I have just left Taipei, where I have been involved for 2 years acting as an advisor/mentor to the head of their Urban Regeneration organization in collaboration with Bamboo Curtain International led by Margaret Shiu of (www.bambooculture.com). Taiwan has a special position given its uncertain international legal status. Yet Taipei, its capital city, faces all the urban challenges in positioning itself and in keeping its best people and attracting others from elsewhere. The brain drain and talent churn is now its over-riding issue. Skilled and ambitious people have choices and can move anywhere and in a globalising world the opportunity to work in more complex, challenging and varied contexts is an important pull for young people and professionals. There is now an increasing culture of migration indeed a rite of passage, while family, lifestyle and cultural factors are the main reason to come back.
Many see this outflow negatively. An alternative approach accepts there will be significant in and outflow. It looks at emigrants as circulators who, after working overseas, if conditions are right, return more experienced bringing value back. Their overseas networks can help them penetrate outwards again. When overseas they can act as bridgeheads in their destination nations. The point is to get them to return. The farsighted Taiwanese minister of economy Lee Kuo-ting managed this with an array of incentives and infrastructural programmes that lured back the Taiwanese from Silicon Valley. This helped launch the Taiwanese high tech revolution. We know the results: HTC, Acer, Asus and so on.
Often these companies were established in somewhat isolated off-centre technology or science parks frequently connected to universities, where the ‘geeky techies’ invented the software and hardware that gave Taiwan its reputation. But today inventive people find these environments sterile, stifling and sanitized. They want a creative milieu webbed into the urban fabric. This is why I wrote a book for them called ‘Talented Taipei & the Creative Imperative’ (click to download)
In the next blog I’ll tell you a bit about Taipei is trying to do through its urban acupuncture programme and soft urbanism approach.