NEW - my 'Seoul Villages' are out - 12 short fictions totally free! Download the free ebook!

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.

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
Download 'Seoul VillageS', the free ebook.
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 10, 2022

YSY does it?

Every five year, I have the same dream: that Korea switches to a two-round system for its presidential elections, which would not only reflect more accurately the diversity of opinions, but also result in mergers much more transparent, fair, and based on policies. But no. As usual, we witnessed last minute, winner-takes-all mergers between individuals. And as usual, the dozen-plus roster boiled down to two heavyweights snatching 95% of the cake. 

I wish SIM Sang-jun had raised the issue during her otherwise perfect concession speech. She did claim 800k votes and AHN Cheol-soo at least one third of that even without running (judging by the 300k invalid votes due to last minute withdrawals), but both would have scored much much higher otherwise, forcing main candidates to move closer to the center before the second round.

If none of the polls that followed the YOON-AHN alliance* were made public because they were too close to the elections, they all put the opposition candidate ahead by two to seven points. Yet YOON eventually finished only less than 250k votes ahead of LEE - less than what he gained in Seoul alone:

The capital city confirmed its 2021 rejection of a ruling party that lost not only key strongholds there, but also 4 of the 5 assembly seats in play nationwide on the same election night (by a much wider margin than for the presidential election).

Absolutely not Trumpian on that one, LEE Jae-myung conceded very gracefully. He would have had a difficult time trying to contest the score after the troubling incidents in Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, or Jeju-do that cast serious doubts about electoral integrity. The nation could even have faced a major crisis if LEE had won very narrowly. MOON Jae-in and the controversial head of the National Election Commission NOH Jeong-hee did apologize for the 'incidents', but they involved officials who had to be more than aware of the existential threat their behavior represented for democracy, and they looked disturbingly consistent with the extreme episodes witnessed during the administration's attacks on justice.

Hopefully, this closer than expected final gap was mainly due to the ruling party's last ditch mobilization of its formidable turnout machine combined with a weakened motivation on the other side: AHN guaranteed YOON's win, why vote for such an uninspiring candidate?

By all means, YOON Seok-youl, a reluctant politician, was not a good candidate. And he was far from always a candidate for good.

I disagree with many elements of the candidate's program, but I want him to deliver the goods on one key front: democracy, justice, the constitution.

Korea needs the YOON who, as a student under the dictatorship, led a trial of CHUN Doo-hwan.

Korea needs the YOON who, in 2013, was suspended for refusing to stop investigating the meddling of LEE Myung-bak's secret services into the 2012 presidential elections.

Korea needs the YOON who joined the team that prosecuted PARK Geun-hye.

Korea needs the YOON MOON Jae-in handpicked as his Eliot Ness to lead the nation prosecutors and justice reform, and who said no when MOON told him to stop investigating Cho Kuk or Cheong Wa Dae corruption.

Korea needs the YOON whom both the extreme left and the extreme right hate. 

And that YOON would better show up. Five years ago**, Korea needed the MOON who stood for democracy, and ended up with another one who undermined it. This divided nation can't afford another betrayal.

YOON's one mission as a candidate was to kick the ruling party out of Cheong Wa Dae, and that will be done when the transition is over. As a president-elect, his mission will be to gather a team that can inspire voters for the upcoming legislative elections, but also reach across the aisle, to moderates among a hostile assembly. 

Very transparent about his lack of experience as a politician, the man has a reputation to delegate a lot, to let pros do their job, and to take full responsibility. YSY does it. So casting will be key.

Candidate YOON needed the People Power Party to run and AHN Cheol-soo to win, President YOON simply can't succeed with the PPP platform. And clearly, there's no way he can unite the nation if he keeps including LEE Jun-seok's anti-feminist agenda. Ideally, that young lad should be the first one to be shown the door, and AHN Cheol-soo should lead the transition team.

