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Monday, January 2, 2023

Seoul Village Season XVII

And so 2003 begins, the Year of the Rabbit.

 


Actually, the Year of the Water Rabbit, which should bring us extra inspiration.

 

A year full of cliffhangers, a year our turbulent neighbor up North will make sure we remember.

 



A year where we may not even need KIM Jong-un, a new pandemic, or a new war to be upset.

 



A year where Korea's unpopular, lame duck president YOON Suk-yeol, in spite of his lack of majority in the assembly, intends to push for even more unpopular reforms (welfare, pensions...).

 


A year of trials, errors, and successes.




Hopefully, a very happy new year to you, to the ones you care for, and to the ones no one care about.

 




Seoul Village 2023
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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Seoul Innovation Park on steroids

We've already seen Eunpyeong-gu's former KCDC site mutate into a makers' hub*, a vibrant Nokbeon-dong neighborhood park, and a cultural crossroads** in an underprivileged part of Seoul. Now the city wants to turn this low rise oasis into its gazillionth high rise utopia.

Meet the new and improved Seoul Innovation Park:



Quite a change from nowadays:

"Vegan Festival in Seoul Innovation Park, Eunpyeong-gu." (@theSeoulVillage 20170511- twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/866195549707358208)

Okay, all cars shall be parked underground instead of these traditional outdoor sprawls, plus there's also going to be this manicured 'Seoul UIC Campus' (University of Seoul Industry Cooperation), but that's not the same as a laid-back park full of happy families:

As you well know, I'm all for fixing the capital city's unbalances, and Northeast Seoul clearly deserves a boost. Besides, the city already owns this 110,000 sqm site, and it's next to a subway station (Bulgwang Station), close to the Yeonsinnae transport hub (Subway Lines 3 and 6, GTX-A - see "GTX, meet Sinbundang Line"). 

But not exactly there. And we've already seen this not so disruptive concept of futuristic, buzzword-friendly city within the city, with its iconic landmark tower - here, 60 more floors to be filled in a market already suffering from oversupply. Yet another empty alibi for yet another real estate nonsense (many 'apateu' have already risen nearby)? And of all models, why pick the COEX as a symbol of success? 

 

Needless to say, the grove with its old trees at the entrance, under which kids would play and seek fresh shelter in the Summer, is gone. From the outside, this could be any mall:


This time, it's different, they say. We go 'beyond zoning', we're truly mixing commercial, residential, and business. And this time, promise, we'll build and startups will come. SH Corporation will make sure a diversity of people build a genuine community, a 'Golden Village' where elderlies, newlyweds, single households share the same spaces with all facilities required in changing times.

Sincerely hope that flies but frankly, Seoul, you can do better.


"Seoul's project for Seoul Innovation Park (Nokbeon-dong, Eunpyeong-gu)? A coex-ish hub, very Oh Sehoon-ish urbanism:" (@theSeoulVillage 20221220 - https://twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/1605025577102032896)


Seoul Village 2022
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* starting with Seoul Creative Lab and Hyebin's FabLab:

"Always nice to visit Seoul Innovation Park's FabLab! Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul." (@theSeoulVillage 20161207 - https://twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/806453941252673536)

** including, most recently, SEMA Storage in a former KCDC warehouse (see "Nine new museums in Seoul by 2023")

Monday, December 5, 2022

Promising

No regrets whatsoever for Korea following its most predictable defeat to uber favorite Brazil in the round of 16: the team held their ground with a very decent possession time and spectacular opportunities, even during that merciless jogo bonito / realism lesson of the first half, and made almost the best of their World Cup.

After an uninspiring draw against a very weak Uruguay, the Taeguk Warriors lost what was supposed to be their easiest game (allowing far too many goals from Ghana) before slaying Portugal's B team at the buzzer. If they came back twice from behind to survive their first round, they didn't collapse following Neymar Jr and friends' festival, which no team could have recovered from anyway.

