12 January 2008


introducing a special supplement to nice day's "field trips" department....

four centuries before christ, hippodamus became the father of city planning when alexander the great asked him to lay out alexandria. urban planning as an organized profession, however, is a much more recent development. in the 1920s, urban modernism envisioned grand metropolises of garden tower blocks accessed by un-congested freeways. fifty years later, port-modernist architecture reintroduced individualism and diversity to city planning.

joseon-era map of seoul.

maps, land use planning, built and social environments, architecture and urban design get me hot and bothered. starting at age 7, i spent most of my free time creating an imaginary society. thousands of hours were invested into filling a file cabinet with official "royal republic of targot" documents, including a hand-drawn 64-square-foot map that i still keep in the basement. recently, i've had a shame-filled addiction to the city-building computer game, sim city. clearly, i am obsessed with cities (and need more friends?).

one view of seoul (click for larger). i think this photo is by robert koehler of the marmot hole blog.

it's fitting that i live in the world's sixth largest city (10.3 million) and second largest urban agglomeration (23 million). in fact, half of south korea's population lives in the greater capital area. but unlike manhattan, london or hong kong, seoul doesn't lend itself to a postcard. there's no central, picture-perfect cluster of skyscrapers, no large body of water from which to approach its skyline, and photographers are often frustrated by the hills and mountains that obscure huge swaths of the city from every angle.

80% of south koreans live in cities and 80% of them live in tower block-style "ah-pa-tuh" (아파트).

seoul from afar isn't picture-perfect because, with notable exceptions, it is not a beautiful city. in the rush to rebuild after the civil war, aesthetics were sacrificed. as a result, dense clusters of ugly post-war, 2-story brick homes and rows of bland, identical hilberseimer-style apartment towers stretch for miles with few green spaces in-between. typically, any commercial building surface that isn't a window is covered with obnoxious signage in fluorescent inks or lights. while i love seoul, i envy the sophisticated historic beauty of many european and latin american cities.

architectural darling zaha hadid's winning bid to redevelop seoul's dongdaemun neighborhood. stay tuned for details...

but don't fret! flush with cash, the world's 12th largest economy is investing billions of dollars into ambitious urban regeneration projects designed to make its political, economic and cultural capital truly livable. and while a blank canvas is fun, there's something more authentic and exciting about taking a dysfunctional environment and transforming it into something remarkable. of course, part of doing this is respecting what and who was there previously.

so, as an addendum to my "field trip" postings, i hereby introduce "cityplan". this new series of posts will highlight what seoulites are doing--ingenious and misguided, alike--to transform the miracle on the han river into one of the world's most livable, and... dare i say it, beautiful cities.

1 comment:

Ondae said...

cities, maps - anything complex & significant on the scale of humans interests me greatly... write on!