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Monday, December 25, 2017

Care - Right Now!

A few days before that holiday celebrating a Jewish Palestinian son born to a refugee couple, this Seochon hanok resonated with touching stories of refugees and carpenters.

From Lesvos to Izmir to the Calais Jungle to a Seochon hanok - With Robert Mull and Hahm Donkyoon for Citizen Planet Right Now! School Of Politics - Duty of care, #socialresponsibility and the refugees crises
시민행성 당장!정치학교
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For the launch of Citizen Planet's 'Right Now! School of Politics', Robert Mull was giving a lecture on 'Care - Architecture, Education, and Social Responsibility' that encompassed decades of involvement, from one Thatcher to another - from the Iron Lady era to Alpha Diagne, that Mauritanian refugee / artist who built and thatched with his own hands the Calais Jungle's iconic Blue House.

'We've dignified this bottom-up city with the care one would look at Florence or Seoul' (Robert Mull on Calais Jungle exhibitions at Barbican, SouthBank)

Robert Mull is a citizen of our planet, an educator, and a double agent in the field of architecture:
  • On the Dr Jekyll side, Robert has taught all over the globe, and headed prestigious institutions. He is currently Professor of Architecture and Design and Head of School at the University of Brighton, a Visiting Professor at the University of Umea, a partner in Beevor Mull Architects, and Director of Innovation at Publica.
  • On the Mr Hyde side, Robert is a relentless activist, and a thorn in the side of an architectural microcosm that too often indulges in navel gazing or disconnected extravaganzas. From his students, he expects bravery, passion with compassion, and an engagement in politics in the noble sense of the term. Even the initials of his Free Unit initiative (now a Global F.U.) send an irreverent message to a trade he often invites to humility (if not self-derision - in the Turncoats series, architects convene to expose their own vanities and impostures).
So here we were, citizens, architects, and citizen architects, cramming Citizen Planet's hanok in its Changseong-dong alleyway, just hectometers away from Korea's own Blue House.

For five years now, Citizen Planet has called social responsibility to mind. Its new Right Now! School of Politics doesn't have any political agenda, and isn't about ideology or idealism - it simply invites all citizens to embrace their responsibilities and to contribute to a better society. Right Now, because this is an urgent necessity. 

Yours truly, with HAHM Donkyoon (Head of Citizen Planet), and Robert MULL
Like caring for refugees.

Which may seem a distant priority for South Korea, a country posting embarrassing low recognition rates for refugees. Well, we do care for defectors trickling down from North Korea, but could we cope with another major flow? Today? At the very moment China builds massive refugee camps at its border? At a time when, for all we know, Seoulites themselves could be one tweet away from becoming refugees?

Yes, Seoul, the very city that makes refugees of its own citizens, barring them from returning to their childhood's neighborhood...

The official shipping container shelters stand in stark contrast to the self-built shelters of the camp.
The contrast between the anonymous containers erected by the French government, and the vibrant 'jungle' (photo Philippe Huguen - AFP/Getty Image) reminded me of familiar Seoul cityscapes ('apateu' v. 'daldongnae').

Refugee crises expose the best and the worst in all of us, providing Robert Mull with powerful examples of ethical approaches, how architects can fulfill what he calls their 'duty of care'.

We truly must care - starting with the words we use, and the way we look at each other, fellow citizens on our only planet.

'On the day Calais is demolished the media only mention migrants all reference to refugees has been dropped' (Calais Jungle map - Robert Mull on Twitter - 20161025)

Seoul Village 2017
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

We reject as false the choice between our welfare and our well being

Seoul city is about to sacrifice more of its ever shrinking 'green belt' areas.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. For instance, seven years ago, tens of millions of square meters of these protected lots were destroyed to build more homes, including some for low income families (see "Tighten your greenbelt").

But back then, 'New Town' models were still all the rage, Korea was not yet sitting on an oversupply of one million dwellings, and the population of Seoul was not shrinking.

Which, of course, is the case right now. And to add insult to injury, most of this will be done in the name of social housing. As if the only way to extend welfare was to destroy our environment. Worse: it contributes to real estate speculation across neighborhoods that were relatively spared until now.

Seoul just announced that 15,582㎡ of greenbelt land shall be dismantled around roads in Dobong-gu, Jungang-gu, Gangseo-gu, Gangnam-gu, and Seocho-gu.
Seoul and Korea to sacrifice 40 more of its greenbelt areas for social housing... while there's an oversupply of dwellings! Something is definitely rotten in Korea real estate - this shouldn't be about welfare vs well being and environment! (tweet to Mayor PARK Won-soon - 20171128 -
There is a shortage in social housing, but also an oversupply in housing. So instead of digging deeper into failed and costly urban models, wouldn't it be smarter to give incentives to landlords to increase the proportion of existing dwellings devoted to that purpose? Not in new ghettos, but across the city's neighborhoods?

It's also time to cure the country's addiction to building in new spots when so many neighborhoods and structures are falling apart. What happened to interesting initiatives to help struggling landlords do more or better? In "Seoul to tap into vacant homes pool", I already mentioned the potential of housing cooperatives, particularly for dense 'villa' neighborhoods, but it's hard to find a political will to shift away from old models*.

Seoul Village 2017
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* even if I'm not forgetting the promising 'human town' concept (see "OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept" or "Inhuman, all too human Seoul").

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