Alienation in the AEROTROPOLIS – an independent film from Taiwan

Although it is a work of fiction, the Taiwanese film AEROTROPOLIS, about a young man who sinks all his money into a luxury condo on land allocated for an aerotropolis around Taoyuan Airport, is all too feasible. The government driven megaproject stalled and the real estate bubble burst. Unable to flip the property for a quick profit he loses his moorings in life and wanders around the desolate urban landscape. His loneliness and loss of meaning are only superficially eased by fleeting visits from his flight-attendant girlfriend and the films follows his descent into a downward spiral of mental breakdown.

The film was written and directed by Jheng-Neng Li. Interviewed by We Are Moving Stories, which celebrates new voices in the film industry, he explains how the Taoyuan aerotropolis project “fiasco” has disrupted the lives of thousands of ordinary people, with agricultural land destroyed, families displaced and escalating land and property prices. AEROTROPOLIS is Jheng-Neng Li’s debut feature film, a true low-budget venture, shot over just 11 days with a “no-budget” of just $7000. In this evocative teaser clip the protagonist is static in an alienating urban landscape as planes fly overhead.

AEROTROPOLIS was showcased at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival which focuses on new artists and low-budget, independent films and has garnered some enthusiastic reviews. Writing for ScreenAnarchy Christopher Bourne describes the film as ‘an elegantly made portrait of (sub)urban alienation. In Slug Magazine Kathy Zhou is full of praise for ‘a bleak and powerful meditation on the emptiness of contemporary life’. The film is being screened at various film festivals so hopefully will, over time, reach a substantial audience worldwide. There are some reviews and interesting promotion materials on the AEROTROPOLIS film Facebook page.

Taoyuan Aerotropolis case presented at East Asia Tribunal on Evictions

From 2nd – 4th July, about 100 people gathered in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, to participate in the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions. Representatives from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines attended and presentations about cases of forced displacement were made before a panel of five jurors.  Taoyuan Aerotropolis, a massive planned development around Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan’s main airport on the outskirts of Taipei, was one of the eviction cases presented. Most of the 3,700 hectares of land earmarked for expropriation for the aerotropolis is fertile farmland and 46,000 people face loss of their homes and farmland.

SEA_7191Presentation of Taoyuan Aerotropolis case to the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Other eviction cases highlighted at the ITE-EA included: informal settlements in Taipei; eviction of Shinjuku Kasumigaoka-cho public housing complex under the Olympic 2020 Stadium Project in Tokyo; the Yongsan Tragedy in Seoul; eviction of rooftop tenants in Hong Kong, the 25 year struggle of the Pom Mahakan community in Bangkok; the Kampung Gatco community in Sembilan, Malaysia and the Sitio San Roque case in Quezon, the Philippines.

SEA_7219Panel of jurors at the eviction tribunal, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

The ITE East Asia meeting was part of preparations for the fifth International Tribunal on Eviction (ITE) session, which is slated to be held in mid-October in Quito, Ecuador as part of the United Nations Habitat III conference on housing and sustainable urban development. Fittingly, the first day of the tribunal was held at the former site of the Huaguang community, in the heart of Taipei, where a disadvantaged neighbourhood was demolished in 2013 in to make way for an upmarket development. The government defined people who had been living in the Huanguang community for decades as ‘illegal residents’ and pressured them to leave by imposing fines and lawsuits on them. Forced evictions began without a relocation plan, leaving many residents homeless. Ketty Chen, a political scientist and academic, has posted a moving account of a two-day protest, by residents and supporters, attempting to block excavators from entering the site for the fourth wave of evictions.

On the final day of the ITE East Asia tribunal event, on Monday 4th July, more than 200 people marched through Taipei to the Presidential Office to protest forced evictions. The route of the march, beginning at the site of the former Huaguang community, is shown here. Along the way they stopped outside the Transportation Ministry to protest the Taoyuan Aerotropolis, the Tainan underground rail plan and other land expropriation projects. The draft recommendations of the tribunal showed that the number of people affected by forced eviction in the cases that had been considered added up to a total of nearly 1 million.
SEA_8617March against forced evictions in Taipei, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

As they marched through Taipei demonstrators demanded that the government initiate discussions on housing rights, pay special attention to eviction cases nationwide and adopt recommendations passed at the International Tribunal on Evictions’ (ITE) meeting. Some of the protesters threw shoes at signs, an expression of anger that the Presidential Office, claiming a full schedule, refused to send representatives to meet with them. More photos of the march have been posted by the Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction.

