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Taiwan Wants More than a Pretty GDP

2010 Happiness Survey


2010 Happiness Survey


What makes a city’s residents happy? The issues people care about are not luxury housing or impressive statistics, but a sustainable environment, a fulfilling job and a good place to live.



2010 Happiness Survey

By David Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 455 )

Taiwan's economy continues to gain steam, but its unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. In this environment, which of Taiwan's local governments have been best able to give their residents the greatest sense of well-being? In CommonWealth Magazine's latest Happiness Survey of Taiwan's 25 cities and counties, Taipei City and Penghu County were voted as the localities that best fit the bill in their respective categories.

Because Taiwan is about to undergo its biggest jurisdictional overhaul in nearly a century, this year's survey was adjusted to take account of the looming change.

Under the redistricting plan, five top-tier "special municipalities"that fall under the jurisdiction of the central government will be created from eight existing cities and counties.

Taipei City will essentially remain the same; Taipei County will be upgraded into Xinbei City (New Taipei City); Taichung City and Taichung County will merge into an expanded Taichung City; and Tainan City and Kaohsiung City will also join with their surrounding counties to form expanded municipalities.

This survey has assessed those eight administrative districts separately from the remaining 17 "second-tier"cities and counties that will remain unchanged. (See Table 1)

Taipei City was ranked at the top of the top-tier municipalities, scoring the highest in four of the survey's five key indicators: economic strength, social welfare, governance, and culture and education. It was followed by Tainan City, Kaohsiung City, Kaohsiung County, Taichung City, Taipei County, Tainan County and Taichung County.

Among the second-tier localities, outlying Penghu County set the pace, scoring the highest in three main indicators: economic strength, the environment, and governance. Filling out the top five were Hualian County, Miaoli County, Yilan County and Hsinchu City.

Economic Strength: Boosting Demand to Lower Jobless Rate

Taiwan and China concluded a major trade pact called the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) at the end of June, launched direct flights between the two a year ago, and will soon allow for Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan on their own rather than in tour groups. As many local government leaders shuttle across the Taiwan Strait, taking advantage of commercial opportunities with China even seems to have become a focal point of competition among them.

But this year's CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey found that cities and counties dependent on domestic demand-oriented sectors such as tourism and agriculture have also held their own economically.

Among the top-tier special municipalities, Taipei City and Kaohsiung City were rated as having the two strongest economies, while electronics powerhouse Hsinchu City and tourism-oriented Penghu County had the highest economic strength ratings among second-tier municipalities. (Table 2)

Hsinchu City's Hsinchu Science Park, the original nerve center of Taiwan's high-tech industry, achieved an output value of nearly NT$600 billion in the first half of 2010. The park's profitability has helped drive the city's per capita disposable income to NT$59,000, the second highest among all administrative districts in Taiwan behind only Taipei City's NT$72,000.

Those cities and counties that rely on industrial parks and science parks to lure investment continue to pursue Taiwan's traditional export-oriented economic path. But Taipei City's unemployment rate is not as low as in Tainan City, and Hsinchu City's jobless rate is higher than in Penghu, an indication that an export-oriented economic model may be less than ideal in boosting local employment.

Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, argues that the ruling Kuomintang has overemphasized exports, causing the hollowing out of enterprises that focus on domestic demand and creating a major void in the job market. If Taiwan's domestic market is not big enough, Tsai asks, then why does Taiwan need to hire caregivers from abroad to take care of the elderly? In fact, she says, demand in the local home care market is quite robust.

The importance of domestic-oriented sectors was reflected in this year's survey. Localities that relied on tourism showed gains in the economic strength category. The economic outlays of Penghu and Yilan counties, for example, accounted for 23 percent of their total expenditures, with most of it spent on tourism marketing.

Environmental Protection: Green Spaces Crucial

Counties with clean air such as Penghu, as well as Yilan, Hualian and Taidong along Taiwan's less developed eastern coast, all scored well for their environments. Perhaps more surprisingly, Hsinchu City, which has invested heavily in environmental protection, ranked second among the 17 second-tier administrative districts in the category. (Table 3)

Among the top-tier municipalities, Kaohsiung City maintained its leading position. The city government's insistence on not selling land and preserving green spaces has helped residents appreciate the commitment of top city officials to protecting the environment.

