Monday, March 2, 2015

The USA And Shinzo Abe: From Ostrich Policy To Complicity?

Undersecretary of State Windy Sherman caused an uproar in Korea because of the way she presented East Asia tensions in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last Friday (see full transcript*). 





I'd like to add my two cents on the issue but first, know that in spite of her name, Sherman is not much of a panzer on foreign issues, and that typically, she was blamed by hawks for advocating diplomacy towards Kim Jong-il at the turn of the millennium. She also seems to be very much aware of the mine-fieldness of East Asian issues, that 'there are disagreements about the content of history books and even the names given to various bodies of water'. She even started with remarks on how, 'in addition to humility, it’s also necessary to approach Asia with an appreciation of the past', a past that 'affects the temperatures of relations between countries and helps determine how every gesture is interpreted'. This should mean that every word she read had been carefully weighed before.

The part of Windy Sherman's speech that most infuriated Koreans was: "Of course, nationalist feelings can still be exploited, and it’s not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy. But such provocations produce paralysis, not progress."
 
I fully agree with the core message against nationalism, but as far as 'provocations' in East Asia are concerned, the first 'political leaders' that come to mind are Kim Jong-un, Shinzo Abe and his Nippon Kaigi friends, and here, China and South Korea appear as the main culprits (even if it could theoretically be any of the nations listed right before - "There can be no question that the world would be safer, richer, and more stable if the United States, Japan, China, and South Korea were consistently pulling in the same direction, and that’s definitely what the majority of the people in the region want").

Korean medias didn't distinguish Chinese/Korean nationalists from Chinese/Koreans and missed the core message. But they got something right: Sherman seems to have sided with Japan.

For instance, the sentence "The Koreans and Chinese have quarreled with Tokyo over so-called comfort women from World War II" not only poses victims as aggressors, but suggests that the issue, which only became a public one in the early 1990s, has long been settled.

By saying "Japan as a nation is working to reconcile modern demands with hard-won lessons from the past", she not only supports collective self defense, but gives an A+ in History to Revisionist In Chief Shinzo Abe. Again, I understand that the US is willing to share military costs in Asia with Japan, but as I wrote in the Asia Pacific Bulletin, "the United States must reassure Asia that it will not condone Japanese historical revisionism, nor will it support an expanded Japanese military without providing wider safeguards to the region".

The Undersecretary of State also completely bought into Abe's imposture around the tragic murders of Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto by Daesh. Apparently oblivious of the fact that the PM had been accused of shamelessly promoting his militarist agenda by instrumentalizing the crisis and undermining efforts to save the hostages, she concluded that "the horror of the executions was deeply felt, and the threat to Japanese citizens worldwide has fed an internal discussion that has been ongoing about the appropriate role of the country’s self-defense force".

In no instance does Wendy Sherman counterbalance any of Abe's controversial positions. Which explains why the US' usual 'ostrich policy' regarding this outspoken neofascist revisionist seemed to have drifted all the way to 'pure complicity'.

At one stage, I had the short-lived hope that she could redeem herself when she said "we don’t have to look far for a cautionary tale of a country that has allowed itself to be trapped by its own history"..., but she was referring to North Korea.


*

So I'll repeat the 3 parts of my latest focus "Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please."
1) more than ever, justice must win, not nationalism 2) undeterred by an evasive US, Shinzo Abe's pushing his revisionist agenda harder than ever 3) South Korea at long last forced to give up its own inaction

And I'll repeat my tiple call:
- to the US government: stop dodging the 'Comfort Women' issue, don't let Abe get his collective self defense without a clear rejection of Imperial Japan crimes (and please prevent an outrageous Abe Statement on August 15, 2015)
- to the South Korean government: stop feeding Abe and Nippon Kaigi by fueling nationalist feelings, show the world the right example by facing your own past.
- to both: this is not about standing against Japan but about standing for post-war, pacifist Japan against Imperial Japan

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* Wendy R. Sherman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC - February 27, 2015 (see full transcript, which of course also covers China, North Korea, the TPP,...)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Revamping Seun Sangga - If Possible Without Vampirizing The Area

Seoul city presented yesterday* more details about the revamping of Seun Sangga I recently mentioned in a focus on Seoul urban revitalization projects (see the 'reviving neighborhood' section of "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)").