Except for the first game, Paolo Bento's side built its opportunities and goals in a much more diverse and entertaining (not to mention less controversial) way than Guus Hiddink's commando*. For the first time in the ten World Cups I've been following Korea, I saw more style and confidence than resilience, the promises of an ambitious, sustainable playing identity. And I loved the way Bento, even as he knew he wouldn't stay, provided priceless experience to young talents in the second half. PAIK Seung-ho's awesome goal crowned perfectly Korea's 2022 World Cup, and if SON Heung-min may not join the party in 2026, KIM Kang-in,  HWANG Hee-chan, CHO Gyu-sung, and others already proved they could be leaders on the pitch.

Yes, this World Cup remains a total nonsense, an insult to sports, environment, human rights, you name it. And like every World Cup, this one remains opium for the people. But Korea badly needed this chase of the 2002 dragon right now. And it felt good to see its struggling youth party joyfully outdoor just weeks after the abominable tragedy in Itaewon.



Seoul Village 2022
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* which I absolutely adored, don't get me wrong!

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Asymetric War (Laissez-)Faire - Crouching Doves, Hidden Hawks

Hard to get some attention in 2022. North Korea's testing frenzy (over 40 missile launches so far) eventually paid off, but with another dictator with a bigger button, an itchy finger, and an actual, ultra violent war raging, KIM Jong-un and the KCNA had to beef up their storytelling.

Look what you've done

So as Putin shot missiles all over Ukraine in retaliation for the incident on his controversial bridge to Crimea, KIM had to mansplain that his recent shots were a simulation of tactical nuclear strikes, and a rehearsal for the wiping out of key infrastructures across South Korea. If no mock up Blue Houses were harmed during the shooting, that was clearly a few notches higher than the usual reactions to joint KOR-US drills, or VIP visits (VP Kamala Harris the other day).

Furthermore, the DPRK demonstrated yet new levels of readiness and stealth, making South Korea's failed test even more embarrassing. YOON Suk-yeol can say the neighbors upstairs have 'nothing to gain from nuclear weapons', calls for nuclear deterrence South of the DMZ keep getting louder.

There's always Uncle Sam's 'ironclad' support, and including on the ground, at a time when Joe Biden can't set foot in Ukraine, or even say what he wants about Taiwan. Besides, hawks are getting a little more subtle across the East Sea, and coordination becomes possible (though whatever LEE Jae-myung may say, the ROK is not heading for a 'pro-Japan defense'). Fumio Kishida and friends even received some help from Kyiv, where Zelenskyy declared that the Kuril Islands belonged to Japan, not Russia...

All eyes should be on a key player: after circumnavigating unusual unrest at home, and Putin's most urgent demands overseas, XI Jinping is about to become more officially dictator for life (at the XXth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party), and an even more ruthless 800-pound gorilla.

(Seoul Village on Facebook - 20221001) "China's 'Panda Diplomacy' in 2022 according to 阿塗 (IG @ah_to_hk). With North Korea supporting Russia's massacres in Ukraine, South Korea (NB Yoon?!?) composing with Xi Jinping Imperator, Japan restoring Imperial Japan, the mighty USA eagle a distant observer, one feather brushing Taiwan... Among countless details, China's Pandamic SNAFUs, its support of autocrat neighbors, South China Sea's floating borders, a few birds that managed to escaped post-democracy Hong Kong, or those powerless doves (EU / OZ / UK / CAN) in the corner..."


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Monday, July 11, 2022

Two Murders and a Funeral - The Abe Legacy

Today, private funerals will be held for Shinzo Abe, whose assassination shocked Japan and the whole world. 

In Zojo-ji.

So the man who so heavily promoted the restoration of State Shinto will be honored in a Buddhist temple. The man who campaigned so hard for the return of Imperial Japan's militarism was murdered by a former member of the navy. And the man whom Korea loved to hate for his negation of war crimes died because that madman believed the former PM's family supported Reverend Moon's cult.

