Friday, July 9, 2010

Seoul Digital Media City Tour

I was looking forward for that one : a promotional tour of the DMC organized by its developers, Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Beyond each stop (DMC Gallery, Haneul Park, Nuritkum Square Digital Pavilion, DMCVille, DMC High Tech Business Center), I wanted the big picture and a general feeling : I knew the ambitions, and I saw the area change dramatically over the past few years, but could this Digital Media City fly ?

Even if it's only about halfway towards completion, the answer is yes : the DMC will be a success. For three good reasons : there's a consistent concept, there's a will from all key players, and compared to many Korean pharaonic projects, the progression seems sustainable. We'll know for sure later this year, when new railway connections are opened, and ground really broken for Seoul Lite, the landmark building.

In my mind, the DMC was a little bit like Songdo, an ambitious business oriented new town / pervasive computing utopia, but with a completely different scale and modus operandi :
- the World's most expensive private real estate development ever, Songdo, stretches over 6 million square meters, partly on a polder off Incheon, and is operated by Gale International and POSCO. The Songdo International Business District (IBD) has a strong trade and convention flavor, with the ambition to become a Northeast Asian hub, illustrated by the NEATT (NorthEast Asian Trade Tower) and the proximity to Incheon Airport. It's a brand new city targeting pioneers.
- the DMC covers "only" 570,000 square meter and is operated by Seoul city within the city limits, in Mapo-gu. It is meant to become the national cluster for media and entertainment industries. A significant portion of tenants are migrating from previous sub-clusters.

In spite of the global business climate, Songdo and the DMC are not competing against each other, but both expect completion in 2015, and both are supposed to inaugurate a landmark skyscraper that same year : the 151 Incheon Tower (151 floors, 601 m) in Songdo, the Seoul Lite (133 floors, 640 m - 540 without the antenna) in the DMC. Also, both present massive green lungs : a big central park in Songdo (bonus: a golf course), the World Cup Park in the DMC (bonus: the nearby World Cup Stadium itself).

Does size matter ? Definitely, but Songdo is a complete city built from scratch, and the DMC a city within a city, whose size and focus make things easier. For instance, Songdo boasts 80,000 apartments compared to 8,000 for the DMC (6,000 have been delivered, 2,000 will be later this year), but that's without taking into account major urban developments just a few hundred meters away : Susaek New Town in Eunpyeong-gu, Gajaeul New Town in Seodaemun-gu. Songdo boasts a Yonsei University branch and a foreign school and the DMC will "only" claim the Japan School in Seoul, but there are already many universities and foreign schools in a close distance.

In the DMC, if only half of the buildings have been completed, 82% of the land has been attributed and 42 of the 51 lots sold (this maps spots the place for sale in this big "T"). About 300 companies already moved in, creating 23,000 jobs (80,000 targeted by 2015) and for the moment, 43% are in IT, 38% in Media & Entertainment, and 13% in services. The M&E proportion is expected to rise with the arrival of the big fishes.

Because the business success is guaranteed. All the industry's major players have decided to join the party : TV broadcasters (KBS, SBS, YTN, MBC... ), press groups (DongA, Chosun Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo, Seoul Daily, JoongAng Ilbo...), entertainment majors (CJ E&M is already there...). If you wonder what "old" medias will do there, consider this : press groups are already internet giants, and recent changes in media regulations make possible (and more than probable) aggressive moves and further concentration into the broadcasting arena. No wonder IT and telecom companies are also taking positions : LG Telecom, LG CNS, Trumpf Korea, and Pantech are here, and many others are likely to eventually open a branch there.

