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Seoul Urbanism on TBS eFM’s Koreascape: Seoul’s identity crisis

Each month I join Kurt Achin, host of Koreascape on Seoul’s English-language radio station TBS eFM, for an exploration of one of Seoul’s urban spaces. This time we talk about my recent Guardian article on the branding of Seoul and the city’s efforts to resolve its ongoing identity crisis: hiring place-branding consultants, importing foreign architectural prestige, launching high-profile urban regeneration projects, putting up posters that encourage Seoulites to feel good about their city, introducing slogans like “I.Seoul.U,” and even more besides.

Stay tuned for further explorations of Seoul’s architecture, infrastructure, and other parts of the built environment. You can hear our previous segments here.

This week’s city reading: Detroit stays flawed, Mexico City kills parking minimums, corporations flee the suburbs

The new Detroit’s fatal flaw (Heather Ann Thompson, Washington Post) “Way back in July of 1967, just before that infamous evening when Detroit went up in flames, city boosters had been feeling pretty optimistic about the Motor City’s future. Detroit, then the nation’s fifth-largest city, was a metropolis that epitomized all that postwar America had to offer. Home to the Big Three automakers, it boasted higher-paying jobs for working people than many other cities. The Federal Housing Administration helped its residents enjoy unusually high rates of homeownership. Charismatic leaders all worked together to keep the wheels of the Motor City turning smoothly and unceasingly toward a more prosperous future.”

‘This is definitely a moment’: Olympics crown LA’s remarkable renaissance (Rory Carroll, The Guardian) “The renaissance comes amid a challenging time for New York, which has long scorned LA as a rival for America’s greatest city. Having lost a bid to host the 2012 Olympics to London, New York is now enduring a ‘summer of hell’ on its crumbling subway, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency. This did not stop the New York Times poking fun at LA nabbing the 2028 Games, asking if this would herald new Olympic events such as ‘longest juice cleanse’ or “least original movie idea’.”

A generational failure: As the U.S. fantasizes, the rest of the world builds a new transport system (Yonah Freemark, The Transport Politic) “It’s actually not that complicated to conduct transport policy in a manner that adapts to change. You don’t need competitions to gather the input of ‘geniuses.’ You don’t need magical new technologies when we have systems that work today. You don’t need to encourage speculation from the private sector, whose primary interest is in making high returns on their investment, not the public interest. You need a (reasonably) long-term commitment to individual projects, across political lines and among multiple political jurisdictions. You need to amass the public resources to pay for them. And then you need a competent workforce to design, construct, and operate the lines. American society has not shown itself capable of any of those things.”

Mexico City Is Killing Parking Spaces. Pay Attention, America (Aarian Marshall, Wired) “Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera Espinosa this month announced a new policy that limits how many parking spaces builders can build. He hopes to spur development, which sounds counterintuitive. Without parking spaces, where will commuters rest their rides? But it turns out sprawling parking lots and looming garages can actually create more traffic and make housing less affordable and city streets more difficult to navigate.”

Corporations are leaving suburbs: Can anything reverse the trend? (Patrick Sisson, Curbed) “One of the most interesting aspects (and potentially troubling takeaways for suburban mayors) of the Core Values report is that all manner of companies are making the move downtown: tech giants, startups, Fortune 500 firms, small businesses. Of the nearly 500 companies included in the report, 245 had relocated from a suburban location. The shift has been fast, pitting suburbs—and even tech hubs—against other top-tier urban areas.”

Updating Toronto’s Architecture Bible (Mark Byrnes interviewing Alex Bozikovic, Citylab) “People who actively love Toronto as an urban place have mostly been downtowners who live in old, pre-Modern houses from a time when Toronto was a low-rise city, so that’s how they think of Toronto. But it’s equally a city of high-rises and it’s taking a while for that to sink in, culturally. You’re missing a lot of Toronto’s story by not paying attention to the modern city because that’s when everything really happened here.” (See also my own interview with Alex Bozikovic on Notebook on Cities and Culture.)