Ultimate paradox? This tragedy may help Abe fulfill his lifelong dream of destroying Japan's peaceful postwar constitution: his LDP won in the landslide he always needed but never quite achieved. 

Now the murder of peaceful, postwar Japan shall be quietly performed by lawmakers following his brainchild Nippon Kaigi. Let's see if Fumio Kishida will forever taint his name by pulling the trigger.

20220708 thread @theSeoulVillage:
"1) Fmr Japan PM in cardiac arrest, suspect arrested. Shinzo Abe was shot during speech (Reuters). Lunatic? Political? His Yakuza pals? As much as I hate his Nippon Kaigi AbeIGNomics, I wish him well.
2)
Shinzo Abe died. Killer a former member of the SDF.
3) This is clearly a tragedy, but Shinzo Abe was neither a Muhammad Anwar el Sadat nor a Yitzhak Rabin. #AbeIGNomics"



=> My 2019 fake interview of Abe Shinzo: "Make Imperial Japan Great Again - an exclusive (fake) tell-all interview with Shinzo ABE"


Seoul Village 2022
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Monday, July 4, 2022

Fire, fury, and de-escalation

As Seoul experiences its first tropical nights of the year, we're all wondering even more acutely how climate change will affect our daily lives in the peninsula.

First, climate change is already happening, and we already know for sure that global temperatures will rise higher than targeted during the Paris Agreement. Key tipping points have already been passed, from the ever-shrinking Amazon rain forest, now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs, to the vanishing glaciers and polar caps, to the geographically closer permafrost collapse.

Permafrost covers a quarter of exposed land surfaces on the Northern Hemisphere, releasing as it melts frightening volumes of methane in our atmosphere already saturated with greenhouse gases. If scientists have already estimated the ginormous volumes to come, it's very hard to predict how, at the local level, they will directly and indirectly disrupt currents that structurally impact (e.g. North Korea's colder seas, the Siberian air masses...). 

After a 20th century where Korea already underwent a rise of +1.8 Celsius in average temperature (more than the rest of the World), this one promises to go medieval: the 2020 South Korea Climate Change Assessment Report (Ministry of Environment and Korea Meteorological Administration) announced that by 2100, the number of heatwave days (over 33 celsius) would more than triple from 10.1 to 35.5 per year. Winters will be shortened by one whole month, and we'll experience more precipitations and extreme episodes.

 

Rise in numbers of heatwave days (business as usual scenario)

Over the past 30 years, I've seen Winters become not only less cold (e.g. the Han River seldom freezes beyond smaller patches), but also much drier, which probably contributes to wildfires that are more violent and difficult to tame (58% of them happen during the Spring, when the nation is at its driest). Mountain soils get washed away at the first rain, landslides and floods multiply, and as seas rise, whole ecosystems are bound to disappear (tidal flats, wetlands)...

Korea wildfires on March 5, 2022 (NASA)

The social, economic, political impacts of climate change can't be underestimated. Beyond competitiveness, that's a matter of survival, sometimes literally: the number of heat-related fatalities is expected to more than double by the end of the century, and diseases or pests that used to be contained to warmer climates are becoming endemic*.

Food security, highlighted by the war in Ukraine that exposed Korea's over-dependence on China for its sustenance, will become even more critical: by 2100, the production of rice will have dwindled by 25%. The stakes are even higher in North Korea, which relies much more on its own, ailing agricultural sector. In the region, logistics and geopolitics are already impacted by warmer seas (East Russia enjoys its own sea ports that don't freeze during the winters, new arctic routes emerge...). 

Korea destroyed its greenbelts, boosted its coal power, and crippled its nuclear power at the worst moment. In spite of a few significant projects, it's nowhere near it should be in renewables. Logically, the country scores very poorly when it should be setting the example:

Climate Action Tracker, Mars 2022

Water, biomass, and forest management is already a strategic challenge, particularly in a country where a lot of the trees share the same age thanks to the massive tree-planting campaign of the 60s. It would be nice to involve, once again, all the population in a collective effort that would benefit generations to come. 

