House prices in many Asian cities have doubled in the past five years. As a result, many old communities have been torn down to make way for the burgeoning property market.
There is, however, a growing awareness about that importance of urban conservation and the basic rights of homeowners. This emerging zeal for preserving and renovating historic (and older) architecture is driven by energetic young people who increasingly see the cityscape not only in terms of development, but also as an anchor of cultural identity.
I recently visited the Solo Singer Project, where a group of artists are renovating a rundown hotel hidden in a forgotten corner of Beitou District in Taipei. Its location in the snug alleys affords both privacy and quiet, but its lack of attention is also leading towards it deterioration.
What the Solo Singer Project artists are trying to do is to preserve the cultural characteristics of the building by restoring the hotel with respect to its history while also benefiting the local community economically by bringing in more cultural tourists.
“We want to prove that demolition is not the only way to improve our lives,” say the artists. “It’s more than just physical value that old buildings can bring to us.”
Looking around, I notice that the ornate roof of the building has an old-world feel, but everything else is almost minimalistic. Houses in the past had very simple design because people back then had only the most minimal needs. Regardless of the past or today’s modern age, this concept is still one of the keys to a quality lifestyle.
On my way back home, I noticed the concrete blocks and sweeping roofs that tumble beside the metro tracks and wonder how long they have before the next wave of urban renewal wipes their foundations clean. And as stories of forced eviction and demolition of an untold scale carry across the straits from mainland China, this trend casts lengthening shadows over the city’s alleyways.
It will be passionate young enthusiasts, such as the Solo Singer artists, that will keep the flame of history alive on the streets of Taipei.
Heather Ma is a tourism expert, an interior designer and a hospitality business owner. She is a Global Shaper from the Taipei Hub.