Liuchuan Riverside Walk, Taichung’s Scenic Esplanade

Taichung’s city center as seen from the riverside promenade

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In the last couple of years, Taiwan’s third largest metropolis, Taichung, underwent a massive transformation from a mostly industrial city with shabby streets into an urban oasis, replete with newly rehabilitated places to awe at. Formerly a smelly sewage canal, Liuchuan waterfront is now the centerpiece of Taichung’s rebirth, offering several scenic walkways, a smattering of artificial cascades and a showcase of the island’s native vegetation.

Up until quite recently, the city of Taichung has been synonymous with dullness, earning it a reputation of an unsightly place. As part of a citywide endeavor to rebrand Taichung as a visually attractive destination, a series of beautification projects was carried out throughout the downtown area in the last decade or so. Conspicuous by its success was the metamorphosis of a highly-polluted waterway into a verdant riverside park, where locals and visitors can enjoy a leisurely walk.


Originally known as the Dadun River, this streamlet used to cut through the heart of the city as early as the 19th century, when the island was still ruled by the Qing Dynasty. At that time, both riverbanks were cluttered with houses, while the waters were used for bathing and cooking.


That all changed in 1895, when Japan took control of Taiwan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War. During the Japanese colonial era, the surrounding area was extremely transformed as multiple bridges were constructed astride the river while any building throughout the banks was bulldozed.


Shortly thereafter, dozens of weeping willow trees were brought from Japan and then planted along the winding waterway, hence its current name – Liuchuan (literally translated as the willow creek). The mass-planting of these odd-looking trees imbued the riverfront with an uncanny resemblance to the Kamo River in Kyoto, as if it was home away from home for the island’s foreign rulers.


Following Japan’s defeat in World War II and the subsequent return of the island to Chinese control, the willows along the canal were all felled, leaving the riparian area utterly barren. In the decades that followed, the riverfront was once again encroached by clumps of makeshift housing. Worse yet, the city’s rapid industrialization was accompanied by the discharge of hefty amount of raw sewage into the creek, so much so, that at one point, it was dubbed “the ditch” for its smelly waters.


Fast-forward to the mid 2010’s, as Taichung sought to change its trajectory after years of urban decay, the local authorities launched an extensive campaign to clean the river, diverting any household waste to a pair of water treatment plants. The purified water was then released back into the canal, gradually restoring its lost clarity.


Concurrently, the informal settlement along the river was completely demolished. Instead, the 6.1-kilometer-long riverbanks were peppered with over 100 native species of plants which turned the once fetid wasteland into an ecological haven. Inaugurated in 2016, Liuchuan Riverside Park is crisscrossed by multiple walkways and stepping stones, with plenty of vantage points over the emerging nature along the way. Visitors who wish to explore the area’s verdant grounds will also come across a medley of manmade cascades, water-drenched sculptures and shaded viewing platforms.