Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Non-Centers = No Innovation, No Creative Economy

This map shows what's wrong with innovation in Korea: each "Center for Innovation and Creative Economy" is led by one chaebol, but the startup ecosystem demands actual clusters* and truly open approaches.


Korea innovation centers* too chaebol-centric. Startup ecosystem needs real clusters
* koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=3007182 (KJD 20150729)
The contradiction is obvious, but the Korea JoongAng Daily article this map came from ("Outside Seoul, new centers have a sleepy feeling" - 20150729) doesn't even mention it as a reason why these centers fail, like all attempts from previous administrations.

Again (see my essay on "Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave" - particularly part III, on the business dimension), the chaebol seldom act as true cultural leaders, and that's a drag for the nation.

Yet change is coming to Korea. In spite of the inability of most chaebol to truly adapt, and of governments to push for true reforms. And if these changes are not necessarily positive, they make Korea Inc.'s posture even less sustainable.

As expected (see "The Bigger, The Bitter"), the money recently poured over the nation by Google and many major international V.C.s to put a lock on the most promising startups is at the same time fueling the local and global bubbles, and weakening the chaebol sphere of influence. Now being the only new kid on the block isn't enough, and the time Yellomobile could purchase dozens of startups for a song has ended.

One of the most positive side effect could be the evolution of mindsets towards enterpreneurship and startups. The fear of failure, a major impediment to innovation in Korea (see "Too proud to fail? Not so simple."), is on the vane. 

And that's not just blind belief in the latest tech bubbles: more among the nation's brightest students prefer to give it a try rather than join Samsung and Co. even if they know chances are not on their side. They welcome failure as a positive experience, and they know that it's better to start with it, that they will learn more during these 'wasted' months or years than by following the mainstream lemming race.

Now Korea also needs a couple of greatly successful failure stories, and a fairer balance between the conservative and the disruptive.

I'm feeling certainly more optimistic than a couple of years ago, and I've met more than a few young brilliant minds trying promising things. They know they can't expect much from the big fishes or from the government, but it wouldn't hurt if said big fishes and said government actually decided to prove them wrong.

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* and it's not just about bringing everybody on the same place either (see "Redrawing Korean Maps - Innovation Clusters")

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Sejongdaero" competition officially started

Seoul officially launched the competition for the 'Sejongdaero' site. Not for the Gwanghwamun Square section* in Jongno-gu, but in Jung-gu, around the IRS annex destroyed earlier this year (see "Tear down that tax office").


Elements of the old IRS annex on Taepyeongno-1-ga are still visible: the contours of the building, and a few columns that may survive as a reminder (often the case in Korea since the Cheonggyecheon restoration).

Architects have less than two months to submit basic designs for the core (1,088 ㎡, 1,600.0㎡ underground), as part of a master plan covering 2,500.0㎡ underground, particularly towards City Hall (for the moment connected to the other side of Sejong-daero - and the city council - through a rather primitive pedestrian tunnel), and - I hope - the subway. 

All submission details are on sejongdaero.org (only in Korean - for the moment?):

Fill the blanks, and the new tooth gap in the middle of Sejong-daero

Speaking of official websites for competitions recently completed: note that seuncitywalk.com has been closed, and that ss7017.org is still raging. Seoul city doesn't communicate around the Seunsangga regeneration project, which has the potential to revive great forsaken parts of the old city center, but keeps selling Seoul Station 7017** as hard as possible, including through massive advertising on site.

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* reminder: the 'highway' shall not be restored, as initially feared (see "Gwanghwamun, Donhwamun, and the Tale of two Royal Roads"). FYI that stretch used to be called Sejongno, Taepyeongno for the Southern part of Sejong-daero (the names of the 'dong' survived).
** see "Seoul Station 7017 blooms into Seoul Arboretum"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Urban Continuity - Susaek-Sangam project back on tracks (and over DMC Station tracks)

Seoul and Korail signed a MOU* to redevelop over 172,000 sqm now covered with tracks and railway installations, most notably Changdong Train Depot (65,000 sqm) in Nowon-gu**, and the DMC Station area (over 30,000 sqm), for which an operator should be selected by the end of the year.