Los Angeles in Buildings #7: the Central Library

Stand outside any entrance of Los Angeles’ Central Library, look up, and you see only tall buildings, all of them clearly dating from the mid-20th century and later. 611 Place, Aon Center, the twin towers of City National Plaza, and the Citigroup Center all bear the marks of the late 1960s and ‘70s; in the 1980s and ‘90s appeared the Gas Company Tower and, tallest of all, the U.S. Bank Tower, commonly known as the Library Tower. That last gets its nickname not from the presence of public library facilities on any of its 73 floors, but from the source of the air rights – literally, the legal right to build upward into the air – that allowed it rise to 73 floors in the first place. That skyscraper owes its existence to the library, but the library also owes its existence to that skyscraper.

In this context of utilitarian verticality, an aesthetic common to downtowns across America since the time of postwar “urban renewal,” the Central Library can look like a relic from an era of altogether different values. But when it first opened in 1926, it looked like an arrival from a future of altogether different values, having taken shape, after several revisions, in a style almost avant-garde in its use of hard geometric edges, raw concrete surfaces, abundant allusions to distant places and times – Egypt, Rome, Byzantium, the Islamic world – and a philosophical foundation in addition to its concrete one. The Los Angeles Public Library, having had to move from rented space to rented space since its founding in 1872, had finally arrived in its own permanent home: not just a building in which to store books, but a temple to knowledge itself.

The design, both inside and out, makes that purpose explicit. At the top of one staircase a goddess statue has always stood, flanked by a pair of sphinxes and holding open a book whose pages offer a multilingual selection of quotations: the Bible’s “In the beginning was the word,” Seneca’s “Knowledge extends horizons,” Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Her body bears images of mankind’s progress from East to West: the Egyptian pyramids, the tablet of the Ten Commandments, the Parthenon, Notre Dame, the Liberty Bell, a procession of covered wagons. Her name is “Civilization,” and her creator is Lee Lawrie, a sculptor best known for the forcefully symbolic works made for some of the grander American buildings of the early 20th century, especially the bronze Atlas seen in front of Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center (and on certain editions of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”).

Read the whole thing at KCET.

콜린의 한국 팟캐스트: 하루키를 찾아가시는 신성현

신성현 씨는 일본 소설가 무라카미 하루키에 관한 Finding Haruki라는 블로그를 운영하신다. 몇년 전에 무라카미의 작품과 삶에 관련된 장소들을 찾으려고 이본을 널리 여행하면서 블로그에서 그 여행에 대한 글을 쓰셨다. 그 다음에 <하루키를 찾하가는 영행>이라는 책도 출간하셨다. 여기나 아이튠즈를 통해 다운받을 수 있다.

This week’s city reading: New York’s housing crisis, Philip Roth’s Newark, the alt-right on architecture

Tenants Under Siege: Inside New York City’s Housing Crisis (Michael Greenberg, New York Review of Books) “At the town hall meeting, the mayor, trying to explain why he hasn’t set aside more units for those near the poverty line, said, ‘There are swamps of people who make less than $40,000 a year. People who make $50,000 need help, too.’ To a renter in the audience anxious about her future, he admitted, with a touch of sadness, that his housing policy ‘may not help you personally. New York may not be exactly the same city you’ve known.'”

How Vancouver became China’s aviation hub to the West (Howard Slutsken, CNN Travel) “Vancouver also holds the title of the ‘most Asian city outside of Asia,’ consisting mainly of Chinese, Indians and Filipinos, according to Canadian census data. In 2017, Statistics Canada projected that by 2036 around 78% of immigrants in Vancouver would be from Asia. Vancouver has become such a popular destination for Chinese investors looking to spend their money abroad that the provincial government in 2016 levied a 15% tax on foreign home buyers.”

