taiwan.
Like the hard-to-please residents of Taipei, in addition to the young average age of its citizens, Hsinchu enjoys a higher average per capita income, educational level, and birth rate. This helped result in Lin Chih-chien’s election in 2014 with the lowest percentage of the vote in all of Taiwan at just 38.36 percent.
“Right from the start, I was fully aware that 60 percent of the people of the city did not support me,” says Lin, recalling his mood of joy intermingled with concern. Right then and there, he decided to just be himself, and examine what the happy city he aspired to create would look like. “I have 70-year-old parents above me, and three children below,” he says. Accordingly, the government he needs should be able to help him care for his parents and children to let him concentrate on his work without any worries on their behalf.
Now there is the senior citizen joint meal cafeteria and the Hsinchu Children’s Art Festival events, as well as the first publicly founded and operated Waldorf elementary school in Taiwan, and new parks and shopping centers oriented toward families.
If this was not enough, young people also have their own positions on city details and aesthetics. Despite a chorus of criticism, Lin insisted on removing street-side rubbish bins, saying that this would clean up the messy streets “at the source.” In consultation with the Ministry of National Defense, he repurposed unused land and revitalized military dependents’ villages as green spaces and parks, and widened outdated park trails for the running-crazy younger generation to enjoy in comfort.
A Crack Team of Architects
While continuing to reinforce his difference-making platform by taking citi-zens’ concerns seriously, Lin’s biggest concern at the moment is the complex traffic congestion and aging infrastructure Hsinchu faces as it prepares to mark its tricentennial next year.
Demonstrating his determination to tackle these issues, Lin personally pre-sides over a major construction project briefing every Monday afternoon. Word that this young major is not fooling around has spread, convincing architecture field heavyweights like former minister without portfolio Lin Sheng-feng and renowned architecture critic Wang Chun-hsiung to take part in the meetings.
As public construction professionals like to say, “When the right people be-come involved, the right outcome will follow.” These high-level professional strategists quickly helped Lin convince more top-caliber talent from Taiwan and abroad to come aboard, such as architect Huang Sheng-yuan, founder and principal architect of Field Office Architects.
Previously not known for often venturing beyond the Yilan Plain apart from its work on the Cloud Gate Theater upriver from Taipei in Tamsui, Field Office is currently involved in the restoration of the ancient Long’en Canal, as well as planning and design for the new Guanpu Elementary School.
Asked for his thoughts on the young mayor, Huang responds, “I feel free to approach him about any issues I encounter at any time.” Usually when one brings up issues to bureaucracies in the middle of a project, the only response one gets is “why didn’t you think of that before?” Huang elaborates with a chuckle.
Eager to make things happen and respectful of expert opinions and profes-sionalism, Lin Chih-chien has put a team in place to help him put a fresh face on this old, windy city. As for funding, among recently approved Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Programs, the ‘Grand Train Terminal’ and ‘Hsinchu Light Rail’ projects have made him a winner in the eyes of his fellow city and county chief executives.
From barely getting a seat at the table to becoming a formidable player, Tai-wan’s youngest mayor is surely going places.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman