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Monday, May 6, 2019

Twice upon a time in the West

The Minister of Land, Transport and Tourism came up with a new batch of developments for the capital region*, including new public transport projects, and unfortunately more instances of Korea's failed 'New Town' model, at the very moment the country experiences a slump in housing prices, and an oversupply of dwellings. The aim is actually to make sure the prices remain low for a while, which doesn't seem a bad idea, except that in Korea's speculative zero sum game, this necessarily means more losers, and more dead neighborhoods in the short, medium, and long term.

2 'New Towns', 26 small-to-medium-sized developments, 1 BRT, 1 subway line:

Following the first three announced last year (Incheon Gyeyang, Namyangju Wangsuk, Hanam Gyosan - in blue on the map below, which also shows future GTX lines), two more 'Greenfield New Towns'** will be created one kilometer West of Seoul, one on each side of the Han River (in red):
  • Goyang Changneung: 38,000 households in Deokyang-gu, Goyang (Yongdu-dong, Hwajeon-dong)
  • Bucheon Daejang: 20,000 households in Ojeong-gu, Bucheon (Daejang-dong, Wonjong-dong)

In a more acupunctural approach, 26 small and medium-sized residential projects shall add 51,517 households in already developed neighborhoods:


Transports-wise, the government's package proposes two new public transport lines, and road extensions:
  • a 17.3 km-long "S-BRT" line (NB does 'Super - Bus Rapid Transit' mean super dedicated infrastructures for buses?) between Gimpo Airport Station and Bucheon Sports Complex Station, around Gimpo Airport, with connections to subway lines 5, 9, and even 7 (Bucheon Stadium Station). It will also reach Cheongna BRT.
  • a new subway line will connect Goyang City Hall to Saejeol Station (Line 6), and intersect with Line 3, GTX-A, and Gyeongui Line at Daegok Station.
  • A new motorway will connect Baekseok-dong (Ilsan) to the Seoul - Munsan expressway (Gogang, Seoun interchanges).
  • Susaek-ro (already hosting 3 of the new housing projects judging by the map), and Worldcup-ro shall gain layers to cope with a growing traffic towards downtown Seoul as well as towards Yeouido and Gangnam.
Bucheon's new S-BRT line around Gimpo Airport
Goyang's new subway line

The good, the bad, and the ugly:

Overall, if you consider the three announcements made since last December, the State plans to sell 73,000 homes by 2022, 67,000 in 2023, 58,000 in 2024, 61,000 in 2025, and 44,000 in 2026, which may provide more options for affordable housing, but also amplify Korea's oversupply of dwellings. The only clear winner seems to be IKEA Goyang, today an outpost, but tomorrow ideally located to serve the new town.

At least, for a change,...:
  • ... Seoul intra-muros is spared from more of the large-scale New Towns that destroyed so many of its neighborhoods (including the seven buried under Gyonam New Town). 
  • ... a 'Greenfield New Town'** adds some urban continuity instead of pushing urban sprawl further afield: on paper, Goyang Changneung shall better tie Ilsan to the capital.
  • ... transports, including public ones, are better phased and synced with new major developments (new subway, BRT, GTX lines around Goyang and Bucheon new towns, respectively top and bottom):

This remains an absurd case where we add commuting traffic before solving existing problems upstream and downstream. Yes, commuters from the latest new town will reach Seoul faster, but they will slow down commuters from Ilsan's 'older new town', and more cars will flock into Seoul's Western bottlenecks, even if some cosmetic touches are added along Susaek-ro. Urban planners went as far in the irony as to name their concrete monstruosity after the Joseon Royal Tomb*** it will deface.

In this young millenium, any new project should aim at the very least at zero emission and zero increase in car traffic, and this is obviously not the case. I nonetheless appreciate the new public transport lines: the BRT will add some verticality and fluidity across Bucheon, and Goyang will better split its commuters between line 3 and 6.

All this also means that the construction of Seobu Line / Seobuseon becomes even more urgent (see "Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority"). Just months ago, the project was delayed because SNU wanted to prolong the line further into its campus, and now a boost comes from the other end of the line, the national government speeding up the agenda, and footing the bill for the first 7 stations. Because actually, this new Goyang line constitutes the new beginning of the most defining project for the Western half of Seoul's subway network. Now hopefully, the whole line should be completed by 2026.

On the other side of the Han River, Bucheon will clearly benefit from a denser public transportation network. How the new town will coopete with Magok District or Gyeyang Techno Valley remains to be seen....

Seoul Village 2019
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* see for instance in Today's Chosun Ilbo: "3기신도시 고양 창릉·부천 대장동 등에 11만가구 공급", "새절역~고양시청 철도, 김포공항역~부천종합운동장역 BRT 신설", or in Today's Joongang Ilbo: "집값 다시 뛸라...집값 약세 둔화에 3기 신도시 '기습 발표'" (UPDATE 20190508 "To cool real estate, gov’t plans two new towns")
** as defined in "Wet eyes for wetlands and urban mirages"
*** see "Royal Joseon Tombs Become UNESCO World Heritage Properties
**** and by the way, these latest developments make even more irrelevant the Gangbuk Line project drafted a couple of months ago - see "Gangbuk LRT - Naebu v. Seobu, or PARK v. OH?")

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