I already stressed the importance of doing the right thing for the most crucial Susaek-Sangam connection in Mapo-gu (e.g. in "A solution to the Great DMC-Susaek Rift?" in the 3rd part of my 2013 focus on Songdo and the DMC ("Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part III)").

The project will cover 27,000 sqm at Susaek Station + 3,500 sqm for DMC Station itself:



The latest rendering shows more green and openings than the one suggested in 2013, which reminded me of the Great Slab of Paris La Defense:



To ensure an even greater urban continuity between Susaek-dong and Sangam-dong / DMC, pedestrians should be able to cross Susaek-ro to the North as seamlessly as Seongam-ro to the South, and through this more porous ensemble.

This key railway hub (AREX Airport Express, Subway Line 6, Gyeongui Line train) should merge with its surroundings horizontally, unlike the initial, vertical, aerotropolis vision. Remember the old plans featuring a landmark tower, where international businessmen would only see Incheon Airport and the DMC during their trip to Korea? Even commuters should feel invited to reach beyond the hub, deep into Susaek and Sangam.

And ideally, the tracks could be covered further to the West and to the East, prolonging the
"Gyeongui Line Forest Trail - An Urban Lifeline" now in full bloom around Yeonnam-dong for its first operational summer.

(at Yeonnam-dong by day) Gyeongui Line forest trail got greener
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/625207215603879936

(at Yeonnam-dong by night) Gyeongui Line forest trail by night now. Good to see so many citizens adopt it, even picnic on the lawn
twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/625274339781246976

Over the two years following that focus on the trail, my long gone "Busan Corner"*** has again changed at least twice. It just became a jewelry shop - how's that for gentrification?

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* see for instance "서울 수색역세권 본격 개발한다…'DMC역 구역'부터 시작" (Yonhap 20150727)
** among the 27 key redevelopments confirmed last spring (see "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)" followed by "Urban Regeneration: 27 Projects For Seoul")
*** "Busan Corner on Taxi-daero"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Governance Leaks

I returned to Seoul right on time for the wettest season. Yes I'll quickly grow tired of it, but for the moment, it's good to feel some rain after a Paris under 41 Celsius and an extremely sunny - but always fabulous - Istanbul.

Also good to enjoy a sound doenjang jjigae after overdoses of delicious cheese and kofte.

40 degrees in Paris. How do we frogs fight the heat?
Why, with cheese of course!
(20150704 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/616989511713689600)

And finally, "good" to see that nothing has changed while I was away:
  • In South Korea, Samsung narrowly won the votes needed to pass the C and T - Cheil Industries merger. Elliott Management hasn't given up yet.
  • In Japan, Shinzo Abe won the non-vote for his war bill, bypassing democracy to force the restoration of militarism down the country's throat in spite of a majority opposing it (see "Japan taking a stand against ABEIGNomics?").
  • In North Korea, Kim Jong-un's regime won local elections with a 99.97% turnout, and a 100% approval rate. In total transparency, the dictator holds one ballot paper in each hand, just to make sure:
For Kim Jong-un like for any other dictator, elections are always a walk in the park (20150723 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/624129742157971456)

Democracy-wise, we're all EARS (East Asia Respiratory Syndrome).

Of course, Europe remains an even better model of governance. Note that one of the Europe in the Greek mythology gave birth to a few of the famous Danaides - you know, the young ladies who murdered their husbands, and have ever since been forced to fill with water a pierced jar.


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Monday, July 6, 2015

Japan taking a stand against ABEIGNomics?

At long last, the Japanese people seems to be starting to realize where Shinzo Abe wants to lead their nation, and to grow uncomfortable with that prospect. The days of Abe's government are not yet counted, and Japan's political system is far from purging itself from Nippon Kaigi and its likes, but this nascent debate on core democratic issues is more than welcome.

