Streets and open Spaces in Seoul (1995-2010). A Cultural and Geographical View of Local Neighborhood
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The transformation of Seoul’s cityscape and urban morphology since the 1970s has been the topic of a tremendous body of research in various fields of the social sciences interested in the construction of landscape. Based upon the perspective of cultural geography, this chapter proposes here a particular focus on what is generally considered as “open space”, grounded on a two-fold entry: first, the analysis is centered on a particular urban object, the street, one of the matrix of urban tissue; second, the analysis is oriented more specifically on the local scale of the urban fabric that is the scale of neighborhood communities in residential areas.
The first part of this chapter is an article that was originally published in the Korea Journal in 1997, under the title “The Street in Seoul. In Search of the Soul of Seoul”. The expanded version adds recent research in social and cultural geography about streets (Coblence et Couderc 1998, Fleury 2004, Goudon 2002, Paquot 2009) and, more generally, the public space about which a wide array of geographical literature is available, in English, French, and Korean. The major work on civic space by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has indeed deeply influenced research about public space in many disciplines of the social sciences and particularly those that make space as one of their primary objects of analysis (geography, architecture, urbanism). Works by D. Mitchell (2003) in English, by C. Ghorra-Gobin (2001a, 2001b), F. Tomas (2001), J.-Y. Toussaint & M. Zimmerman (2001) in French, by Cho Myungrae (2002, 2008a, 2008b, 2013) in Korean are representative to that development.
In addition, several factual things have changed in Seoul since 1997. The traffic condition, for example, has actually improved compared to what in was in the 1990s, due to sustained policy to develop both the major road networks, and public transportation – subway, bus lines, and taxis. Indeed, since the early 2000s, the average intra-city speed kept increasing: about 20km per hour on average, that is more than… in Paris, where cars drive at an average speed of 16 km/h (Gelézeau 2011). Also, since 2007, the Seoul City has gradually introduced street names and numbers, changing the traditional address system that is described in the 1997 article.
Finally, at the city level, there has been a tremendous transformation in the shape of public spaces in Seoul since the early 2010s, with the creation of new public spaces and/or the (re-)opening of previously existing structures. The major projects undertook in the historical center of Seoul under the Urban Renaissance Master Plan (SDI 2000) that allowed the construction of the Cheonggyecheon Promenade and the reshaping of great squares (City Hall, Gwanghwamun Plaza) are emblematic of a movement that is not restricted to Seoul and characterizes many great metropolis of the contemporary world, especially in so-called emerging or intermediate countries (Houssay-Holzschuch (dir.) et al. 2007).
Along with the creation and transformation of greater public spaces, the open space and public spaces were also deeply transformed at the local scale: this transformation linked to the construction of the “Apartment Republic” (Ap’at’ŭ konghwaguk, Gelézeau 2007) is what the second part of this chapter tries to capture based on a collection of photographs taken by the author between the mid-1990s and 2010.
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