Big cities, starting with Seoul, are already experimenting and benchmarking best practices, because everybody knows that when cities become the solution, differences can be made much faster. Obviously, a lot remains to be done. Making sure every new project should contribute to improving natural temperature control or water collection / management could help.

Korea tends to forget that its landscapes have been degraded far beyond urban environments, and again (see "From zombie maeul to seed village - from fake startup communities to real Communities-as-a-Startup"), the country must start reconsidering and rethinking its rural world as a key asset for the future.


Seoul Village 2022
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* BTW bad news on the pandemic front: experts expect a second massive wave of coronavirus cases from August as people will gather in confined, air conditioned area, and most of them will have lost a lot of resistance to the virus (most received their last dose of vaccine last year). 


Friday, April 29, 2022

Seoul's Waterfront Renaissance

Seoul has always been defined by its most valuable environmental assets: its countless waterways, and the mountains that feed them. 

From the start, the capital revolved around Cheonggyecheon and its network of streamlets:

Nowadays, the Han River tells what's North and what's South, but waterways still account for 8.1% of Seoul's land (below in 2010):

After pouring concrete all over the place to tame the powerful Hangang and its tributaries, to stabilize unstable riverbanks, and to prevent recurring floods, the city has reopened its heart to its waterways, rediscovered them as leisure paths and environmental treasures. Following the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, the Hangang Renaissance, and the restoration of neighborhood streamlets, masses of humans, birds, and even fishes have flocked back to Seoul's watersides. Yes, more concrete was often poured in the process, but biomass keeps growing, embankments are often doubled with natural fish nurseries, and significant wetlands have been created.



 

Citizens are already very active along these waterways, thanks to all the infrastructure needed by strollers, cyclists, or workout maniacs:

But water level and street level are seldom seamlessly connected, and for good reasons: flash floods remain a constant threat, and these waterways help the city cope with extreme downpour. On such occasions, riversides must be evacuated immediately. Still, more citizens could spend more leisure time there, particularly when they crave for more free and cool open spaces.

More than a decade after his Hangang Renaissance project, Mayor OH Se-hoon aims at a 'Jicheon Renaissance' leveraging Seoul's 332 km of waterways. Not just with more hardware, but with more content and culture, a better connection to local neighborhoods and markets, More 'emotion', as part of an 'Emotional City' of the future vision.

Starting with 4 pilot projects along three streamlets (Dorimcheon, Jeongneungcheon, and Hongjecheon), with 2 more sites by 2030 (Anyangcheon and Jungnangcheon):

  • Hongjecheon will never fulfill its great potential as long as the Naebu Expressway disgraces it (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway"), and the pilot will focus on two spots: upstream at Hongjimun and Tangchundaeseong, midway at the artificial waterfall near Seodaemun District Office, with a place to have a drink.



  • Dorimcheon is more about the connection to the neighborhood and its businesses, with decks to make the transition and chill out:



  •  Jeongneungcheon will add a cultural layer through a new media art space:



Of course, all this requires water, particularly since the city intends to make these shallow streamlets a bit deeper (from a very thin 10 cm to a more significant 30 cm). So backstage, there's a lot of work to improve water and waste management. 

Today, 18 streamlets including Cheonggyecheon are actually fed with water recycled from the Han River, and climate change has spectacularly dried up the whole nation. Even if I knew Seoul experienced very few precipitations last Winter, I was stunned to see in a recent treck up Bukhansan, how parched soils were. But the only time water streamed by was magical:

As usual, I guess we'll have more imperfect, odd spaces requiring some improvement in further iterations. But overall, Seoul keeps democratizing access to quality time and nature, even if that's in not so natural spaces.

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