Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yeonnam-dong, a new Human Town or a new Old Town, but mercifully not that old New Town

I found rather comical recent articles presenting Yeonnam-dong's rehabilitation as a success for PARK Won-soon vision*: Yeonnam was the pilot neighborhood at the core of the Human Town vision, a voter-friendly project ignited by PARK's predecessor ahead of the 2010 mayoral elections (actually, the first sentence in my post "OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept" was "the campaign for Seoul City Hall is definitely on"). This following the LRT episode where PARK, already running for a second term next year, revived OH's subway projects years after criticizing them as pork barrel**... Of course, PARK didn't write these articles, but I had to smile.

Anyway, whether you call it "Human Town" or "Old Town" (as the metropolitan government rebranded it last year to mark a disruption with the "New Town" model - see "Seoul Old Towns or New Human Towns? New City Hall or Tsunamheat Wave?"***), the concept had to be given a chance. In case you skipped the Human Town beat, here are a few bits from my 3-year-old post:
"(...) an alternative to Seoul's tragic base case scenario : instead of letting a whole neighborhood grow old and derelict until it's ripe for redevelopment, then destroy everything, and finally plant a big "apateu" block, the idea is to improve a neighborhood, make it a better place for everyone, with a special care for young couples and silver heads... core targets in OH's 2010 campaign. (...)
"Seoul Human Town" intends to combine the best of both worlds :
- from apartment blocks : joint management, economies of scale, maintenance, security, parking space, (some) green areas, a playground, consistence and sustainability
- from your friendly neighborhood : low-rise architecture, the human touch, the sense of belonging, the memory, the soul, the identity of Seoul villages.
- bonus : community services, senior and daycare centers. Ultimately, many parts of the city shall enjoy facilities more adapted to their population densities, but previously unaffordable (...).
Don't imagine a complete renovation, more a rehabilitation of the environment : the idea is to let the area breathe, to get rid of one building here and there, to convert another one into a community center, to make room for pavements and plants, to add lights and CCTVs, to bury those cable / electricity snake nests hanging up between buildings (...)".
Again, the before/after rendering
Low-rise, low-key, but still high electoral stakes
I put a marker at the center of Yeonnam-dong Human Town on Seoul Village map - that's at the Gyeongui Line fork (at the beginning of the "Gyeongui Line Forest Trail - An Urban Lifeline"), north of Donggyo-ro:


View Seoul Village in a larger map

Now the most important: is it working?

I often ride my bike in the neighborhood on my way between Yeonhui and Hongdae, and the urban change is not very spectacular at the macro level - except of course for the new forest trail, which also contribute to the village atmosphere, and to drawing shop and cafe customers from the outside. Still, you can tell that this neighborhood has evolved into a much more open life space and community thanks to the small scale changes at the street level (e.g. fewer walls, more walkways and green areas, fewer visible electric lines...) as well as well as thanks to the new community services (which also translate in more open or shared spaces).

Residents are feeling optimistic for the future, and not only regarding the value of their properties (the usual barometer in Seoul-upon-Han, I'm afraid). Rents are up, and maybe the fact that Hongdae's spike in retail rents pushed many small entrepreneurs further from the commercial center doesn't explain everything.


Yeonnam-dong does look and feel more like a village...

... and anyway, so much better than this "old New Town" project!


Old new town project for Yeonnam - not exactly a Seoul village
Phew! This "well being" apocalypse was canceled


Seoul Village 2013
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* e.g. "박원순式 재개발 1호 ‘마포 연남동’… 주거정비 마무리" (Asia Economy - 20130925), "'박원순표 재개발' 저층주거지 정비 마친 연남동 일대" (Financial News - 20131004)
** see "If you ain't broke, fix it: Seoul, Welfare and Railways Deficits" (20130801)
*** again, have also a peek at my essay "Inhuman, all too human Seoul" - "Seoul: inhumaine, trop humaine" (2011-2012), and its final section: "De la New Town à l’Human Town, le retour en grâce des villages" ("From New Towns to Human Towns, villages are back in good favors")

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