Taipei's Answer to Manhattan's Highline
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because city life is love-hate, love-hate.
By Libby Coleman
Walk a couple of blocks from Taipei’s Sun Yat-Sen Memorial, in honor of the Republic of China’s National Father. Pass by Voodoo Doughnuts, the Portland, Oregon–originating cakey-doughnut haven. Sidestep some geese (volatile) and end up on a wooden-planked path. Then cross over a bridge bordered by verdant trees and look out at a pond of koi.
Welcome to Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, an epically designed urban park and oasis away from the noisy city life. It’s bigger, it’s artsier and it’s calmer than its New York cousin, the incredibly popular Highline, a park on the West Side of Manhattan that runs almost a mile and a half along an old railway line. Songshan’s not Taipei’s only “creative park”; a number of escapes from the outside world were built for public use in the last decade. Another one that I visited was holding a hair competition. Imagine anime on steroids. Blue was the most normal hair color by a mile, and everyone teetered on heels of five inches or more. Professional photographers snapped shots of the alternative twentysomethings. “The [creative parks] remind me of arts and crafts fairs, maybe even flea markets,” travel blogger JB Macatulad says. “They’re more polished, of course, with an emphasis on art and design.”
Many of the trees in one part of the park are strung together, because typhoon season is approaching.
Songshan might just be the best, though, nestled in the expensive, cosmopolitan Xinyi district. The 700,000-square-foot public space has everything required of a top-notch park. Yes, there’s the natural elements: a massive pond, trees that block out the urban blight and grassy patches. The city itself is fitted inside a basin, with hiking trails on all sides and greenery just on the outskirts, yet finding greenery in the center of the city is rarer. But beware: Many of the trees in one part of the park are strung together, because typhoon season is approaching. If a tree falls in a creative park, there’s definitely someone around to hear it.
Then there are the hipsters with their sunglasses and tote bags. Probably because the park boasts a few unexpected elements. An old tobacco factory looms large, first built in 1937. The exterior is faded and historic. There’s a massive mall too, filled with a glassblowing station, food market and Eslite — the famed 24-hour bookstore chain in Asia. It’s “unique, fun, quirky [and] community-oriented,” Macatulad says. The crowds pack in, even for such a large space, but getting lost is easy.
Here, art has space to be loud and obnoxious. A band, the day I went, stood on stage playing heavy-metal jams my Siri couldn’t recognize. A swing station, for adults and kids alike, was being mounted — probably to be put away after a day or two. And an upscale bar displays expensive paintings and a chic wall, lined with stuffed bookcases.
Watch the time of year you go: October usually has the best weather. Then you can fully enjoy the outdoors, sip tea, picnic and listen to music in a creative park, surrounded by the young and artsy youths of Taipei.