Everything is done to nurture the whole media, entertainment, and IT convergence ecosystem :
- Seoul Metropolitan Government provides key enabling infrastructures : a DMC R&D Center (Business-University Collaboration Research Center), a DMC High-Tech Industry Center (low cost lease space), and DMC Ville (serviced residences for foreigners, with SH Corporation). Seoul Business Agency animates the ecosystem and facilitates the emergence of a strong DMC identity.
- the Korean Government also plays a role in the national cluster : the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism operates a Culture Content Center (Korea Creative Content Agency, Korean Film Archive) and a Digital Magic Space (Korea Creative Content Agency), the Ministry of Knowledge Economy the Nuritkum Square (the National IT Industry Promotion Agency, where visitors can experience the future of converging technologies).
- business federations joined the party : the Korea Electronics Association is moving in, and the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business operates a SME Global Center
- among other 'convergence' tenants : the Korea German Institute of Technology (KGIT), a digital game stadium, movie and animation studios, the Korea Film Museum...

Now what I saw yesterday was a city in the making, with people living, walking, eating in restaurants, enjoying the shade of the trees on the streets... very much ahead of other places under complete renovation because the business is already there, there's a clear purpose, and a clear roadmap for the next steps. This is not a new town, but a neighborhood with all the ingredients. The only thing is that the Northern half of the "Digital Media Street" - the curvy road in the bar of the "T" - is not yet constructed, which kind of creates a buffer zone of empty lots (the DMC's DMZ ?) between the center and the subway stations. The railways themselves are another frontier, and I hope something will be done to cover or bury them, for a seamless connection and better synergies between Sangam-dong and Susaek-dong. Even though, the DMC is a self-sustaining concept, and very well connected to Seoul and beyond.


3 train / subway stations serve this area :
- North : Susaek Station, Gyeongui Line (built in 1906 to link Seoul with Pyeongyang)
- East : World Cup Stadium Station, Line 6
- at the Northeast corner : DMC Station, the same two lines + AREX, the express line to Incheon and Gimpo airports. The AREX connection will be inaugurated by the end of 2010 : the trip to both airports will be even quicker, and the line will go up to Seoul Station.

The Southern frontier of the DMC is the World Cup Park : a green ocean which used to be the Nanjido landfill, a stinking disgrace completely metamorphosed ahead of the 2002 World Cup. One could almost talk about a Green Cluster now : first comes Najicheon Park, then the two hills of Noeul Park ("Sunset Park", West) and Haneul Park ("Sky Park", Center), plus the Pyounghwa Park (East, connected to the World Cup Stadium), and to the South, between the Gangbyeon Expressway and the Han river, the Nanji Hangang Park. Nanji meaning "orchild" and Nanji-do "orchild island", the name used to be a joke when the place was covered with garbage. But yesterday, at the top of Haneul Park, overlooking the DMC, the Stadium, the other side of the river, I could hardly believe how this previously forsaken place was blooming with nature.

The Mapo-gu I knew 20 years ago has dramatically changed, an industrial nightmare evolving into a greener and more service oriented district. Of course, many neighborhoods have always been charming and lively, but the "gu" long suffered from its key location as a logistics hub : a Western gate to the capital city, Mapo is a major entry point for ships (Mapo actually owes its name to a ferry crossing the Hangang), and a major axis for ground transports. The main road bordering the DMC, Susaekno, leads straight to Goyang to the West, and to Gwanghwamun to the East : on the way, it becomes Seongsanno (between Yonsei and Ehwa Universities), and then Sajikno, Yulgokno... City Hall is only 7 km away, Yeouido 5 km, and the nearby expressway provide shortcuts to Northeast Seoul (Naebu Expressway), and both sides of the Han river (ie Gangnam or the future Yongsan IBD via Gangbyeon Expressway).

Location, focus, purpose, strong political support... all key success factors are here. Over the next years, this new cluster might suck quite a few businesses from other parts of the city (ie Mok-dong for TVs, Yeouido for LG, downtown for press groups), but in Korea more than anywhere else, natures abhors a vacuum and one shouldn't worry for them*.
Seoul Village 2010

DMC's website :
dmc.seoul.go.kr

* I'm being ironic here. New Towns are never a zero sum game.

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