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2011 CommonWealth Happiness Survey

Making Wellness Prevail


Making Wellness Prevail


Some cities with the conditions most conducive to well-being give their mayors mediocre ratings, while those in less favorable areas are the most content. What do local leaders need to do to achieve a hike in happiness?



Making Wellness Prevail

By Jimmy Hsiung, Rebecca Lin, Ting-feng Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 480 )

In CommonWealth Magazine's 2011 Happiness Survey, Taipei City emerged for the second year running as the best place to live among Taiwan's top-tier municipalities, while the outlying island of Penghu claimed the prime position, also for two consecutive years, among second-tier municipalities. (Table 1)

While it may be hard to dethrone Taipei City and Penghu County, this year's survey results show that the laggards are catching up with the leading localities at a surprising speed and that the rankings have been greatly reshuffled.

Most remarkable is that several cities have put a finger on their own unique strengths, pulling ahead and rapidly moving up the rankings.

Jiayi City's Star Rises

Among the 15 second-tier localities, this year's top five have seen a dramatic shake-up. While Penghu County retained its No. 1 spot, Jiayi City emerged as a rising star, jumping from ninth place to second.

Hsinchu City and Taoyuan County, for their part, both moved up two spots from last year, to rank third and fifth, respectively. Yilan County remained unchanged at No. 4.

Hualian County and Miaoli County, which ranked second and third last year, failed to make it into the top five this year.

Taipei City still leads the top five of the top-tier municipalities. Following in declining order are Kaohsiung City, Tainan City, Taichung City and New Taipei City.

When asked, "If you could choose, in which city or county would you want to live permanently?" the vast majority of respondents picked Taipei City as their favorite place of residence, as before. (Table 2-1)

But Hualian County emerged as the most popular place among those who would choose to stay where they are. Last year, it was Taichung City that boasted the most loyal residents. (Table 2-2)

But why have the happiness rankings seen such dramatic changes within a short span of just one year? The Happiness Survey gauges the five key indicators of economic vitality, environmental protection, culture and education, social welfare, and governance to analyze which cities or counties stand out from the crowd as competitive and attractive.

Economic Vitality: Local Strengths Attract International Investment

While the global economy still suffers from the onslaught of the U.S. debt crisis, localities across Taiwan are experiencing an economic boom.

Hsinchu County, in particular, demonstrated surprising potential as it grabbed the top spot among the 15 second-tier municipalities in terms of economic vitality. Per capita disposable annual income in Hsinchu County stands at NT$550,000, the second highest among second-tier localities behind high-tech center Hsinchu City with NT$580,000. (Table 3)

Hsinchu County also beats the competition in terms of its low unemployment rate and urban land price indexes, given that average real estate prices have been rising more over the past year than in any other second-tier locality.

For the vast majority of counties and cities, building a good track record means boosting the local economy. That's why local governments began this year to gear their local economies toward the global economy.

In mid-August, for instance, a 230-person delegation organized by the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) toured Japan to solicit investment. More than 50 of the delegation members were officials, mostly from county and city governments. Taipei City, New Taipei City, Yilan County, Taidong County, Keelung City, Penghu County, Jinmen County all dispatched top administrators.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin personally flew to Osaka to speak at one of the events, and Hsinchu County deputy magistrate Chang Jen-hsiang joined in for the entire tour.

But aside from wooing overseas investment, Taiwan's municipalities have also benefited economically from the return of Taiwanese investors from China over the past year. "From the north to the south, it's hard to find a piece of land in an industrial zone," observes Hwang Ming-he, president of Victor Taichung Machinery Works, a manufacturing equipment maker.

Also because of these trends, the number of unused or underused industrial parks has declined. Jhanghua County chief Cho Po-yuan is eager to confirm that the island's largest industrial zone, the Jhanghua Coastal Industrial Park, currently boasts an occupancy of 85 percent.

Environmental Protection:Money or Nature? The People Decide

For a city that wants to make its residents happy, a booming economy and low unemployment alone will not do the trick. Much more important is whether a city provides a livable environment.

In the latest Happiness Survey Hualian County turned out to be a dark horse that surprisingly edged out last year's two frontrunners, Penghu County and Hsinchu City, to come out first in the environment ranking. (Table 4)

The county on Taiwan's scenic Pacific coast has always boasted an enviable natural environment. In terms of parks and green surface area per resident, Hualian County leaves all other municipalities in the dust. For every 10,000 people there are 19.53 hectares of greenery, nearly the equivalent of three standard-size soccer fields.

Although Hualian County commissioner Fu Kun-chi was sentenced to a six-month prison term earlier this year for getting a sham divorce, he enjoys unbroken popularity. More than 80 percent of respondents believe that Fu attaches importance to environmental protection, lagging only slightly behind the chief executives of Jiayi County and Jiayi City. Moreover, just 22.6 percent of respondents believe that Hualian City condones an untidy environment.

Some experts, however, sound a warning with regard to the county's environmental achievements. Jenner Lin, secretary general of the Society of Wilderness, notes that Hualian County originally boasted the island's greatest amount of environmental capital. But, he argues, since Fu took office in December 2009 he has been stressing economic development and tourism, yet has failed to come up with quotas for the use of land and environmental resources. "In Hualian environmental groups are constantly at loggerheads with the Hualian County government over several projects," Lin reveals.

Cities across Taiwan can no longer play down the importance of protecting the environment amid economic development. It should not come as a surprise that municipalities in heavily industrialized central Taiwan that made headlines with major environmental incidents or controversies during the past year bring up the rear in the environment rankings. These are Taichung City among the top-tier municipalities and Jhanghua County and Yunlin County among the second-tier localities.

