NEW - download 'Seoul VillageS (서울 마을들)', my collection of 12 short fictions! Get your free copy of the ebook (4 editions: English, French, Korean, Bilingual English-Korean)!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seoul summerscapes: death, taxes, and budongsan

I'd like to look back to a few urbanistic topics that animated this hot Summer in the city, but let me start with this most recent trip en province.


During that lovely Chuseok break in Chungcheongnam-do, we crossed a 'silver neighborhood'. I'd never seen the sign, but the very existence of the label tells a lot. That non-descript suburb felt neither like the kind of ghost towns you see in rural areas, nor like a retirement community, but like a city where people under 70 happen to be absent. At least, in the countryside, you could notice younger generations visiting their gramps for the holidays to help them at what was left of their farms:

Many families farming for Chuseok in Korea countryside: young guns visiting old timers who can barely walk (20160915 -
In aging Japan, localities are merging, and to fill millions of empty buildings, signs advertise free rentals, where owners will even pay your utility bills. Korea is also feeling the demographic pinch: many schools are closing, and a few universities shall follow... but still, you can see a lot of apartment blocks under construction in non-booming second to third tier cities, and often in their most rural settings, where land is cheaper. Even if developers manage to sell them today, buyers will have a tougher time doing so in the future.

Yet nowhere is the real estate oversupply more evident than in the capital region: Sudogwon is overshooting by 34.6% with 226,000 apartments too many by 2019, or 46.8% of the nationwide excess*. Significantly, SH changed its name from Seoul Housing Corporation to Seoul Housing and Communities Corporation, confirming a shift from constructing to animating:

SH (Seoul Housing) to be rebranded 서울주택도시공사 from Sept. 1, as focus shifts to urban regeneration (20160830 -
But the building phase is not over yet, and in this less than zero game, places like Yongin struggle more and sooner than others:

As expected, Yongin among the losers in Korea's real estate oversupply (20160829 - - "After building boom, South Korea girds for housing glut" (Reuters)

At the same time, and as usual, key demographics are protected by local authorities. The only way to help Apgujeong elites sell their overly expensive flats with a profit is to make exceptions to construction rules (e.g. allow very high rise redevelopments and / or reduce the land to be offered for public use), and that's exactly the gifts Seoul mayors made. Both OH Se-hoon and PARK Won-soon, in spite of their pledges to rebalance Seoul's rich and poor neighborhoods, and to stop this urban nonsense...

Seoul mayors Oh and Park both secured Apgujeong elite votes - "Apgujeong real estate hot once again" KJD (20160723 -
Of course, the city prefers to communicate about its urban regeneration projects (see "Urban Regeneration: 27 Projects For Seoul"), and the mayor is still going full throttle with his signature Seoul Station 7017. This Summer, the concept has been showcased on Seoul Plaza (as announced by Winy Maas last Spring in Seoul), and featured in CNN's Sustainable Cities special. Judging by how fast the site evolves each time I pass by the neighborhood, 'SS7017' seems on path for a delivery on time for the elections. But its success will also be measured by the positive impacts on all affected neighborhoods - more tasks ahead for the 'grassroot' activists who worked on defusing tensions ahead of the project!
Blue sky over Seoul Square and yes, Seoul Station 7017 #ss7017 #seoul (20160827 -
Seoul mayors love to boast about their legacies, and I already drew parallels between the last three,  LEE Myung-bak, OH Se-hoon, and PARK Won-soon (most recently in "Pour ré-enfanter Séoul : trois maires et quelques impairs"). But none had as big an impact as KIM Hyeon-ok (1966-1970), and the best exhibition in Seoul this Summer was arguably** the one devoted to the city's first 'bulldozer mayor' at the Seoul Museum of History:

Seoul's first 'bulldozer mayor' Kim Hyeon-ok (previously Busan mayor) resigned after the collapse of the Changjeon-dong apt (20160810 -
Note that the SMH also added Inhyeon-dong to its fantastic collection of Seoul neighborhood monographies, which is not far from KIM Swoo-geun's Seun Sangga, one of KIM Hyeon-ok's iconic projects.

Following Pil-dong's Yesultong festival in May, Jung-gu was definitely an underlying theme for me this Summer. And I enjoyed walking through what was left of KIM Ki-chan's Jungnim-dong with fellow urbanist Valerie Gelezeau, finishing in Yeomcheon Bridge's shoe alley.

I love this house in Jungnim-dong. Too bad it is bound for destruction (20160720 -

Speaking of KIM Ki-chan: I learned only last month that two great Seoul photographers had passed away in May: HONG Soon-tai and KIM Han-yong (who donated his collections to the Seoul Museum of History in 2013, leading to a nice exhibition soon afterwards).

Cheonggyecheon alleyways, Seoul 1971. Sad to learn that Hong Soon-tai passed away this year (20160820 -
... and so did Kim Han-yong. Here, Daeheung-dong alleyways, Mapo-gu, Seoul (20160820 -

Sorry for the tone of this post, but such is predictable Seoul: death, taxes, and 'budongsan'...

We've reached the point when seeing a few old trees spared makes our day. So bravo to Seongbuk-dong residents for stopping the massacre halfway along Seongbuk-ro:

Seongbuk-dong residents protest the removal of old platanus trees along Seongbuk-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul (20160816 -


I couldn't finish these moody lines about vanishing neighborhoods without yet another Gyonam-dong update. As I explained recently to students surveying the area, this was not my favorite Seoul village, and not even a full village at that, but Gyonam-dong didn't deserve that death. And this shouldn't have happened in 2014 Seoul.

I will spare you the heavy slides, and just post one picture and two videos.

The picture is from a tweet (like most illustrations in this piece) about the end of the 'Sinmunno Triangle' between Pyeong-dong and Gyeonghuigung:

The curtain falls for Pyeong-dong, where Seoul dumped its urban recreation museum project - Gyonam-dong (20160810 -
The first video is a selection of tweets (timelinelapse?) from 2012 to 2016, about the destruction of Gyonam-dong and the rise of Donuimun New Town (Gyeonghuigung Xii apartments):

The second video is a view from the new staircase built at the top of the new town. You can only see a tiny bit of Seodaemun across Tongil-ro, and of Inwangsan in the distance:

Seoul Village 2016
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter
Bookmark and Share
Add this page to your favorites

* see this tweet related to "Real estate market braces for oversupply" (KJD 20160815)
** after LEE Jung-seob at MMCA Deoksugung of course!

Captivating Lee Jung-seob exhibition in MMCA Deoksugung, Seoul (20160806 -

books, movies, music