One example is the city's resolve over Aozihdi Forest Park, which sits on public land that belongs to the city government. The city has amassed long-term debt of more than NT$150 billion, mostly from the construction of its rapid transit system, but if it were to sell the park's land, the city could easily recoup more than NT$10 billion to help defray some of what it owes.

Yet the city ultimately decided to preserve the park and give city residents a big open space. Kaohsiung City mayor Chen Chu said that her city now has nine large green spaces that serve as the city's nine lungs.

Maintaining open spaces has gradually emerged as a consensus among big city leaders. Taipei City mayor Hau Lung-bin vowed that he would not sell any city land during his time in office, and while a number of public lots were auctioned off in the capital city over the past few years, most of them were the property of central government agencies.

Governance: Law and Order Tops the List

In terms of governance, Taipei City and Penghu County top the list of the top-tier and second-tier jurisdictions respectively. (Table 4)

But perception may be as important as reality. Residents of Taichung County and Taichung City believed more strongly than anywhere else that once integrated, their new special municipality will be the most competitive in Taiwan.

Yet Fan Chiu-fang, who as chief secretary of the National Association of Small & Medium Enterprises stays in close contact with all parts of Taiwan, believes that more people would want to move to Yilan County than Taichung City when they retire, primarily because of the negative stereotype attached to Taichung's public order.

Taipei City may have a higher crime rate than Taichung city and county, but its residents give city officials high marks for their efforts on public security. Taichung City and Taichung County, on the other hand, ranked last and third to last among special municipality districts for governance. The main reason for the discrepancy is that people's feelings have influenced their assessment of their local governments.

Penghu, Jiayi and Taidong counties, which had the highest satisfaction ratings for public security, ranked in the top three for governance among second-tier cities and counties.

Taichung City mayor Jason Hu says that when he first started as the city's mayor in early 2002, the police department's annual budget was NT$2.8 billion. It has since grown to NT$4.98 billion today. Over the past three years, the number of robberies in the city has gone down from 78 per month to an average of nine per month in the first five months of 2010.

Hu may be able to cite statistics to defend his record, but he also acknowledges, "The Weng Chi-nan case undermined Taichung's efforts on public order. I have to accept that.”

Weng, a reputed gangster, was shot in his ground floor office in Taichung while four police officers were there playing mahjong but failed to take action. The case exposed the close ties between the police and organized crime figures, and cast a shadow over public order in the city.

Culture and Education: Focusing on Basic Education

In this year's survey, the top three in culture and education among top-tier localities were Taipei City, Taichung City and Tainan City. Miaoli, Yilan, Pingdong and Penghu counties led the way among the 17 second-tier localities. (Table 5)

Chao Wei-cheng, a 37-year-old man who has lived in Taipei County's Banciao for over 30 years and now works in Taipei City, says he has started to look for a house in Yilan County as his young child nears school age.

"At Yilan's Ci-Xing Waldorf School, after students arrive, they chat, interact and greet teachers in the hallways or on the playground instead of sitting at a desk in a classroom doing nothing. The program has been recognized by the education system, and I really want my child to study there,"Chen said.

In fact, Yilan County trails only Miaoli County among second-tier localities for culture and education. Yilan County chief Lin Tsung-hsien says the county spends more than 30 percent of its budget on education, and Ci-Xing Waldorf is an experimental junior high and elementary charter school commissioned by the county. He says the school currently teaches grades 1-9, and he is lobbying the central government to extend that to grades 1-12. Yilan is also hoping to create more public-private schools to give parents and children additional educational options.

In this year's survey, however, evaluations of community colleges and large-scale artistic activities were decisive in determining the rankings in the culture and education category. Pingdong County, which spends 43 percent of its budget on education, saw its community colleges receive high marks, helping it rank third for culture and education among the second-tier localities. Miaoli County, whose community colleges also scored highly, ranked first in the culture and education category.

Among top-tier municipalities, Taipei City and Taichung City, which hold a relatively high number of large-scale artistic and cultural events, were number one and two in culture and education.

Kao Ju-ping, the secretary-general of the National Association for the Promotion of Community Universities, said the correlation between good community colleges and high rankings for culture and education was closely related to the concept of lifelong education.