20 Ways to Fix Los Angeles (Hillel Aron, Los Angeles Weekly) “The first law in need of reform requires that every new building provide a minimum number of parking spaces, which, according to developer Mott Smith, can be prohibitively expensive. Only about a third of households in Los Angeles have more than one car, yet apartment developers usually must secure 2.5 parking spaces for every housing unit they construct. Doing away with or at least easing the parking requirement would lead to more housing units being built, Smith and others says. As for people living in a building without parking, they could be forced to pay for it — or they could decide to go carless.”

Why Is the Alt-Right So Angry About Architecture? (Amanda Kolson Hurley, Citylab) “This being Infowars, Watson turns the rhetoric up to 11. The founders of Modernism were ‘the social justice warriors of their time,’ he says, ‘aesthetic terrorists.’ Michael Graves’ Denver Public Library is an ‘atrocity.’ Boston City Hall is a ‘callous abomination.’ The Whitney Museum in New York is an ‘abortion of a building.'”

From brutalism to Borgen to blogging: how the language of cities has changed (Oliver Farry, New Statesman) “It may even be this changing face of the urban environment and of the perception of cities that is driving this interest. After decades of being associated with social decay, alienation and violence, cities have enjoyed a newfound good press in the past 15 to 20 years. Gentrification is the most obvious vector but there is more than simply that to explain how people are more comfortable in cities. Falling crime rates, particularly for violent crime, on both sides of the Atlantic, have encouraged people to be adventurous and more attentive to their surroundings.”

Here a City Shall Be Wrought (Daniel Brook, Harper’s) “We walked up the hill past the empty incense stand. At the top, the path opened onto the school’s recess yard, which had survived the quake and the subsequent bulldozing and was now littered with rescue vehicles that had pulled out buried survivors. The square had only a temporary, movable blue-and-white sign reading memorial park in Chinese. What it was memorializing it did not say. I asked Zhang why she thought the square lacked a permanent, official plaque, but, after hesitating for a moment, she decided not to respond.”

Save the Kosciuszko! A Cri de Coeur for an Unloved Bridge (Sean Wilsey, New York Times) “I propose that it stay as a gathering place for all of us, especially those who never gather: the shouters, the chain smokers, the lotto-card scrapers and stressed-out cursers who’ve rumbled across it for 78 years. It should stand as an observation platform, a stubby Eiffel Tower (which it resembles) of the other boroughs. A High Line for schlubs. A High Line for everyone.” (See also my interview with Sean Wilsey on the Los Angeles Review of Books podcast.)

Philip Roth’s Newark (Steven Malanga, City Journal) “Roth’s stories reject the easy, conspiratorial view that Newark and other cities started to die because of a plot against them by government planners in favor of growing suburbs, exacerbated by white racism. In Roth’s novels, Newark’s Jews are on the move long before government-financed highways stretch into the suburbs or civil unrest wracks their city. And Roth makes clear that they’re following the grown children of German and Irish immigrants, who’ve already decamped in search of sprawling homes, big backyards, and other outward signs of the American dream.”

This week’s city reading: coffee shop as gentrification battlefield, knocked-down Seoul neighborhoods, and Los Angeles’ newest skyscraper

Now I Am Become Mall, Destroyer of Cities (Silvia Killingsworth, The Awl) “The mall of the future is an amusement park of a food hall, where we can easily and deliciously follow the quickest path to setting our money on fire—converting money into immediate kilocalories consumed on the spot. It’s no accident we call it “consumerism.” Food is fuel, yes—it always has been. But where is it taking us?”

Gentrification Conflict Brews Over New Boyle Heights Coffee Shop (Jason McGahan, Los Angeles Weekly) “Standing in the cool of the shade a few steps away, Boyle Heights native José Martinez shook his head. ‘I just don’t get why you protest a small business,’ Martinez said.”