I'm not forgetting another essential role of the President: representing and defending the nation in these very troubled times. And Russia's invasion of Ukraine already impacted the campaign and the region:

  • not very good news for a nuclear-free peninsula: another motive for North Korea to keep its weaponry, another motive for South Korea to revive its civil program (MOON Jae-in even had the gall to say the nuclear energy he's been dismantling for years was strategic for the nation's future....)
  • not very good news for Yankees-Go-Home cheerleaders: while LEE Jae-myung struggled with his base, YOON Seok-youl could herald the alliance full throttle. Joe Biden didn't even wait for concession or acceptance speeches to congratulate his preferred (and fellow gaffe-a-day) candidate.
  • not very good news for XI Jinping's plans to invade Taiwan. And now he knows bullies can be bullied. XI has yet to congratulate a man who made no mystery about where he stands between the US and China.
  • good news for the Korea-Japan dialog: YOON sent clear, positive signals. Let's hope his sense of justice will make him nonetheless stand for the last survivors of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system, who can't wait for another term.

Tensions are likely to exacerbate in the region because of Putin's war, but much of the ambiguity will be gone, which may paradoxically be helpful for some meaningful diplomacy (including why not with North Korea). Interesting to see how existing and new alliances evolve or take shape.

On all fronts, please, more pragmatism and common sense, less ideology (yes,
that includes you, Milton Friedman).

Please, more transparency, more accountability.

As usual, I'll be keeping a critical eye on the rulers. With cautious hope.

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
Download 'Seoul VillageS', the free ebook.
Bookmark and Share

* see "AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Seok-youl"

** see "A new MOON Jae-in?"  

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Seok-youl

Last night, following the last presidential debate, AHN Cheol-soo decided to stop his campaign and give his full support to YOON Seok-youl. Expected almost from the start*, this move was postponed until the last possible moment to mark AHN's ballot papers, even if voting has already started overseas.

"Ahn Cheol-soo and Yoon Seok-youl in joint presser to announce campaign merger" (20220303 - @theSeoulVillage)

AhnLab founder lifts YOON's candidacy on such key issues as innovation, economy, education, or health. Mostly, he brings guarantees about his capacity to unite around the center, and to mobilize younger generations.

A reluctant candidate and a mediocre campaigner, YOON hesitated a long time before joining the PPP, an irrelevant opposition party where he had to compose with obsolete paleo-conservatives on one extreme and aggressive young anti-feminists on the other: PARK Geun-hye supporters never forgave him his role in her imprisonment, and LEE Jun-seok excels at dragging his candidacy down. Today, YOON was obviously relieved to see AHN unlock the shackles and help him focus on what matters most to him: healing Korean democracy, starting with justice.

The first mission of the united ticket is to prevent LEE Jae-myung from reaching power. Protected by the government, the controversial populist was able to cruise during the campaign without fear of being investigated in the Daejang-dong scandal. And if the family of the women murdered by his nephew (whom he defended during the trial) sued him for dismissing the double murder as 'dating violence', this most Trumpian character played the clock by delaying his answers to the judge beyond the legal limits, pushing the next steps until after the elections. 

Imagine what this man could do if he reached presidency and enjoyed the total impunity created by the ruling party's most outrageous reform: the de facto end of oversight of the executive power and the creation of the highly controversial Corruption Investigation Office, which was instantly weaponized to harass YOON and to protect Cheong Wa Dae from embarrassing scandals.

On that one, MOON clearly insulted ROH Moo-hyun's memory: the late president, a man who genuinely cared for democracy and justice, would have been appalled by a move that also betrayed the spirit of 2016, when the population overwhelmingly called for a defense of both, and the respect of separation of powers.

Beyond LEE and Trump, I often make a parallel between Korea's ruling party and the US Republican party. Both have lost their way on what used to make them most respectable. Both need to lose in 2022 if they don't want to lose their souls. And both need to humbly return to the drawing board (preferably not to push for more gerrymandering or deceitful schemes).

It may sound indecent to talk about existential threat when thousands die in Ukraine under Russian aggression, but this time, Korea must get it right, and heal from its core. And its center.

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
Download 'Seoul VillageS', the free ebook.
Bookmark and Share

* and not even one year after AHN's merger with OH Se-hoon ("After OH Se-hoon's Hangang Renaissance, Who In 2022?")

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

More Gwanghwamun Square previews

Seoul revealed new visuals of Gwanghwamun Square 3.0, which shall be inaugurated in July.

