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Made in Taiwan: Sustainable urban living

December 12, 2018
The country’s quest to develop smart cities could have the knock-on effect of revitalizing its role in global manufacturing.

The “Connectivity and QoL” report series examines how digital consumer habits and ubiquitous technology are driving smart city development in the Asia-Pacific region.

For decades, Taiwan has been both a primary beneficiary of the globalization of trade, and an economy that has endured its negative effects. Taiwan’s high-tech manufacturing sector is still a vital component of the country’s export-driven economy. However, much of the productivity of Taiwanese firms has long been produced in mainland China, with its scale and cost advantages.

Taiwan’s traditional manufacturing exurbs have slowly hollowed out as a result, putting added pressure on the infrastructure and economy of its city cores, and forcing Taipei and other cities to push development plans to increase the size of its tourism and “creative economy” industries, in part through industrial clusters such as Taipei’s Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, which serves as a platform to promote Taiwanese brands and concepts around furniture, clothing and accessory design, as well as “smart” appliances.

Much of Taiwan’s smart city aspirations have focused on revitalizing its traditional business hubs, particularly the capital, Taipei, both from commercial and lifestyle angles.

Similar to many other Asian economies, Taiwan’s National Development Council (NDC) has wrapped up a larger, digitally focused economic transformation initiative with several discrete smart city projects. It has earmarked NT$100 billion (US$3.3 billion) over the next four years to boost digital infrastructure and turn its cities into platforms for high-value jobs, particularly around the IoT technology cluster. At a national level, this has included a single electronic toll collection platform, and health care records accessible from every citizen’s chip-based health service card. At the municipal level, the Taipei smart city office, launched in 2016, coordinates efforts to digitize citizen access to public services (the city has pushed ubiquitous Wi-Fi projects for some years now) and coordinates public-private partnerships. Linked to the NDC goals, many of Taipei’s smart city projects are IoT-based applications that engage local solution players. One example is AirBox, a network of street-level air quality sensors connected to a cloud-based analytics platform.

But this focus on livability has come into sharp focus not only because persistent pollution and congestion levels in Taipei and elsewhere weighs on its urban creative class, but ironically also because of relatively worsening living conditions in mainland China. An estimated two million Taiwanese live on the mainland—over 8% of its population, and perhaps as much as a quarter of its higher-educated workforce. Taiwan city planners reckon many tiring of China’s smog-filled skies could be encouraged to repatriate, with a combination of new opportunities and improved quality of life.

Like Korea and Japan, Taiwan has seized upon greenfield smart city initiatives as a means to focus industrial development and R&D for new applications.

Much of Taiwan’s smart city aspirations have thus focused on revitalizing traditional business hubs from commercial and lifestyle angles, particularly in the capital Taipei. But like Korea and Japan, Taiwan has also seized upon greenfield smart city initiatives as a means to focus industrial development and R&D on new applications, such as the “Airport Economy” initiative in Taoyuan.

Taipei’s smart city efforts are also being focused to boost specific sub-industries, such as the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) business. Taipei has seen the industry look at digital outdoor display technology and the city’s famously bandwidth-rich mobile and Wi-Fi networks to enhance travel and navigation services for its estimated quarter million annual exhibition visitors and other MICE travelers.

Top photo credit: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee