Thursday, January 5, 2017

Handover Hangover

The unenthusiastic saehaebokmanibadeuseyos that evaporated as early as January 2nd, the post-truth / pre-Trump gloom / doom, the neverending Park-Choi-Woo drama*...

Korea seems to be dragging her feet into the young year, but I also see a lot of people taking the leap. And for a change, not only in that most tragic sense of the term.

Yes, this nation missed its momentum, piled up unnecessary crises, and failed to become a true leader while China and others were catching up, eager to follow the new benchmark. Yes, Korea was betrayed by her own leaders, and their fall will even undermine their too few good initiatives (e.g. nurturing creative ecosystems). Yes, no candidate seems to have the leadership qualities required by the moment.

But yes, new leaders are emerging from the bottom up. Sound citizens and entrepreneurs bringing positive social and economic changes across communities. And of course there is the formidable and overwhelmingly non-ideological democratic movement that bloomed over the last months, a new collective conscience and exigence that hopefully will debunk populists as well as other enemies of democracy.

Yes, Korea is in crisis, but that's precisely now that she can become a true leader, if she seizes the moment to redefine a sustainable vision for society, economics, and politics.

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* Park Geun-hye - Choi Soon-sil - Woo Byung-woo (see "Of power vacua and excesses"). Will they all be in jail one year from now? Distressing to see how the 3 topics in last year's first post (see "2016 under the carpet") managed to get even worse since:
- one year ago, Shinzo ABE and PGH agreed to insult history as a tandem, and today the former is recalling his ambo over the latest 'comfort women' row.
- one year ago, KIM Jong-un was playing with nukes, and today he's about to test Trump's control of the red and blue buttons (the blue one's for Tweeter, can you remember that, Don?)
- one year ago, the Korean opposition was fighting over who would be the best leader for the 2017 elections. Today, MOON Jae-in, AHN Cheol-soo, PARK Won-soon and all have to add LEE Jae-myung to their worries, and election day is likely to happen much earlier than scheduled.
... should I continue with time bombs that were bound to explode, yet somehow managed to grow even fatter (e.g. household debt)...? so happy next year! ("Happy New Year 2018" / "Bonne année 2018")

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Don't miss Le Corbusier in Seoul... The artist, not the urban planner!

Voluptuous sculptures, delicate aquarels, explosions of forms and colors...

... frankly, these are not the first things that come to mind when you think Le Corbusier and Seoul. For me, the association rather suggests that radical 1925 Plan Voisin for Paris, where he imagined the destruction of two square miles at the center of the capital to make room for what now looks like your classic Seoul New Town:

This model for Corbu's Plan Voisin (1925) looks like most 2016 mock ups in Seoul new town model houses. And Jeanneret would turn in his grave if he saw how his pilotis are used and abused across the Korean capital...

But mercifully, the not-to-be-missed exhibition at Seoul Arts Center doesn't venture into that particular dimension of Le Corbusier's amazingly prolific mind.

Le Corbusier Special Exhibition
Hangaram Design Museum (
2016.12.06(TUE) - 2017.03.26(SUN) - 11:00-19:00 (MAR 11:00-20:00)
Corbu time. Inauguration of Le Corbusier expo at Seoul Arts Center (With Antoine Picon - 20161206 -
If I braced for something big, I certainly didn't expect anything that overwhelming. This isn't an exhibition, but a full art museum devoted to a bulimic absorber of cultural influences, encompassing almost all forms of art, architecture being almost reduced to a pleasant background music, flowing naturally as the artist's lightest composition.

Many works have never been exhibited, and this prefigures an actual Le Corbusier museum in a much wider way than say last year's retrospective in Paris... even if the poster looks familiar (and even if, somehow, that one also struck a musical chord):

The weird music of architecture: these days you can play Le Corbusier on a Renzo Piano - Centre Pompidou, Paris (20150707 -

Flanking commissioner and Ronchamp expert Daniele Pauly, Ambassadors Linus von Castelmur (Switzerland) and Fabien Penone (France). Special mention to the former for elegantly mentioning in his opening speech even the most controversial sides of Corbu, as all nations and the UNESCO celebrate his cultural impact*

Many of Corbu artworks echo great artists (Picasso, Braque, Schiele..), but I have a weakness for this almost childish 'Paysage parisien imaginaire' (1917) - a dream-nightmare-ish view of Paname blended with Istanbul, with a contrast between colorful life and dark death (hanged man, war plane, constrained ships...)

Significantly, the artist is most celebrated as a great architect in a colorless, side space, under the eyes of Tadao Ando.

