Sunrise over Yeouido
Sunset over a “heartless, spiritless” city

OK, so the Lonely Planet website releases a list of its readers’ — or at least its blog’s readers’ — least favorite cities.

And yes, Seoul got third place.

Detroit — all the scenic charm, security and good governance of Grozny, without the dramatic background story! — got first place, further reinforcing my suspicion that the NYT’s inclusion of the city in its list of places to visit in 2008 was a clever ploy to boost the average IQ of its readership through attrition. Most of the other cities on the list are Third World shitholes like Accra, San Salvador and Los Angeles.

Not sure how Arusha got on there, though. It’s a really pleasant town, and a lot nicer than the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma. I’ve also heard Accra ain’t so bad, either.

Back to Seoul. The poster quotes this commenter on a previous list of least favorite cities, who writes:

It’s an appallingly repetitive sprawl of freeways and Soviet-style concrete apartment buildings, horribly polluted, with no heart or spirit to it. So oppressively bland that the populace is driven to alcoholism.

No heart or spirit to it, eh? Clearly, the commenter in question has never been to Washington, DC.

I’m not sure how the list in question was composed, or how its order was determined. I’d like to thing it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, although I’m afraid Seoul’s tourism authorities might not see it that way.

Seoul has plenty of heart and spirit to it — granted, some of the more chronically bitter species of expatriate might not notice — and while nobody will deny the city has an over-concentration of concrete apartment buildings, there’s a lot of charm and beauty hiding beneath it all. You’ve just got to put down the beer bottle, get out of Itaewon and look around a bit. Maybe buy my book.

Clearly, though, Seoul could be doing a better job promoting what it has to offer, and more importantly, the city needs to realize it can’t keep flattening neighborhoods B-52-style without destroying the local culture, heritage and identity, too. Like I said, there’s still a ton of history and charm lurking beneath the concrete, but the sad fact remains that there’d be a lot more of it if city planners had made even a modest attempt to incorporate neighborhood heritage into redevelopment plans. See, for instance, Pitmatgol. Now, to be fair, there’s more awareness of the importance of preservation now than there has ever been. In my neighborhood, for example, there’s controversy over the possible destruction by KORAIL of the old Yongsan Railway Hospital (the old brick building in front of Yongsan Station, photographed and discussed here). That there’s a controversy at all is a positive development. Still, read stories like this and you realize the cause of historical preservation has a long, long way to go.

(HT to Adams-awry)