Japanese moderates waking up! The Abe / Nippon Kaigi anti-democratic agenda exposed!

The best news is of course the fact that moderate voices are making themselves heard in the peninsula. 


Consider this: just weeks ago (see "Under Coverage"), only Shigeaki Koga dared stand up for press freedom, and now the pressure is on the ones who pledged to destroy it. The LDP even had to distance itself from the extremists who said out loud what was behind Abe's controversial state secrets laws. Their profiles speak volumes and typically, Minoru Kihara, who lost his job at the youth section, openly supports Nippon Kaigi, while Hideo Onishi, who got slammed for saying "we must punish some of the media organizations that are reporting about the security legislation and baselessly saying it would lead to war"*, openly supports the fundamentalist shinto lobby Sinseiren.

At last, people are starting to worry more about a success of ABEIGNomics than about a failure of ABEnomics. The support of post-war Japan's peaceful constitution has regained momentum: pro-peace demonstrations are drawing bigger crowds and wider media coverage, and recent polls show that two out of three refuse Abe's project of revising Article 9.

Before reviewing the constitution, the most revisionist Prime Minister may have to review his own copy.

Even as the Shinzo Abe fatigue grows, still no responsible leadership emerging home or abroad

If Abe remains relatively popular for a Japanese PM, he just received for the first time in his mandate more negative than positive opinions in a poll (Mainichi, by a close 43 to 42% margin). And if his ruling party LDP remains unlikely to lose national elections in any foreseeable future, criticisms are growing within its ranks. Abe himself is not always directly targeted, but more members of his extremist entourage are feeling more pressure every day.

Abe keeps playing the usual Abe game, focusing on his lifetime priority: the destruction of postwar Japan. But as he tries to convince an increasingly doubtful public to adopt his ironically dubbed "Legislation for Peace and Security", he's risking to lose support from his hardcore base. 

In order to get its controversial** industrial sites on UNESCO World Heritage List, Japan had to issue a statement mentioning the existence of forced labor, a concession very hard to swallow for Nippon Kaigi, but also for Abe and Aso themselves, both members of families directly involved in these human rights abuses. 

Of course, whether Japan will fulfill these promises remains to be seen, and South Korea and China will be watching closely. 

I wish they were more constructive, supportive of the peaceful Japan Abe and Nippon Kaigi pledged to destroy. We can't count on the self-proclaimed champion of democracy to help Japan proclaim its independence from Imperial Japan, since the US decided, suicidally, to unconditionally support Abe's revision of Article 9 (see ""History is harsh" and other sick jokes"). 


Hold your horses

Overall, I'm cautiously more optimistic than last year on the chances of seeing the Japanese people take a stand for their democracy, and/or the LDP starting to seek a sustainable future, with sounder leaders, and fewer rotten branches.  

And we could still ask the same questions as before last year's elections (see "It's the democracy, stupid"):
- are Abenomics at last meeting reality?
- can Abe's pseudo-diplomatic offensive pay?
- with or without Abe as PM, will Nippon Kaigi be confirmed as the de facto ruler of Japan?

And time keeps running short. 

Yesterday, Choi Geum-seon halmoni passed away. After Kim Youn-hee halmoni and the others who preceded her over the past few months. Now South Korea counts only 48 survivors of Imperial Japan sex slavery system. Again, standing for them is also standing not against Japan, but for its future ("'Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please.").


Sad to see our dear halmoni die without closure from about http://youtu.be/9a3nF82i1Gw (20150625 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/613912171907395584)
We must also stand for Japan's youth, bombarded with ultranationalist and xenophobic propaganda, following familiar patterns from history's most murderous century. 

Abe and co. fuel mutual hatred because they need tensions to justify their agenda. And it works. Outrageously violent pamphlets multiply across Japanese bookstores. They won't cause the kind of massacres that followed the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, but they certainly don't bode well for the future of Japan and the region.