C for Corbu - Le Corbusier in Seoul (20161206 -

Anyway, don't you dare miss this major event. And if you happen to pass by Paris, don't miss his appartement-atelier, which literally speaks volume about the man*.
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* via La Fondation Le Corbusier's website -

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Of power vacua and excesses

As expected (see "The Fall Of The House Of Park"), there's a de facto power vacuum in South Korea, where President PARK Geun-hye, plagued by the CHOI Soon-sil scandal, is every day more unlikely to finish her mandate.

The Korean people is quasi unanimous, and honored this nation's democracy through the most massive and perfect demonstration in the heart of Seoul.

If ever the stubborn PGH doesn't seem ready to step down, it's basically a matter of how and when. The opposition demands an immediate resignation, which would allow MOON Jae-in, AHN Cheol-soo, and PARK Won-soon to run, and what's left of the ruling party would prefer an impeachment that would take much more time, and allow BAN Ki-moon to join the race

The Saenuri implosion was already acted when the pro-Park faction confirmed its lock on the party, months ago. And such conservative media as Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo / JTBC are playing active roles in exposing scandals as they come.

Beyond CHOI Soon-sil and PARK Geun-hye, the case of WOO Byung-woo could turn out to be the most crucial for the future of South Korea democracy, because it exposes corruption at the core of justice. Judging by the doubts surrounding the former prosecutor's own prosecutors, it won't be easily done.

I often worry about the fragile balance of powers in South Korea (for instance in 2012 - see "25 years later"). And that essential dimension of democracy must be reaffirmed now that democracy itself is struggling across the globe.

Without waiting for the next lame duck to claim Cheong Wa Dae, the Asia Pacific region is celebrating the arrival of yet another controversial leader with a questionable vision of democracy: this scary motley crew (KIM Jong-un, Vladimir PUTIN, Shinzo ABE, Narendra MODI, XI Jinping, Rodrigo DUTERTE...) welcomes Donald TRUMP, who will soon have an access to both the nuclear and the POTUS twitter account codes. 

What could possibly go wrong?

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Fall Of The House Of Park

When PARK Geun-hye was elected, I seriously wondered "who won the elections?", and "if she's running her own show" (see "The Anipang Election: Park wins big, but who won?").

Back then, I was mostly thinking about the potential influence of such political cliques as die-hard PARK Chung-hee loyalists, revisionists she never truly distanciated herself from. I had no clue about her dependence to the guru dynasty CHOI Tae-min - CHOI Soon-sil.

That didn't come as a surprise in a nation where so many charlatans gravitate around powerful people, exploiting their weaknesses as easily as they do with 'commoners', only with greater reward.

And in Korea, when the gimchi hits the fan, it can get so grossly messy that you often feel like crying and laughing out loud at the same time (ICYMI read T.K.'s scarily hillarious summary on the CHOI Soon-sil scandal "The Irrational Downfall of Park Geun-hye" - 20161029).

This quasi legally incapacitated president simply has to step down. But this morning, if PARK agreed on inquieries, she was still in denial of being under influence.

She appointed a ROH Moo-hyun-friendly PM, KIM Byeong-joon, and a KIM Dae-jung-friendly Chief of Staff, Han Gwang-ok, to take care of a good part of the business... if not to put some pressure on the opposition, and to welcome them on board her sinking vessel.

By doing that, she also potentially forges a direct competitor to MOON Jae-in and AHN Cheol-soo for next year's presidential elections. Meanwhile, PARK Won-soon tries to seize the president's political suicide as swiftly as he did for his predecessor in Seoul City Hall OH Se-hoon, and to make the most of the few weeks remaining before BAN Ki-moon can declare himself.

One thing seems sure: if the UNSG runs, it won't be under the Saenuri banner. The name was chosen by CHOI Soon-sil, and the party is bound to implode following this latest twist in the destructive pro-anti-Park tug of war.

So much for PARK Geun-hye's heritage. And beyond that, for her family's legacy.

PARK Chung-hee didn't have the guts to terminate the CHOI Tae-min imposture in its infancy, and ever since, his daughter and her siblings have paid the price. Now this family mess has contaminated the whole nation.

Here's how, four years ago, I concluded my remarks on PGH's election: "It's up to her (or to the people who drive the vehicle) to decide where to lead the nation, and what kind of final legacy she wants her family to leave. Let's see how this blank page evolves. And how history is being written. Including and particularly the past, in school textbooks."
And timely, school textbooks tainted by CHOI's fingerprints have just be confirmed*...

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* see "Protesting 'Soon-sil textbook'" (The Korea Times 20161103)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sustainable and Smart Tourism in Korea - a SWOT analysis

My presentation at last week's 2016 Sustainable and Smart Tourism Forum can be downloaded there. As the title suggest, "Sustainable and Smart Tourism in Korea - a SWOT analysis", provides an overview of Korea's Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats regarding this hopefully future-proof approach of tourism. It starts with simple definitions, and a focus on the 'Korean Wave Dependence' that illustrates how a cultural asset can become a liability*.