How England’s Brutalist Buildings Are Getting Second Lives (Tim Bowder-Ridger, Metropolis) “One of the most satisfying aspects of working on a fifty-year-old Brutalist building is to see how brightly the concrete sparkles once it has been cleaned, providing a clear demonstration that Brutalism is more about a bright, optimistic future than a bleak, dystopian one.”

Destruction of a “Moon Village” (Jon Dunbar, Korea Times) “Artists visited Bamgol, covering many of its bare walls with murals and paintings depicting happy villagers, pop culture characters, animals and more. Mural villages like this have popped up across the country and city, as initiatives to beautify poor areas, inject cultural value and justify their continued existence. Meanwhile, the aging residents of Bamgol Village were happy to move out without putting up a fight.” (See also my visit to Bamgol with Jon Dunbar on’s Koreascape Seoul urbanism corner.)

Corporate Gardens of the Anthropocene (Geoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOG) “This vision of botanists traipsing through rain forests on the other side of the world to find plants that might thrive in Manhattan’s rarefied indoor air is incredible, an absurdist set-up worthy of Don Delillo.”

Confirmed: Starbucks knows the next hot neighborhood before everybody else does (Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries, Vox) “Whatever the reasons—because they genuinely like drinking coffee, or because they see Starbucks as a proxy for gentrification—it seems pretty clear that people are paying a premium for homes near Starbucks. And furthermore, it looks like Starbucks itself is driving the increase in home values.”

Wilshire Grand Center, the new tallest building in L.A. and a schmoozer in the skyline (Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times) “We have been wary in Los Angeles of the tall building and everything it represents: a creeping Manhattanization, to borrow an evergreen term in Southern California development fights, a fear that we’ll be sealed inside glass towers, cut off from the benign climate so many of us moved here to take advantage of. L.A. first put a measure on the ballot to limit building heights more than a century ago. It has spent the intervening decades feeling ambivalent about whether skyscrapers really belong here. Though it’s happening slowly, that ambivalence is fading.”

The future of transportation is in Seoul, South Korea. Americans should pay attention (Kelly Kasulis, Mic) “In Seoul, public transit is a way of life. Everything seems to be engineered meticulously: Public bathrooms sell tampons, pads and baby wipes. Fare machines coach tourists through reloading their transportation cards in multiple languages. The same map is often visualized in different ways, so that even the most hopeless navigator can find their path. And once on the train, passengers are still able to get cell service and Wi-Fi, in addition to enjoying an air-conditioned climate in the summer, heated seats in the winter and a lively jingle that comes on to announce transfer stations.”

Guardian Cities: The Branding of Seoul

In November 2015, a much-publicised process of crowdsourcing ideas and putting them to a vote culminated in the city of Seoul unveiling its current English-language slogan: “I.Seoul.U.” It met with more ridicule from the local English-speaking community than most of the South Korean capital’s international PR moves (including, but hardly limited to, photoshopped versions for the long-suffering village of Fucking, Austria).

“The arrogance, the vitriol and the self-appointed expertise evident in this explosion of online bile is extraordinary,” wrote Korea Times columnist Andrew Salmon as he surveyed the announcement’s aftermath. He argued that “the obvious, natural focus for Seoul tourism promotion is China and Japan”, and thatthe stark simplicity of I.Seoul.U may well speak to tourists hailing from these high-potential target markets [who have], on the whole, a poor command of English”.

Furthermore, the unconventional, offbeat, and quirky strapline, as he described it, puts it alongside the Nike “swoosh” and legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser’s “I ❤ NY” – both “classic exercises in branding” exerting abstract emotional appeal.

Indeed, I.Seoul.U was seen as a step forward in Seoul’s branding. Whatever its innate strengths or weaknesses, the slogan has brought more attention to a city that has long suffered image problems. For most of the 65 years since its emergence from the destruction of the Korean War, both Seoul and South Korea in general have struggled to define themselves on the cultural world stage, despite going on to become one of the most impressive economic success stories in human history.

