Thursday, April 06, 2006

Exchange with OURs

Attendance: Prof John K.C. Liu (Chairperson), Kuo Li-Chin (Secretariat), Ching-Fang (Secretariat), Chou Chia-Hui (Secretariat), Chen Jian-Zhi (General Secretary, Green Citizens' Action Alliance), Keng Hua (re:act), Keng Siong (Shih Hsin University, KH's brother cum assistant)
Date: 03 Apr 06
Location: OURs headquarter, 2F No.274 Sec.3 Roosevelt Rd, Taipei
Time: 2pm-5.30pm

It was really a wonderful and fruitful dialogue session I had with OURs, an established NGO in Taipei sprung off from the "Snail-without-a-shell" movement in 1989. They actually have a physical office space for themselves, above the bookstores and eateries right across the road from National Taiwan University – a place to work and have their members coming up to linger around and chit chat, or even attend my presentation and join the discussion. I was also honoured to have Prof Liu, chairperson of OURs and executive advisor of Building & Planning Research Foundation, attending the meeting and giving valuable comments.

The story of their beginning is legendary. In 1989, the "Snail-without-a-shell Alliance" gathered more than 50,000 people to occupy a key intersection in the east-downtown area of Taipei. They stayed up overnight to protest against the sky-rocketing costs of housing at the time. In the following years, members in this social movement established 2 NGOs – the "TSUI MA MA Foundation" which directly helps to meet the housing needs of people, and the "Organization of Urban Re-s" (OURs).

OURs was the first NGO in Taiwan to focus on socio-spatial practice and the critique of urban policy. "Re-s" represents multifaceted connotations such as Reform, Rediscovery, Reflection, etc. The socially oriented professionals, from architecture, urban planning, and other fields such as geography, history, political science, international studies, and even engineering, came together to devote themselves to promote urban reforms in Taiwan, through multidisciplinary platform built by OURs.

Now OURs have more than a hundred members, who are involved in various projects initiated by OURs, as well as government projects (mostly urban research projects) successfully tendered by OURs (which made up the bulk of their income). The Secretariat formed by graduates of National Taiwan University acts as the central administration for the organization, which is actually closely linked to the university's Building & Planning Research Institute. OURs is headed by an executive committee, which consists of enthusiastic professors from various institutions, and is assisted by an advisory panel made up of respected persons who add both credential and cash to the organization.

Several projects were shared during their presentation, one of which I actually visited – Global Activists Participation Project (GAPP) at Treasurehill. A slum at first glance, OURs had injected new life to it by inviting young artists to move in and enliven the place, in order to prevent its demolition and preserve its organic quality of space which will never be achieved by top-down planning and design. Recent projects also include the effort to prevent the present government from selling, destroying and rebuilding culturally valuable sites for government's income, and to give back these sites to the people. One project was a student competition they held to find ways of redeveloping a former American soldier housing estate in Yang Ming Shan, followed by a fun fair they held there to gain local resident's support.

Much experience can be learnt from them, such as their organization structure, funding sources, socially oriented approach, the kind of projects they do and their collaboration with local authorities. We can also participate in the international conference they have initiated with universities from US, Japan, Hong Kong and China – Participatory Community Design in the Pacific Rim – the next conference may be in 2007 ( Many valuable suggestions were given to us in setting up an organization, which I'll elaborate later. In addition, they are also looking at whether they can send us an exhibition panel to illustrate their unique way of looking at places through participation, or even come down personally to take part in our forum!