Monday, May 2, 2016

Yeongdong-daero Underground City, Korea (YUCK?)

Last March, KEPCO surpassed Hyundai Motor in market capitalization (KRW 37 tn vs 34). Ironically, since Hyundai's financial trouble have something to do with their purchase from KEPCO, in September 2014, of prime land along Yeongdong-daero, for a whopping USD 10 bn.

As you know (e.g. Yeongdongwon focus in last year's "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)"), that site will host the group's future HQ - Hyundai Motor Global Business Center - at the core of a redesigned COEX-Jamsil business district that will stretch over both sides of Tancheon stream (Samseong-dong and Daechi-dong in Gangnam-gu, Jamsil-dong in Songpa-gu), and grow what is already a significant transportation hub into a gigantic one.

Yesterday, Seoul Metropolitan Government released more details about that part of the puzzle, an 'underground city' to be delivered by 2021:
  • A big whale: 160,000 square meters under Yeongdong-daero (6 underground floors, 630 m long, 70 wide, 51 deep). Cost: KRW 1.169 tn
  • A multimodal hub: subway (Samseong Station on Line 2, Bongeunsa on Line 9), bus (including the City Air Terminal), express railways (GTX-A Samseong-Dongtan, GTX-C Uijeongbu-Samseong-Gunpo, KTX Northeast extension), LRT (Wirye-Sinsa Line - see "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)"). Expected gains in commuting times to Dongtan and City Hall: from respectively 41 and 29 mn by car, to 20 and 5 mn by rail

Views presented last year

The hub will also include various culture and service facilities, and a shopping area complementing the COEX Mall. Pedestrians shall have a better time navigating a space until now devoted to Car Almighty.

With its countless traffic lanes, Yeondong-daero looks like a pre-Gwanghwamun-plaza Sejongno on steroids, and this project seems to consider a similar, tree-less, tip-of-the-iceberg central walkway. But it's not as if masses will roam the surface like downtown: distances are even greater, and most of the fun will remain indoor. As nice as Bongeunsa is, it doesn't rival with Jongno landmarks and Bugaksan.

Still, this transport hub certainly looks less nightmarish than Banpo's Express Bus Terminal, because the Yeongdong-daero / Teheran-ro intersection is far less messy, and because you don't have 'apateu' blocks the scale of say a Banpo Xi. One can also hope that the user experience will be better thought through, more seamless.

How much this will cannibalize business from COEX Mall or Lotte World remains to be seen. But it's already adding trouble to the old business center of Gangnamistan: vacancy rates are expected to keep growing in Gangnam Business District (around Gangnamdae-ro and Teheran-ro at Gangnam Station), even if Hyundai Motor is moving in the time to build its new extravaganza.
Common sense, demographic and economic trends tend to make us think that a success story here would mean a failure somewhere else. And this zero-sum game leaves us every year with more infrastructures to fill.

Let's hope that this 'underground city', which unlike many pharaonic projects does have a purpose, won't be the vast magma chamber of a supervolcano bubble, but at least a successful transport hub.

Seoul Village 2016
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