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Monday, November 9, 2009

Stop The Hanok Genocide... And Stop Revival As Reenactment

Every day, I see hanoks being either destroyed, replaced with nondescript three story "villas" or, at best, "restored" in such a way that except for the roof, you cannot tell there used to be a Korean traditional house under the tasteless decor.

Today*, the JoongAng Ilbo put a terrifying figure on the genocide : of the 20,000 hanoks which managed to survive until 2005 in Seoul, only 14,000 would still be standing now.

The article focuses on two Jongno-gu areas where hanok clusters are being protected : Ikseon-dong (around Unhyeongung) and Chebu-dong (West of Gyeongbokgung). As a Sajik-dong resident, I know both well and if I agree with inhabitants when they say that living in a hanok has its share of discomforts**, the bottomline is that many are bitter because real estate speculation has been terminated.

For instance, in June 2008, a major 68,000 m² redevelopment project was scrapped by the city in Chebu-dong / Seochon : all hanoks would have been destroyed, and 12-story-buildings erected in this low rise area.

Mayor OH Se-hoon has been trying to stop the hanok hemorrhage since he came into office, and wants to extend to 20 the number of protected areas across the Capital city. A global rule on hanoks would also be necessary without any delay.

Because the two main reasons for the acceleration of the genocide were pro-speculation policies, but also the fear of anti-speculation policies :
- when LEE Myung-bak was the Mayor, he unleashed redevelopment projects to the point that every single area in Seoul is now speculative
- speculators have been anticipating tougher regulations from OH Se-hoon, destroying hanoks before new laws passed, even if they didn't have any plans to build : many empty spots are now used as parking lots to make some money before construction.

Seoul city sponsors hanok renovations following traditional techniques, but doesn't want all hanok clusters to become as artificial as Bukchon-dong : enough tourist shops and guest houses, actual Seoulites must really live there. In their city, not in a museum city.

Revival goes far beyond reenactment.

Seoul Village 2009

* "The debate over hanok heating up" (JoongAng Ilbo 20091110)
** ie you simply cannot compare to new apartment standards, and privacy can be an issue.

see other Seochon related posts, including "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"

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