Spared from total destruction in 2009, when only its Northernmost section (facing Jongmyo) was cut to build the Seun Greenway Park**, Kim Swoo-geun's liner shall undergo two waves of renovation by 2016:
  • The Northern half first between Jong-ro and Eulji-ro: the Seun Sangga building proper (Jongno 3-ga, Jongno 4-ga, Jangsa-dong), and on the other side of Cheonggyecheon, Cheonggye Sangga and Daelim Sangga (Sallim-dong, Euljiro 4-ga)
  • Then the Southern half, between Eulji-ro and Toegye-ro (Euljiro 4-ga, Inhyeondong 2-ga, Chungmuro 4-ga)


The most spectacular modification is the prolongation of the cruise ship's upper deck all along the bar, meaning new structures over the streets, including here over Cheonggyecheon:



I understand the logic, a continuous promenade very much like the Seoul Skyway (that's the latest name of Seoul Station 7017 Project - see "Seoul Station Elevated Park (Seoul Station Project 7017? The Seoul Vine?) - An Update", and the 7 consortia selected on seoul.go.kr/story2015/skyway).

But what with this elevated walkway fad? Do we have to sacrifice street levels all the time? And of all places, over Cheonggyecheon, the symbol of the removal of massive elevated structures?

I'm less interested in this crystallization of Kim Swoo-geun's bar than in its integration in a revitalized urbanscape. The project pays, as it should, a lot of importance to the building's sides... even if, of course, that is just an alibi to relaunch the profitable redevelopment of the low-rise maze surrounding Seun Sangga. 




Well. I neither expected nor wanted that area to be totally preserved, because it is neither sustainable, nor safe (industrial pollution, poor fire protection...).

And I'm okay with the principle of docking the ship to its neighborhood with much lighter footbridges. Yet in this rendering, it looks as if Seun Sangga will be flanked by two canal-less Songdo Canal Walk:


Hardly better than the New York High Line at Chelsea Market, where I was the other day:

 

I believe there is room for improvement from this project. For instance, I would ban cars from the lower level, and ask for a mandatory 'slope' in the future adjacent buildings, for example through terraced buildings, thus preventing the creation of dark 'canyons' similar to Cheonggyecheon before its renovation:


The slopes would also contrast with the Seun Sangga's verticality, highlighting the landmark instead of mirroring it, but flattening it at the same time to reduce its towering effect.

Besides, I don't want the neighborhood to be just filled with new towers, like what's happening around Sejongno. We already lost Pimatgol's alleyways, now we must keep some of the charm of this messy maze. It will certainly make the promenade more enjoyable.

Another giant leap for the gentrification of Jongno-gu...



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* see on YouTube "세운상가 재생계획 기자설명회":  
** see "No cars on Gwanghwamun Square for New Year's Day"

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Seoul to tap into vacant homes pool

If there's no shortage of residences in Seoul, the city wants to make rents more affordable for low income households, and to reduce the number of vacant homes.

Seoul is full of 'villas' on the verge of collapse. Landlords don't want to invest in renovations for residences that have little potential, and they are afraid to take tenants, because the only ones who'll accept to move in are the weakest and the most likely to fail.

The city proposes to intervene at both ends by supporting the renovation, and by taking part in the recruitment of residents. Tenants will pay 80% of the market price, and enjoy stability through a 6 year contract, landlords will have their tenants vetted by the district office, and receive money for 50% of the remodeling cost, up to KRW 20M (homes have to have been vacant for more than 6 month). At the core of the system, dedicated social enterprises, cooperatives, and non-profit organizations - light structures Seoul has been advocating for years. Korea Social Investment will also provide affordable loans to landlords.




Beyond these one-to-one measures, I think Korea should promote condominiums through regulations that ensure their sustainability. If France's 'co-propriete' system is far from perfect, condos are bound to maintain and to renovate on a regular basis, which also encourages sounder building practices in the first place. Authorities and watchdogs try to help the system remains transparent and fair, and bad management less pervasive.

There's a fantastic room for improvement for many Seoul neighborhoods covered with 3-to-5-story condos that are more affordable than apartments, but often very poorly maintained. 

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

'Guisin-dong' (free ebook)

Here's a small gift for you: 'Guisin-dong', a short fiction I wrote a couple of years ago (part of my collection of  Seoul 'dragedies' in English).

Guisin-dong is not the kind of Seoul neighborhood you want to visit, but now you can download it for free, by clicking right here: Guisindong2012StephaneMOT.