Thank you again, Catherine GERMIER-HAMEL, for organizing the event, and best wishes to all participants, particularly to the younger generations of innovators in sustainable solutions.  

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* that section echoes my 2013 presentation at the first World Congress for Hallyu, "Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave" (Part I, Part II, Part III). 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seoul summerscapes: death, taxes, and budongsan

I'd like to look back to a few urbanistic topics that animated this hot Summer in the city, but let me start with this most recent trip en province.


During that lovely Chuseok break in Chungcheongnam-do, we crossed a 'silver neighborhood'. I'd never seen the sign, but the very existence of the label tells a lot. That non-descript suburb felt neither like the kind of ghost towns you see in rural areas, nor like a retirement community, but like a city where people under 70 happen to be absent. At least, in the countryside, you could notice younger generations visiting their gramps for the holidays to help them at what was left of their farms:

Many families farming for Chuseok in Korea countryside: young guns visiting old timers who can barely walk (20160915 -
In aging Japan, localities are merging, and to fill millions of empty buildings, signs advertise free rentals, where owners will even pay your utility bills. Korea is also feeling the demographic pinch: many schools are closing, and a few universities shall follow... but still, you can see a lot of apartment blocks under construction in non-booming second to third tier cities, and often in their most rural settings, where land is cheaper. Even if developers manage to sell them today, buyers will have a tougher time doing so in the future.

Yet nowhere is the real estate oversupply more evident than in the capital region: Sudogwon is overshooting by 34.6% with 226,000 apartments too many by 2019, or 46.8% of the nationwide excess*. Significantly, SH changed its name from Seoul Housing Corporation to Seoul Housing and Communities Corporation, confirming a shift from constructing to animating:

SH (Seoul Housing) to be rebranded 서울주택도시공사 from Sept. 1, as focus shifts to urban regeneration (20160830 -
But the building phase is not over yet, and in this less than zero game, places like Yongin struggle more and sooner than others:

As expected, Yongin among the losers in Korea's real estate oversupply (20160829 - - "After building boom, South Korea girds for housing glut" (Reuters)

At the same time, and as usual, key demographics are protected by local authorities. The only way to help Apgujeong elites sell their overly expensive flats with a profit is to make exceptions to construction rules (e.g. allow very high rise redevelopments and / or reduce the land to be offered for public use), and that's exactly the gifts Seoul mayors made. Both OH Se-hoon and PARK Won-soon, in spite of their pledges to rebalance Seoul's rich and poor neighborhoods, and to stop this urban nonsense...

Seoul mayors Oh and Park both secured Apgujeong elite votes - "Apgujeong real estate hot once again" KJD (20160723 -
Of course, the city prefers to communicate about its urban regeneration projects (see "Urban Regeneration: 27 Projects For Seoul"), and the mayor is still going full throttle with his signature Seoul Station 7017. This Summer, the concept has been showcased on Seoul Plaza (as announced by Winy Maas last Spring in Seoul), and featured in CNN's Sustainable Cities special. Judging by how fast the site evolves each time I pass by the neighborhood, 'SS7017' seems on path for a delivery on time for the elections. But its success will also be measured by the positive impacts on all affected neighborhoods - more tasks ahead for the 'grassroot' activists who worked on defusing tensions ahead of the project!
Blue sky over Seoul Square and yes, Seoul Station 7017 #ss7017 #seoul (20160827 -
Seoul mayors love to boast about their legacies, and I already drew parallels between the last three,  LEE Myung-bak, OH Se-hoon, and PARK Won-soon (most recently in "Pour ré-enfanter Séoul : trois maires et quelques impairs"). But none had as big an impact as KIM Hyeon-ok (1966-1970), and the best exhibition in Seoul this Summer was arguably** the one devoted to the city's first 'bulldozer mayor' at the Seoul Museum of History:

Seoul's first 'bulldozer mayor' Kim Hyeon-ok (previously Busan mayor) resigned after the collapse of the Changjeon-dong apt (20160810 -
Note that the SMH also added Inhyeon-dong to its fantastic collection of Seoul neighborhood monographies, which is not far from KIM Swoo-geun's Seun Sangga, one of KIM Hyeon-ok's iconic projects.

Following Pil-dong's Yesultong festival in May, Jung-gu was definitely an underlying theme for me this Summer. And I enjoyed walking through what was left of KIM Ki-chan's Jungnim-dong with fellow urbanist Valerie Gelezeau, finishing in Yeomcheon Bridge's shoe alley.

