Adventures in Korean urban design

Paju Bookcity

In Places, Shannon Mattern writes about Paju’s Bookcity, the architecturally spectacular publishing city you pass along the way to Heyri Art Village.

I love the place, and when the weather turns, I hope to do a photo essay up there. Still, from what I’ve heard, publishing folk haven’t been especially keen to commute to a wetland in the middle of nowhere. I’d like it, frankly, but I feel I’m in something of a minority on this.

CNN Go ran an article listing five reasons why you’d want to visit Paju Bookcity, including the wonderful Jijihyang Guesthouse.

Sejong City

The natives—or as close to what one would call “natives” in an artificial city—are getting restless in Sejong City:

Government employees are venting their frustration over the physical toll and inefficiency of working in Sejong City, a month after six government branches moved to the new administrative city some 136 kilometers (84 miles) south of Seoul that was created in an attempt to rebalance regional development.

About 4,000 government employees commute two hours each way to Sejong Government Complex because they have been unable to find adequate housing in the new city, which is still being built.

“My neck and waist are aching because of the four-hour commute, although it’s been only a month since I began commuting to Sejong by bus,” said a 48-year-old employee of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance on his way to the city yesterday.

Like President Lee Myung-bak—or private investors, for that matter—I thought Sejong City was a terrible idea, a Roh-era boondoggle. Unlike President Lee, I recognized it was a terrible idea passed with bipartisan support, and we’re living with the consequences. Now I feel about Sejong City the way I feel about the war in Afghanistan—we’ve sunk so much money into it, I can only hope it works out in the end.

What I’d never gotten was why anybody would want to build an administrative capital just outside of Daejeon when you have, well, Daejeon, a reasonably pleasant city of a million people with schools, roads, KTX connections, a subway and even its own Central Government Complex already in place. Doubly so after everyone saw the difficulties Songdo IBD was experiencing.

Speaking of Songdo IBD…

Wapo’s Travel section ran a piece on Songdo and its role as an aerotropolis.

The first photo of that piece, BTW, was taken by Kim Sungjin—if you don’t visit his photoblog, you’re missing out on some great stuff.

I recently took some photos in Songdo, too—see here, here and here.

  • will.i.aint

    My neck and waist are aching because of the four-hour commute

    You get two 2-hour naps each work day and you’re bitching about the commute?  STFU already!

  • Bob Bobbs

    Well, I hope Sejong University is charging the government a hefty royalty for using their name for their ‘capital.’

  • Madar

    Even if the Government employees could make the new city work, they will continue to whine and make sure everything is as inefficent as possiable until the offices are moved back to Seoul. 

  • PortaJohn

    The Songdo piece was short on numbers.. how is the project coming along, is it well-occupied or not?

  • Brier

    Has anybody tried to put a value on the votes gathered from the central regions, due to this huge pork barrel city?

  • Hardy and Tiny

    I’m surprised you like Paju’s Bookcity, the overall design is clearly based on the automobile. There are no pedestrian promenades, plazas or village streets, there’s no market or shopping street or any sense that there will ever be a lively “main street” where people walk, gather, eat, etc. It’s a long line of empty boxes leading up to a shopping mall.

  • ZenKimchi

    I stayed in the hotel there since MasterChef Korea was happening there. Had to resort to eating dinner at the GS-25. There were NO restaurants open–or any restaurants at all. Pretty space but hell to actually do things in.


    Sorry, maybe it’s just me, but I fail to see anything impressive about this place. 

    A good concept building looks good when situated with other, less-unique or older styles of building, but a collection of them just looks like an architects play park, each cancelling the other out. I think this will look very dated in a couple of years. 

  • Brendon Carr

    Hee hee hee. That’s terrific! You go for some food-presentation porno show and end up eating day-old triangle kimbap.

  • monk_hughes

    The Daejeon 정부청사 already houses plenty of government offices, and there’s very limited room for growth IN the city.  The Sejong designers envisioned a wholly new, thriving city as opposed to cramming more people into 20+ year old office buildings.  No factories, clean air, totally modern is a tag I often hear.  Also in some opinions it will take around twenty years for it to be a successful place people actually WANT to live… can’t build Rome in a day it’s a little premature to expect it to be all peaches ‘n cream already.  Delusions of grandeur?  Perhaps.  Shouldn’t be surprising.  An article in the paper this week had a neat little figure showing the Sejong Effect, where places like 광명 are experiencing a boom with spiking housing costs.  See, people are making their way down there, slowly but surely!

  • Cm

    If you can open up a restaurant right now at Sejong City, you can make a fortune in short time.  Lack of restaurants in the city means the office workers have to line up, just to get in and get some lunch.   The lunch lineups look horrible, in addition to the long commutes. It must be very mentally and physically stressful to be a Sejong City worker.

  • Keith

    I think when government does ‘big planning’ in regards to building new cities it is almost always a disaster at the start. Cities take a long time to develop. It’s not just about putting up buildings. Cities need to grow organically. My wife teaches out near Songdo a few times a week and the price of property is ridiculously cheap because nobody want to live there. You can get a brand new 32 pyeong apartment for as little as 40 million chonsei deposit! Apparently there are no markets, few shops, few decent schools, no restaurants, no cultural activities of any kind, it’s impossible to get around without using a car. It sounds like a pretty shit place to live.

    Comparing these ‘new towns’ to more established towns is interesting. In the UK you could compare two cities of about the same population such as Milton Keynes and Oxford (Oxford is a bit smaller). MK is soulless, impossible to get around on foot, very boring, no decent restaurants, music venues, pubs or nightclubs, hideous architecture, in short it’s a horrendous place. Oxford is a wonderful city, great bars, great restaurants, great libraries, a throbbing cultural scene, fascinating history, truly international and multicultural outlook, wonderful architecture, a thriving business sector involved in lots of very important R&D projects, awesome museums and some of the best book stores on the planet. Oxford is truly a world class city- which is incredible considering its very modest size. MK is a hideous dump which only one redeeming feature is that they manufacture Marshal amplifiers there in their factory in Bletchley. 

    I’d really like to buy a house or houseboat in Oxford one day, but it is very, very expensive. I’d probably rather live in Mogadishu than Milton Keynes.

  • flyingsword

    When I think of Korea I don’t think of Urban Design.  I think of miles and miles of apartments which are only slightly more artistically interesting than soviet block apartments.  Really my only two complaints about Korea, driving; and miles and miles of apartments.