Any comments and critics are welcome (e.g. on this site, on the Facebook page, on Amazon...).




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NB: also on dragedies, stephanemot.com.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Seoul Station Elevated Park (Seoul Station Project 7017? The Seoul Vine?) - An Update

More about Park Won-soon's pet project, the Seoul Station Elevated Park also known as the Seoul High Line ("Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)").

It seems that marketing came up with suggestions for branding, and the good news is that we may not stick to the 'me-too' "High Line". The result could be a 'Seoul Station Project 7017'* reminiscent of the 'Culture Station Seoul 284' it steps across.

7017 echoes the dates of its inaugurations as a motorway (1970) and as a pedestrian park (2017), as well as its height (17 m), and its number of accesses (17)... 

Come on. 7017? I'm sure you could find something more exciting than this. 

As a tribute to the vinos at the origin of the project (those who occupied the walkway that will be replaced by this elevated park), I suggest "The Seoul Vine". After all, doesn't it look like a grape?






Note that exit #1 is Namdaemun Market: the recent demonstration of merchants against the project obviously paid off! It is followed by Hoehyeon-dong (#2, on the other side of Toegyero), Namsan and Hilton Hotel (#3 and #4, which will require an extension), Namdaemun (#5, with another extension), three buildings (GS Building #6, Yonsei Building #7, Seoul Square #8), Seoul Station subway (#9, it seems around the subway exit 9 too), the bus transfer zone (#10), the Culture Station Seoul 284 (#11), the future International Conference Centre (#12), the Airport Terminal (#13), Cheongpa-dong, Malli-dong, and Jungnim-dong (#14, #15, #16), Seosomun Park (#17).

Adding accesses for pedestrians makes perfect sense, but it also means adding many staircases or elevators to the cityscape, and making the main structure look more massive, less aerial than it is - not to mention of course the biomass. Furthermore, nets are considered, maybe to prevent people from jumping or throwing things at the traffic below.

And what about these new extensions towards Namsan and Namdaemun? What's the point of removing Cheonggyecheon overpass or aiming at a spot on the Unesco World Heritage List for the Seoul Fortress if you add more elevated structures next to a landmark like Sungnyemun? 

And what about the new bridge considered to accommodate the 50,000+ cars taking this elevated road every day? How far and how high will it fly?

At this stage, I'm not saying a big NO to this project, which has the potential to be both a lovely ride and an urban nonsense, but in less biblical dimensions than the elevated heresy envisioned a couple of years ago for Seochon (see "No cablecars in Bukhansan, please"). I'm simply saying this: be cautious, think about the long term impacts for the city and its citizens, and don't think you can fix a mess at ground level** by just rolling out a nice rug on top of it.

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* e.g. "박원순 "서울역고가 공원화는 서울역 재생 위한 것"(종합)" (Maeil Business Newspaper - 20150129)
** e.g. see previous episode.

Pyramid Organizational Structure of North Korea

Pyramid Organizational Structure of North Korea:


Obviously, this is not a right triangle: the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two legs is not equal to the square of the length of the Kim Jong-un's nose.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)

Seoul keeps at the same time looking for more sustainable urban planning approaches, and doing more mistakes, because as usual in this city we tend to try a lot of things, but seldom after serious impact surveys. At least that's far less boring than my other hometown Paris, where we tend to make decade-long impact surveys, but seldom do something else. As you well know, a Seoulite born in Paris, I tend to pile up useless bits on an ever changing cityscape. Here's a batch on recent evolutions for Seoul pedestrians and neighborhoods, with the Seoul High Line project as a natural bridge in-between.



Opening up the city to its citizens (not burying them!)

At the micro level, I really appreciate the recent multiplication of Ginza-style diagonal pedestrian crossings, which make life much more simple and safer for everybody. They de facto create temporary no-drive zones that can change a neighborhood without going all the way to car-free streets (e.g. Yonsei-ro). Pedestrians feel that they own the space, even if that's not all the time; there are even permanent tattoos on the macadam to prove they do:


With diagonal pedestrian crossings, you don't need to have a double PhD in statistics and physics to calculate the optimal path to reach point B alive

I am much less convinced by the project to create a vast underground pedestrian network connecting major Jongno-gu landmarks. That would signal a return to a car-centric past when pedestrians where parasites that had to move underground, like ants or termites, across downtown Seoul. I suspect this project to have something to do with the one I mentioned last fall, which would move Gwanghwamun Square sideways, and re-transform Sejongdae-ro into a highway (see "Gwanghwamun, Donhwamun, and the Tale of two Royal Roads"). In other words, back to square one, or rather back to Zero Gwanghawmun Square.