Read the whole thing at The Guardian.

Korea Blog: How Netflix’s Groundbreaking “Okja” Shows What Translates and What Doesn’t

On the day we caught Okja, the latest, Netflix-produced film by superstar Korean director Bong Joon-ho, my girlfriend and I went to a tonkatsu place we’d been meaning to return to — deliberately eating before the screening, not after. Everything we knew about the movie, posters for which went up in our neighborhood in Seoul months before it opened, suggested that we’d leave the theater after this tale of a girl and her giant, genetically enhanced pig with our desire for pork greatly diminished. Still, anyone familiar with Korea has to suspect that no movie, no matter how heartwarming, could take much of a bite out of this heartily carnivorous country’s formidable meat consumption.

Reports have it, though, that both Bong and Okja‘s young star Ahn Seo-hyun went vegetarian during production. At least they did during the shooting of the film’s final scenes set in a vast slaughterhouse for giant pigs, or rather Superpigs, that being the trade name under which the film’s evil corporation plans to market the titular Okja and her cheap, delicious brethren. The story opens in 2007, with that evil corporation — Mirando, certainly not to be confused with any other three-syllable multinational agricultural-product concern beginning with M — announcing a contest: having fortuitously discovered the Superpig, they’ve sent trial Superpiglets to every corner of the Earth, and in 10 years’ time will check back to see which country has managed to raise the biggest and most robust specimen, the key to solving humanity’s looming food crisis.

Korea-studies academics have already begun their field day over the culturally telling aspects of the film, beginning with how it treats almost as a foregone conclusion that the most impressive of the Superpigs would come from the Korean countryside. There, up on a mountain, lives 14-year-old Mija, her farmer grandfather, and Okja, who weighs seven tons and whose porcine features look hybridized with those of a dog and a hippopotamus. But their rural idyll shatters on the day, a decade after the first scene, when the Americans from Mirando huff, puff, and sweat their way up the steep trail to the family home (clearly no such challenge to the hardy septuagenarian in residence and his young charge).

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

콜린의 한국 팟캐스트: 교육과 사업 사이에 계시는 스티븐 리비어

한국어 교육학 석사학위를 받은 최초의 외국인인 스티븐 리비어 씨는 1995년에 한국에 오신 이후 재미있는 여러 가지 일을 해오셨다. 2000년대에 아리랑 텔레비전의 Let’s Speak Korean이라는 한국어 가르치는 방성을 진행하셨고 2008년에 10이라는 영어 잡지를 창간하셨다. 한국어 신문 칼럼을 쓰신 적도 있고 최근에는 새로운 SNS 컨설팅 회사도 설립하셨다. 여기나 아이튠즈를 통해 다운받을 수 있다.

Seoul Urbanism on TBS eFM’s Koreascape: Yongma Land, the Amusement Park Time Forgot

Each month I join Kurt Achin, host of Koreascape on Seoul’s English-language radio station TBS eFM, for an exploration of one of Seoul’s urban spaces. This time, along with producer Jamie Lee and a few Koreascape interns, we make the journey to Yongma Land, a long-abandoned neighborhood amusement park in eastern Seoul that has recently drawn such crowds as couples on dates, engagement photographers, Instagrammers, and no small number of music videos and television drama shoots.

But though it has become beloved again, the question remains: who abandoned Yongma Land, letting all its attractions — its rideable space ships and squids, its Madonna and Bruce Springsteen portrait-adorned disco ppang ppang, its much-photographed merry-go-round — all go to seed? We dig into the park’s conflicting but always fascinating histories, even sitting down with the facility’s current owner to get his idea of how long Yongma Land has lasted this way, and can last this way, in a development-obsessed city like Seoul.

Stay tuned for further explorations of Seoul’s architecture, infrastructure, and other parts of the built environment. You can hear our previous segments here.