Culture and Education: Education + Culture = Multiple Potential

Aside from a clean, modern and glitzy exterior, a "happy" city also requires substance. This can be demonstrated best with the performance of Jiayi City. (Table 5)

Jiayi came in second in the overall ranking of the 15 second-tier municipalities with a well-balanced performance in all five categories. With the exception of the economic vitality index, the city ranked among the top three in terms of environment, governance and social welfare, and took the top spot for culture and education.

Hard figures highlight the city's strengths in this area. Every year Jiayi City residents attend an average of 21.75 cultural events such as concerts, exhibitions or theater performances, far more than residents of second-ranked Yilan County, who participate in an average of 13.23 events per year.

In fact, since taking her post in late 2005, Jiayi City mayor Huang Min-hui has tirelessly promoted cultural and educational events. The Jiayi City International Band Festival, an annual event held in July, this year attracted 300 star musicians and 3000 band members from overseas.

However, Huang also emphasizes that culture cannot thrive without education. As a rather small city both in terms of surface area and economic power, Jiayi City usually is in a David-versus-Goliath situation. However, as the Happiness Survey found, almost half of its population over the age of 15, or 48.44 percent, have higher education degrees, more than in other parts of Taiwan including the big cities. Only Taipei City boasts a higher ratio of people with higher education degrees – 60.94 percent.

Social Welfare: Fat Benefits Don't Translate into Public Support

A closer look at Taiwan's municipalities shows it is not easy to achieve a high level for all social welfare indicators. Moreover, public satisfaction with a local government is not necessarily proportionally related to its fiscal capacity. (Table 6)

Taipei City, which took first place in its group in all five survey categories, boasts the greatest independent sources of revenue and also gets the highest share of central government budget allocations. As a result, it is top of the class for all social welfare indicators, be it social workers, social welfare expenditure, community development associations, or women's services. But only 56 percent of Taipei City residents believe that Mayor Hau Lung-bin actually attaches importance to social welfare.

In contrast, Tainan City receives a comparably smaller share of the central government budget, since the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures has yet to be amended. But although the city's social welfare indicators are only average, a full 71 percent of Tainan residents feel that Mayor Lai Ching-te takes social welfare seriously.

"The more urban citizens are, the harder it is to please them," observes Wang Yeh-lih, chair of the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University. The bigger the gap between urban and rural areas, the bigger the contrast in local residents' degree of satisfaction, Wang notes frankly. But on the other hand this also reflects that the more resources a locality has, the higher the expectations of its residents become.

And Penghu County, which has held the title of happiest place among the second-tier localities for two years in a row now, also boasts the strongest social welfare performance, with a high per capita expenditure, low suicide rate, and care services for elderly who live alone.

Governance:Cities Must Come into Their Own

In the governance category, which pertains to the capabilities of local government leaders, Taoyuan County commissioner John Chih-yang Wu and Penghu County commissioner Wang Chien-fa shone through with the best performances. (Table 7)

Taoyuan last year derived 65.65 percent of its revenue from its own sources such as local taxes, coming in second behind Hsinchu City, home to the thriving Hsinchu Science Park, with 70.37 percent of self-generated revenue. But Taoyuan is far ahead of all other second-tier localities with an enviable 21.8 percent annual growth rate for local taxes.

While most localities are seeking to stem the outflow of dwindling populations, Taoyuan and Penghu are so popular that they have seen an influx of new residents. Net internal migration – the difference between the number of people moving in and out of an area – for Taoyuan stood at an increase of more than 17,000 people, whereas Penghu welcomed 894 new residents. Indirectly this trend also affirms their chief executives' performances.

Some experts, however, point out that Wu and Wang already won at the starting line, because their localities enjoy particularly favorable conditions, Taoyuan as a quasi special municipality and Penghu as a recipient of special incentives and subsidies for outlying islands. Against this backdrop the No. 3 ranking achieved by Jiayi City mayor Huang attests to her outstanding capabilities as a local government leader, since she commands fewer resources than the two frontrunners.

But even if localities make good use of local circumstances and adopt suitable development policies, they still need to find their own style and identity to stand out from the crowd. Local government leaders will have to do their homework to develop their municipalities into places that give their residents the greatest sense of happiness.

Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz

About the Happiness Survey

The 2011 CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey ranked Taiwan's cities and counties based on 44 indicators in five general categories. The indicators are based on government statistics and surveys conducted at every administrative level, and the CommonWealth Magazine public opinion survey.

The Happiness Survey split Taiwan's cities and counties into two groups: top-tier localities comprising the special municipalities of Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taichung City, Tainan City and Kaohsiung City, and second-tier cities and counties. Taichung City, Tainan City, and Kaohsiung City were ranked based on objective statistical data for 2010, when they had not yet joined their surrounding counties to form expanded municipalities. These data were then weighted based on the proportion of city to county population.

Of the 44 indicators, 35 were based on statistical data from 2010, and nine were based on constituent questionnaires. Each indicator was divided into five quadrants between the indicator's top and bottom value, and scores were assigned to each city based on where their performance fell within the indicator. Cities with values in the top quadrant of an indicator scored a 5, those in the second quadrant a 4 and so on.

The statistical indicators accounted for 80 percent and the opinion polls for 20 percent of the total score. The average scores for each of the five general categories were then calculated to create the rankings. The outlying counties of Jinmen and Lianjiang (comprised of the Mazu Islands) were not ranked because of insufficient statistical data.