In May 2016 several legal academics pointed out legal flaws in the proposed hearing procedures for land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, expressing doubts over provision of information to residents in order for them to exercise their rights, and whether their opinions would be incorporated in the decision-making process. A few days before presenting the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case at the evictions tribunal, on 21st June, groups opposing the project requested that the government stop land expropriation and review the Environmental Impact Assessment of the planned third runway, which is integral to the project. Land expropriation for the new runway would entail the forced relocation of 20,000 people.

The third runway  also raises safety and environmental concerns. The site is exposed to strong winds and its location, close to the sea with soft, sandy soil, would require extensive land filling operations in order to bear the weight of aircraft. The proposed third runway location poses a risk of bird strikes and  is very close to a fuel depot holding up to 130,000 kilolitres of fuel. Opponents of Taoyuan Aerotropolis have accused authorities of circumventing the law by proceeding with the land expropriation for the third runway, and beginning construction of basic infrastructure, before completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Video recordings of the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions have been published online, with some sections translated into English. Presentation and discussion of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case is in the first recording beginning at 1 minute 39 seconds. Unfortunately translation into English is not audible for most of this segment. A second section of the event recording is available here.

Taoyuan Aerotropolis – residents demand formal hearings

The long struggle for justice for affected people facing displacement for Taoyuan Aerotropolis continues. Planned land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis would be the largest in the history of Taiwan, taking up 4,700 hectares of land, mostly consisting of prime agricultural land, about 3,200 hectares of this land would be expropriated and 46,000 people face eviction from their homes and farmland.

On 30th September, residents from the group Alliance Against Aerotropolis Forced Evictions protested at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications over their concerns that some people will be excluded from upcoming hearings regarding the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project, submitting petitions requesting permission that they be included. The first phase of Taoyuan Aerotropolis is a third runway at the airport, the necessity of which the protesters said must be reconsidered, and development immediately surrounding it. The second phase is development over a wider area. Owners of property scheduled to be expropriated for the project’s second phase have not been invited to attend. Alliance spokesperson Wang Pao-hsuan argued that they should be able to attend as their property is included in government plans and will be forbidden from building on their land if the project is approved.

Environmental Jurists Association director Thomas Chan said that plans for the aerotropolis should ‘start from scratch’ in the light of a new ruling on from the Council of Grand Justice, which found that land should only be expropriated for infrastructure projects. This is pertinent to the planned Taoyuan Aerotropolis, which includes industrial and business parks, plus residential districts.

20150930航空城預備聽證排除爭議(攝影:林佳禾)Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License 20150930航空城預備聽證排除爭議(攝影:林佳禾)Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License
20150930航空城預備聽證排除爭議(攝影:林佳禾)Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

The 30th September demonstration is one of many protests against forcible land expropriation for the aerotropolis. On 11th March 2015, 300 people gathered outside government buildings in Taipei, capital city of Taiwan, demanding formal hearings .
DSC_9000Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

As with so many of the endless protests by people facing eviction for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, the demonstrators met with a heavy police presence.

DSC_9376Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

On 17th July 2014 residents facing displacement protested outside the Construction and Planning Agency in Taipei.
20140717_090659Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

On 22nd June 2014 hundreds of protesters marched to Taoyuan County Hall demanding suspension of the aerotropolis project. 01-IMG_1041Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Taoyuan campaigners’ ‘Lost Bear’ sculpture on dispay in Miaoli

Plans for an aerotropolis surrounding Taoyuan Airport, in Taiwan, involve forcible land expropriation that threatens to displace 46,000 people. Resistance against the megaproject involves innovative artwork – most notably an Alternative Land Art Festival in December 2014, on part of the farmland that the government wants to acquire for the project. The focal point of the festival was a Lost Bear sculpture standing a full 8 metres high. The Lost Bear is going on display to the south of Taoyuan, in Miaoli County. You can read an article about this, Anti-Aerotropolis ‘Lost Bear’ to go on display in Miaoli, in the Taipei Times.