They prolong the last major iteration presented in 2019 ("Gwanghwamun Square 3.0 re-Deep-Surfaces"), which corrected one of the worst urbanistic blunders  of the initial version ("Gwanghwamun Square Enters Third Dimension"). PARK Won-soon's team rushed the construction a few months before the elections without conducting any decent impact survey, and work started late 2020. As soon as OH Se-hoon returned as mayor, he paused the site to assess the situation, but the changes could only be cosmetic.

The Woldae extension in front of the palace gate will only be created next year, so we have yet to see how vehicles flow around Yulgok-ro's future curve. Adjusting to the modifications already in place is not always easy. As expected, the intersection in front of Sajik-dan helps reconnect both sides of Sajik-dong, but the impossible new U-turn just North of the Government building stops functioning as soon as traffic slows down (too close before a major traffic light, unlike the old one heading for Sajik tunnel).

Most important, Seoul's defining axis is preserved, with its iconic Gwanghwamun-Gyeongbokgung-Bugaksan perspective, and pedestrians will enjoy a 20 m-wide park with a vast selection of tree species, guaranteeing natural shade and oxygen as they grow. That's where most of the extension (from 18 to 40,000 square meters) comes from. People will be able to sit on benches and along the Haechi Madang ramp, where street animations may bloom next to the new media wall.

Sejong-daero's pedestrian and cycling experience has already been improved with the new green walks and bike lanes added on the way to Namdaemun (see "Lower Sejongdaero's turn"). With its fountain tunnel and pavement fountain, the 'Gwanghwamun' Lounge section is likely to welcome kids and keep them fresh during the Summer. If some artifacts found during the renovation shall be on display in the cultural section, most of the Joseon era infrastructures (see timeline*) shall be covered again. I hope the tribute to Yukjo street will not look to corny. 


On the Eastern side, Junghak-dong will not host a simple reconstitution of the old Uijeongbu site, but a fusion hanok exhibition space. I wish there were more trees in that section, but that can (and probably will, if they want the spot to be successful) be fixed later.

This Uijeongbu project was on display at the Seoul Hall Of Urbanism (see again timeline below*) during the low key, pandemic-plagued 3rd edition of the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. SBAU will return in September 2023, with CHO Byung-soo (BCHO Architects) as its Director. This architects knows a bit about dao, and Seoul could do with some more harmony...

Ganghwamun Square reopening in the heat of the Summer will be a perfect crash test. I'm pretty sure Seoulites will quickly make it their own. At least during the evenings. And as much as that damned coronavirus will allow.

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
Download 'Seoul VillageS', the free ebook.
Bookmark and Share


* From @theSeoulVillage timeline: 

"Gwanghwamun Square last week. Seoul started controversial revamping without a proper impact survey..." (20201220 -

"The few changes since the initial plan won't prevent the expected traffic pandemonium. Tragic lack of urban planning, urbanism vision from Seoul... Sejong-daero Gwanghwamun" (20210221 -

"Western side of Sejong-daero / Gwanghwamun Square to close tomorrow for the controversial revamping (future Jeokseon-dong loop in the foreground)" (20210305 -

"As expected, works on the Western side of Gwanghwamun Square for its extension reveal Joseon time artifacts and structures related to former ministries. Here, a waterway in Jeokseon-dong (between Baekundongcheon & Junghakcheon - see #urbanism)." (20210319 -

"I guess mainly to evacuate overflows towards Baekundongcheon, to contain water damage in case of heavy rains. Gwanghwamun Square urbanism Jeokseon-dong Photo Chosun Ilbo" (20210319 -
"OH Se-hoon hits pause button on controversial Gwanghwamun Square revamping. Also asks AHN Cheol-soo to suggest talents for Seoul." (20210410 -

"Seoul's unearthed Yukjogeori during Gwanghwamun Square revamping:" (20210511 -

"Gwanghwamun's future Uijeongbu site at Seoul HOUR (Seoul Biennale / SBAU):" (20211028 -

Sunday, January 16, 2022

From Human Town to Gather Town

Interesting to draw a parallel between OH Se-hoon's last two urban concepts: 'Human Town', which he didn't have time to fully roll out and scale up before the abrupt end of his previous mandate (see " OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept"), and 'Gather Town' ('Moa Town'), which has just been announced, less than a year after his return to office.