In the dowtown Seoul I discovered in the early 90s, pedestrians had to either use tunnels or aerial walkways to cross the major roads. And the Seoul High Line would somehow revive the latter.

Named after New York's High Line Park, itself inspired by the Promenade Plantee of Paris, the idea gained momentum in April last year, partly because the city needed to compensate for the planned destruction of an old walkway that Seoulites had deserted because winos had claimed it most of the time.




Leaving a landmark in the capital is very good PR, and a tradition for French presidents in Paris: Pompidou and Beaubourg, Mitterrand and the Pyramide du Louvre, Chirac and the Musee du Quai Branly... Note that Giscard missed the opportunity and tried later to claim the Musee d'Orsay as his work, and that Sarkozy didn't understand that he would have only one mandate (and that one building is easier to complete than a Grand Paris - Le Havre vision).

Leaving a landmark has also become a must for Seoul mayors eyeing a higher office: LEE Myung-bak had Cheonggyecheon (even if his greatest achievement was the creation of bus lanes), OH Se-hoon had Gwanghwamun Plaza (even if his greatest achievement was the revival of Sadaemun and the rebalancing of Gangbuk vs Gangnam, starting with the redistribution of taxes from the rich to the poor districts), and PARK Won-soon seems to be betting on the Seoul High Line.

Last month, Seoul citizens were invited to walk the line on a sunny Sunday afternoon - in other words: to vote with their feet in favor of the project.


PARK Chung-hee on the Seoul Station overpass (1970). But what fascinates me most is the background, Malli-dong and Kim Gi-chan's beloved Jungnim-dong.

Clearly, this walkway looks much better without cars. It is at the same time more scenic and less integrated to its surroundings than its NYC or Paris counterparts.

Covering the railways over a wide stretch would cost much more, but also provide a greater urban continuity. One thing is sure: if the taxi and bus corridors in front of the new Seoul Station have allowed the return of pedestrians at street level, the Toegye-ro - Tongil-ro - Sejongdae-ro - Hangangdae-ro intersection remains an utter mess, and with or without the High Line, it will require a complete and sustainable overhaul.



After its High Line, will benchmark-frenzy Seoul try to copy NYC's Low Line underground park project? (twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/538224048778407936) - remind's me of OH Se-hoon's underground utopia (see "Seoul Goes Underground")


*
Reviving neighborhoods (not destroying them!)

As we've seen countless times New Town out, Redevelopment in, back to the Urban Jungle", "Inhuman, all too human Seoul", the Gyonam-dong saga...), Seoul has not completely given up its old, disfiguring 'New Town' model.


Another Seoul neighborhood destroyed in a 'New Town' project: in Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/555539522843201536 (BTW: join my 800+ followers on Twitter!)
Speculators still pretty much run the show. The Yongsan IBD is cancelled and the US base relocation postponed, but money can't wait for a new big vision. Eight high rise buildings (over 50 floors) have been authorized on both sides of the base, and the front row of buildings circling it will be allowed to go up to 20 floors, guaranteeing a fat return and a privatized view on the future park to a happy few investors, letting the rest of the district out of the loop. Even North of the Han River, Gangnam Style rules...

Yet officially, the trend remains to revive neighborhoods instead of annihilating them. After the 'Human Town' / 'Old Town' approach, a concept based on communities (e.g. "Yeonnam-dong, a new Human Town or a new Old Town, but mercifully not that old New Town"), the next buzzword could be 'industrial convergence', a concept based on business verticals or mini-clusters.

For the moment, this new umbrella for urban regeneration seems to cover too wide a spectrum, from actual industrial zones to more or less farfetched urban storytelling, with the Seoul High Line as its highlight.