I love this house in Jungnim-dong. Too bad it is bound for destruction (20160720 -

Speaking of KIM Ki-chan: I learned only last month that two great Seoul photographers had passed away in May: HONG Soon-tai and KIM Han-yong (who donated his collections to the Seoul Museum of History in 2013, leading to a nice exhibition soon afterwards).

Cheonggyecheon alleyways, Seoul 1971. Sad to learn that Hong Soon-tai passed away this year (20160820 -
... and so did Kim Han-yong. Here, Daeheung-dong alleyways, Mapo-gu, Seoul (20160820 -

Sorry for the tone of this post, but such is predictable Seoul: death, taxes, and 'budongsan'...

We've reached the point when seeing a few old trees spared makes our day. So bravo to Seongbuk-dong residents for stopping the massacre halfway along Seongbuk-ro:

Seongbuk-dong residents protest the removal of old platanus trees along Seongbuk-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul (20160816 -


I couldn't finish these moody lines about vanishing neighborhoods without yet another Gyonam-dong update. As I explained recently to students surveying the area, this was not my favorite Seoul village, and not even a full village at that, but Gyonam-dong didn't deserve that death. And this shouldn't have happened in 2014 Seoul.

I will spare you the heavy slides, and just post one picture and two videos.

The picture is from a tweet (like most illustrations in this piece) about the end of the 'Sinmunno Triangle' between Pyeong-dong and Gyeonghuigung:

The curtain falls for Pyeong-dong, where Seoul dumped its urban recreation museum project - Gyonam-dong (20160810 -
The first video is a selection of tweets (timelinelapse?) from 2012 to 2016, about the destruction of Gyonam-dong and the rise of Donuimun New Town (Gyeonghuigung Xii apartments):

The second video is a view from the new staircase built at the top of the new town. You can only see a tiny bit of Seodaemun across Tongil-ro, and of Inwangsan in the distance:

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* see this tweet related to "Real estate market braces for oversupply" (KJD 20160815)
** after LEE Jung-seob at MMCA Deoksugung of course!

Captivating Lee Jung-seob exhibition in MMCA Deoksugung, Seoul (20160806 -

Sunday, August 21, 2016

One last gold medal for Korea (the usual one)

Korean broadcasters perfectly wrapped up their coverage of the Rio Olympics by masking the parade of world athletes with the portraits of national competitors they already aired 99% of the time during the whole competition - I actually switched from MBC to SBS because there, that patriotic display filled less than half the screen:

Even when other nations are on screen at Rio 2016, Korea broadcasters manage to show national athletes (20160822 -
So once again, Korea claimed the gold medal for national chauvinism on TV, a domain where the country faces much tougher and diverse competition than in archery.

In case you missed the Rio games and the previous editions, here's how it works: 
  • all major broadcasters sharing the same rights for the games, the competition among them is all about populism and fueling national fervor
  • if a national champion is competing, major broadcasters must also air them live on their dedicated sports channel (and when it's PARK In-bee, throw in that dedicated golf channel for good measure) - when that's a second rate athlete, use the sport channel to rerun the exploits of top tier stars.
  • on the last day, when there's 0% chance of medal, start one hour later and replay past medal bouts
  • otherwise, may be aired live only universal legends in the very exclusive Usain BOLT - Michael PHELPS league (two more games required for Simone BILES, and Team USA B stood no chance with none of that 1992-dream-team material) - these legends are part of the comfort zone, their presence providing both the 'international' label, and the 'sport domination' alibi
  • success basically always relies on the same sports - difficult to grow new vocations without 'training' the audience with a decent pedagogy of Olympic diversity...
Baseball returns to the Olympics for Tokyo 2020, and you don't know what may happen if Korea faces Japan in the finals.

Aaah, Tokyo 2020! Different flavor of ultranationalism there. Today, the Olympic flag was handed to Nippon Kaigi darlings Yuriko Koike (the newly elected governor), and Shinzo Abe, who popped up dressed as Super Mario:

Inspired by Queen Elizabeth II's cameo appearance for London 2012, Shinzo Abe showed up as Super Mario. A weird solo performance (lacking the humor and Bond sidekick), particularly from an elected politician less iconic than British royalty... Imagine Erdogan doing the same for Istanbul 2020. If Abe's less into personal ego than into the revival of the fascist regime, he never misses an opportunity to show his face on an international stage (e.g. featured at the end of each ad of the Japan government's ongoing PR campaign on CNN)

Super Tojo ready for Tojo 2020 - let the Nippon Kaigi games begin!

BREAKING - Shinzo Abe unveils new logo for Tokyo 2020 (Hideki Tojo 2020) (20150911 -

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