Both concepts rely on a common goal: revitalizing neighborhoods without destroying them with the usual 'New Town' model, offering community services usually found in big projects while preserving a nuclear, lower rise structure.

Seoul notes that 87% of low-rise neighborhoods don't meet requirements for redevelopment, often because they are not derelict or old enough. Yet many are poorly maintained because they stretch without a common purpose, and their dwellers already struggle to maintain shared spaces within their own buildings.

Where Human Town proposed a smart and light cosmetic revamping, Gather Town hybrid formula includes partial redevelopment to replace shared houses and 'villas' with low-to-mid-rise apartments, while preserving the street structure. Key regulations will be eased, for example the threshold for the proportion of deteriorated units, the type of buildings included. Where big projects cover over 100k square meters and take 8 to 10 years to complete, Moa Towns will start from 1,500m2 and only require 2 to 4 years. Seoul aims at 20 projects every year, and 2,404 units by 2025.

So unlike with Human Town, where individual units keep evolving at their own pace, it won't really the same neighborhood. But shared infrastructures can go much further, for instance a big underground parking that will fully liberate street level, and allow the removal of all these ugly ground floors on pilotis in favor of actual life spaces (shops, terraces, plants and parks, community services like libraries or day care centers...). 

Provided the design is up to the ambition, lively pockets can emerge in the middle of forsaken neighborhoods, and radiate across them.

I like the notion that pragmatism allows the combination of several techniques (certain sections can be redeveloped, other maintained, see schema below), but I wouldn't want it to become just a shortcut to build quickly something that lacks consistence and soul. You want a village where citizens breathe and enjoy walking.

If this rendering of a street (below) doesn't seem very exotic to Western eyes, 80s zoning sure beats the 50s Grands Ensembles that have kept popping up across Seoul ever since the sixties. And this looks much more welcoming than dense, tree-less 'villa' clusters. Provided of course these mid-rise sections conveniently hidden in the background remain a tiny part of the program. Note the post-covid architecture with individual balconies and on the second floor a shared outdoor space running along what must be community services or shops.

The first two projects mentioned on January 13th are Myeonmok-dong, Jungnang-gu, a vast low-rise neighborhood at the feet of Achasan, and Beon-dong in Gangbuk-gu, around Dream Forest and Odong Park, between Suyu-dong, Mia-dong, and Chang-dong, close to the Ssangmun-dong of Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo (both fictional characters sharing a lot with their author HWANG Dong-hyuk, a true local*).

The Beon-dong project is not small at all (50,000 m2), and the one in Myeonmok-dong is almost twice bigger (97,000 m2). Sorry, but to me, this looks much more like a mini-New Town that to an improved old-town:

Beon-dong's 'Gather Town'

Obviously, 'Gather Town'  is less human centric than 'Human Town'. More top down than bottom up, with a top that rises a bit too high above 'low rise' levels... 

Seoul Village 2022
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
Download 'Seoul VillageS', the free ebook.
Bookmark and Share

* BTW ICYMI I was mentioned in Charlie Usher's article on not so glamorous Seoul neighborhoods ("The heart of Seoul – the working-class neighbourhoods captured by Squid Game and Parasite"). Of course, less glamorous doesn't mean less valuable, to the contrary. And if you haven't watched it yet, go binge "Squid Game - an addictive slap in the face".

Welcome to Seoul Village - Copyright Stephane MOT 2003-2021 - 스테판모 -

Home - About you, about me, about us - Seoul Village en Français - all posts since 2007 - "Inhuman, all too human Seoul" ("Seoul: inhumaine, trop humaine") - "Heralding cultural diversity" - blogroll - Seoul Village Publications - Seoul Village TV

Welcome to my personal portal : blogules - blogules (Version Française) - dragedies - KIM Mudangnim - mot-bile - footlog - La Ligue des Oublies - blogules archives - blogules archives (Version Française) - footlog archives - Citizen Came

books, movies, music