The other day, as Seoul mayor met with Richard Plunz (Professor of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia's GSAPP, Director of the Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute), 7 zones were announced:
 
The seven 'industrial convergence' hubs

Let's have a closer look at these 'magnificent seven':
  • Seoul Digital Media City (Mapo-gu): I already wrote quite a lot about Sangam DMC (see all posts). I'll just add that it's already a national cluster for media and IT, so this is less about 'urban regeneration' than about piggybacking on existing dynamics. Note that the arrival of MBC was one of the few recent changes that helped put the DMC on Seoul's popular culture map: they instantly used their outdoor space to stage events and concerts (from their inauguration to the new year party), integrating the neighborhood in their broadcastings, a bit like Fox News on NYC's Avenue of the Americas. 
  • Seoul Station (Yongsan-gu): the verticals selected are history and tourism, more symbolized by the old station turned into Culture Station 284 than by the future High Line. Seoul Station itself will be beefed up as a key entry point to the capital, and many redevelopments are already under way in its vicinity (e.g. along Hangangdae-ro, Malli-dong, Seosomun Park...). Again, the High Line cannot be the only way to solve the urban mess at ground level.
  • Yeongdonggwon (Gangnam-gu - Songpa-gu): that's around coex and Jamsil Sports Complex, plus of course Hyundai's future HQs. This area didn't need to be wrapped under the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) banner.
  • Seun Sangga (Jongno-gu): inaugurated in 1967, KIM Swoo-geun's fascinating cruise ship forms a long bar between Jongmyo and Chungmuro. Its upper segment was destroyed a few years ago to make room for a small park on Jong-ro, but the reopening of Cheonggyecheon somewhat revived its crux. The whole neighborhood is a DYI paradise now roamed by more contemporary makers in search of odd parts and bits, and Seun Sangga's upper floor hosts the FabLab Seoul (got a project? need a 3D printer or a laser cutter? that's the place). Can this unique start-up hotspot avoid gentrification? Let's hope that at least, its safety will be improved - you don't want to be caught in a fire around here.


  • Seun Sangga's silicon belly - on FabLab's floor (BTW: you can also follow me on Vine!)

  • Chang-dong - Sanggye (Dobong-gu, Nowon-gu): back to Nowon's most coveted space: the Changdong train depot and the Dobong Driver's License Examination Center form a humongous site in Sanggye-dong*, a densely populated area full of apartment blocks divided in very small units. I've regularly posted about Nowon since my 2006 focus, often about subway projects, and always with this site in mind. Back in 2012, it was envisioned as a coex-style complex (see "Nowon confirmed as Seoul's northeast hub "). Last year, the four sections of the project were detailed: the train depot would become a 'Global Business Zone', the drivers center a 'Start-up Zone', and the two blocks on the other side of Jungnangcheon, in Chang-dong, a 'Global Life Zone' (leveraging on cultural and shopping venues built over the past decade). Now the focus is biotech. Whatever. Because of the real estate pressure, the only way here is up.
Changdong (Dobong-gu), Jungnangcheon, Sanggye (Nowon-gu). And more towers all over.


  • Mullae-dong - Yeongdeungpo (Yeongdeungpo-gu): a couple of blocks away from Seoul's Time Square, 'Ironworks alley' (철공소 골목) is not only a fantastic spot for post-industrial photo ops, but also a nest for young artists and designers. Or was, until recently: the usual curse of real estate speculation went even faster than for previous arty neighborhoods.
"Mullae Art Village, a Seoul village like no other (but aren't them all?)" (BTW: you can also follow me on Facebook!)
  • Janghanpyeong (Dongdaemun-gu): not exactly Seoul's most glamorous neighborhood (between Jangan-dong and Yongdap-dong, between the Naebu and the Dongbu expressways, West of the Cheonho Bridge knot and North of the water treatment plant), Janghanpyeong is known as a hub for used cars hunters, and that's the way the city wants it to remain. It could have some potential, though, once the water treatment is transformed into a more welcoming park.
All this is supposed to follow the model of a successful urban regeneration (!): Bukchon.
 
And all this is not supposed to bring confusion with the 5 zones presented last month. Seoul districts have been divided into five sectors: Seonamgwon (SW, project in Sangdo-dong, Dongjak-gu), Seobukgwon (NW, project in Sinchon), Dosimgwon (Center), Dongbukgwon (NE, projects in Seongsu-dong, Seondong-gu, and Jangwa-dong, Seongbuk-gu), Dongnamgwon (SE, project in Amsa-dong).

*

To be continued...



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* Yes, Chang-dong is in Dobong-gu, but Nowon split from Dobong in 1988, when the New Town was delivered (after a resistance narrated in Kim Dong-won's great documentary the Sanggye-dong Olympics). Note that Dobong, itself a spin-off from Seongbuk-gu (1973), was later split in two, spawning Gangbuk-gu in 1995.
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