Social Welfare: Caring for the Elderly, Young Highly Valued

Taiwan's aging society and low birth rate have meant that services for young children and the elderly have become a source of competition among cities and counties. Areas with many day care centers for young children and long-term care capabilities for seniors scored the highest in the social welfare category, with Hualian County ranked No. 1 among second-tier districts, and Taipei City and Kaohsiung City performing the best among the top-tier group. (Table 6)

In Hualian, for example, seniors can take buses and trains for free. County chief Fu Kun-chi says Hualian has 40,000 to 50,000 students who cannot afford school lunches and are currently subsidized by the county government. The government has also unified the purchasing of food for school lunches and can demand that vendors provide better quality food with more variety than the market standard, Fu adds.

The heads of Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County received high marks from their constituents for social welfare and also ranked relatively high in culture and education. According to Wu Ming-ru, a professor in National Chung Cheng University's Department of Social Welfare, Kaohsiung County chief Yang Chiu-hsing is a strong advocate of the social welfare philosophy of Social Affairs Department head Wu Li-hsueh and respects social welfare expertise.

Professor Wu says the county has set out to nurture civic social welfare groups, and because of Wu Li-hsueh's strong emphasis on services for women, the initiative has quietly turned women into the driving force behind the county's promotion of social welfare services. The professor praised the overall strategy as a good way to expand popular participation.

Livability: For Cities, Small Counties, Much Left to Do

Based on the five criteria used by CommonWealth Magazine in its "Happiness Survey,"Taipei City emerged as the frontrunner among the cities and counties that will form Taiwan's five special municipalities. But it is also the only jurisdiction in the group suffering from a negative migration rate. The agricultural counties of Jhanghua, Nantou, Yunlin, and Pingdong have experienced a similar fate.

A local administration that invariably pursues revenues and lacks any special features will likely have trouble capturing the hearts of its constituents. Chen Dung-sheng, a National Taiwan University sociology professor, says that having a large budget is not necessarily a solution or a guarantee of efficiency. He observes that a serious divide between rich and poor has already emerged in Taipei City, where, for example, many residents who want to get their children into the prestigious Xin Sheng Elementary School simply do not have the NT$10 million to NT$20 million needed to become residents of the school's neighborhood. This divide within the city, Chen says, is growing quickly.     

He also contends that the high-tech sector and industrial parks have only a limited capacity to create jobs, and if people cannot find a job in their hometown, they will not be able to live there happily.

The high cost of housing has also compelled people to move out of big cities. The land price indexes of Taipei and Jiayi cities, which have both experienced net outflows of people, exceed 100, indicating that real estate prices throughout both of these cities are rising compared with other localities. As a result, real estate prices in the city centers also remain high.

At the same time, the unemployment rate in both cities is a relatively high 5.8 percent, well above the national average in July of 5.2 percent. The combination of having trouble earning a living and being unable to afford an apartment has forced some of those cities' residents to move to neighboring Taipei County, Taoyuan County or Jiayi County, which have seen net population inflows.

If the five special municipalities that will be formed at the end of this year do not make urban and regional planning a priority, and concentrate resources in the hands of elites with the strongest voices, the dreams of themunicipality leaders to create more livable cities could easily turn into nightmares of net population outflow.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier

About the Survey

The 2010 CommonWealth Magazine Happiness Survey ranked Taiwan’s cities and counties based on 47 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.

Of the 47 indicators, 39 were based on statistical data from 2009, and eight 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 average scores for each of the five general categories were then calculated to create the rankings.

Because Taiwan will undergo a jurisdictional overhaul at the end of the year, the Happiness Survey split Taiwan’s 25 cities and counties into two groups: top-tier localities that will be incorporated into special municipalities (Taipei City, Taipei County, Taichung City, Taichung County, Tainan City, Tainan County, Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County) and the other 17 that will remain unaffected by the measure.

The outlying counties of Kinmen and Lianjiang (comprised of the Mazu Islands) were not ranked because of insufficient statistical data.

The survey was conducted between July 14 and August 8, 2010. A total of 13,444 valid responses were obtained via telephone using stratified random sampling. Each of the 25 cities and counties under the jurisdiction of the Taiwan government was surveyed as a separate unit. Valid responses per county and city ranged between 500 and 650, depending on total population.

(Lianjiang County had 315 valid responses, yielding a margin of error of plus/minus 5.5 percent.)

The poll had a confidence level of 95 percent and a margin of error of plus/minus 4.4-3.8 percent for each area surveyed. The margin of error for the entire area surveyed was plus/minus 0.8 percent. Statistical representativeness verification and weighted processing were applied to all data, based on gender, residence, age and educational level.