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* "Disciplined LDP lawmaker once again calls for punishing media" (Asahi Shimbun - 20150701)
** a long story, see for example "Hashima, Yawata Steel: enshrining slave labor in UNESCO World Heritage List?" (2013)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Seoul subway to gain 89 km by 2025

If you follow this blog, you know how it usually goes with new subway projects: a very ambitious master plan pops up about one year before major elections, but you don't hear much about the new lines until the next election cycle.

Out of the new lines announced by Seoul city two years ago*, only Seobuseon managed to maintain some momentum a couple of months later**. Work will start by the end of this year, but only for the section South of the Han River ("Sillim Line"). As usual, money flows more easily on the gangnam side.

Well now it seems that Seoul City and the Korean government are reaching an agreement, and that all 10 LRT projects could be actually built by 2025, adding 89 km to a 327 km network.


Too good to be true?

I mean both miracles: politicians reaching across the aisle and subway lines stretching over parts of the city that most need them.

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*  see "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 1/2)" and "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)" (following "If you ain't broke, fix it: Seoul, Welfare and Railways Deficits")
** see "Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority"

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Korea revives the project of a fourth mobile license

According to The Korea Herald (May 29), the Korean government is considering reviving the project of a fourth Mobile Network Operator license as part of a plan to stimulate the market.

Is there a need for another 4G network? Korea is well covered with LTE to LTE-A, beefed-up locally through pervasive femtocells and WiFi. And the three incumbents don't want to sit on their laurels: Korea Telecom promised 5G trials for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, and SK Telecom announced a partnership with Google on augmented reality ("T-AR for Project Tango").

Is there a need for more competition? It depends on the profile of the new player, and the impacts on a M-VNO ecosystem that, at long last, is biting into a pie still dominated by SK Telecom, Korea Telecom, and LG U+.

According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP), Mobile Virtual Network Operators were claiming a 8.8% market share as of April 21 (up from 2.9% in June 2012), thanks to prices on average 57% cheaper than the MNOs.



But it's not as if you had one fourth player with a 8.8% market share, big enough to contest the leaders on more profitable segments. Today, Korea has 27 M-VNOs, most struggling to make their first profit, and likely to never see it. Significantly, their number of subscribers started to explode when they targeted more discount-seeking audiences (the youth, Chinese migrant workers...).

A perennial candidate for the 4th spot is actually a consortium of M-VNOs: KMI (Korea Mobile Internet) revived their candidacy in October 2013, and defending the existing M-VNO ecosystem could be a stronger argument today. In December 2011, the Korea Communications Commission not only rejected KMI's bid, but also that of IST (Internet Space Time lost the backing of Hyundai Group at a critical moment). Note that the KCC also canceled the auction for the WiBro spectrum. I explained a few months earlier ("A Kbiz MNO ? SMEs vs Korea Inc") how the attempt by the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Businesses (Kbiz) to enter the market looked more like a lobbying stunt to push WiBro.

A much bigger fish could also seek the fourth license, with more brand power. Typically, CJ Group is already a major player in telecom, IPTV, or multimedia contents. It has the money to invest on new networks (Daum Kakao or Naver would need serious backing), the customer bases to leverage, and the contents to fill the pipes..., but don't bet on price wars with fellow chaebol on the juiciest segments. 
 
A true new entrant from overseas? Global MNOs know how difficult it would be in a country where foreign majors are seldom allowed to take or maintain leading positions (see retail for example: Carrefour and Wal-Mart already gone, Tesco on the back seat). But joining a consortium, or creating one remains a rare opportunity for international platforms to push their solutions in an otherwise locked Korean market. And nowadays, the dominant platforms do not necessarily belong to telecom operators...

Anyway, expect more lobbying ahead of the government's guidelines, expected by the end of June.




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* "Consortium to bid for 4th mobile carrier in S. Korea" (Yonhap News - 2013/10/08)
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