The alleys and lanes around Qingtian Street in Taipei City’s Daan District belie their location at the heart of one of the capital’s busiest areas, with quiet back streets, lines of trees and unassuming Japanese-style houses. It is these components, however, that give the neighborhood its special ambiance.

Built in the 1930s during Taiwan’s period under Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), the buildings on and around Qingtian Street were once homes for Japanese professors teaching in the city. As time passed, and as urban development continued apace, the old houses slowly faded into the background. Many were abandoned and became dumping grounds for rubbish, with their facades obscured by overgrown grass.

The streets and alleys of Taipei can provide fascinating insights into the city’s history and culture (Taiwan Today photo)

Rather than leave the community to its fate, a group of enterprising citizens in 2002 set about trying to earn protected status for the buildings. This involved collecting historical documents and making two trips to Japan for interviews with former occupants. Their efforts helped unearth the story behind the structures and ultimately led to Taipei City Government proclaiming Qingtian Street a conservation area on May 2, 2006.

Although many of the traditional wooden structures were replaced before this status was granted, some 30 still remain, serving a variety of functions including as residences, bookstores, antique shops and tea houses. Qingtian Street’s revival has caused an economic uptick founded on an energetic brand of urban renewal spurred by cross-sector collaboration among TCG, private enterprises and nonprofit organizations.

The roof of a Japanese-style house on Qingtian Street is covered in moss (Taiwan Today photo)

One of these buildings now hosts a Japanese restaurant called Qingtian 76. Completed in 1931, it was designed and built by Masashi Adachi. In 1945, ownership was transferred to Ma Ting-ying, then chairman of National Taiwan University’s Geoscience Department, and it remained under the Ma family’s care until 2007 when it was reclaimed by TCG and officially designated a municipal relic.

In 2011, the Goldenseeds Education Organization took over responsibility for maintaining Qingtian 76. According to its manager Yang Ching-ming, her team is proud of the work done restoring the municipal relic. “Right now this building is 80 years old. If it had been torn down, it’d never get a chance to be 100 or 200 years old for people in the future to enjoy,” Yang said. “Once we lose our historical heritage, we can never bring it back.”

Tea houses are one of Qingtian Street’s distinctive features (Taiwan Today photo)