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Balancing the Paradox of Modern Cities in Traditional Asia: A Case Study of Seoul, South KoreaMaintaining Harmony Traditional and Modern

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___________________________________________________________________________1.0 INTRODUCTION Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings. - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities Maintaining a balance of constant change and continuity in the urban fabric is a particular challenge in the ever-changing landscapes of Asian cities. The degradation of place through uncontrolled development undermines cultural heritage where, heritage is an essential vehicle that conveys the message from the past in both its positive and negative aspects, both of which should be enlightened as a lesson for future development [Akagawa and Sirisrisak 2008: 188]. The conservation of cultural heritage through the built environment is especially important in Asia, where many cities are the remnants of ancient civilizations dating from thousands of years in the past. Not only is the built environment important in shaping civic identity and collective memory, Richard Floridas wellknown theory on economic development in a globalized, knowledge-based economy concludes that a citys sense of place is vital to attract and retain the highly mobile and productive creative class and ultimately, generate economic growth. The emerging focus of city builders in soft infrastructure, promoting economic growth through culture and creativity, is illustrated by Floridas Creative Index for competitive cities [2005: 21]. Nevertheless, historic landscapes are commonly exploited in Asia by a rapid process of modernization on the one hand that results in the destruction of traditional urban fabric or, the commodification of heritage through international tourism and commercial interests on the other. The evolution of cultural conservation approaches has shifted towards a market orientation that focuses upon the relics of history as a product for consumption in the global tourism industry. The concept of heritage, the most modern phase of conservation approaches, recognizes the link between the preservation for its intrinsic value, and as a resource for the modern community as a commercial activity [quoted in Nasser, 2008: 471]. As culture becomes a key instrument in promoting economic development, with it emerges the tension between heritage for its intrinsic value and commodified version of it. In order to achieve and maintain a sense of place, planners in Asia need to find the balance between modernization and tradition, and global consumption versus local cultural value. The challenge of the urban planner in Asia is to foster a sense of place and continuity in the context of rapid change and economic development. How can planners conserve the cultural landscapes of Asian cities in the midst of rapid urbanization and the globalization of national economies? Jane Jacobs maxim, Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings, conveys that continuity is achieved through the built environment. However, in the midst of rapid urbanization in Asia, urban landscapes are rapidly changing to the point of non-recognition. As Asian cities embrace the future, the drive towards development is often at the expense of the rich history built into the urban fabric. For example, rapid urbanization in Seoul, South Korea in the 20th century nearly destroyed all of its 600 years of history. Nevertheless, in Seoul, the resilience of traditional urban form is demonstrated in10th International Congress of Asian Planning Schools Association FUTURE OF ASIAN CITIES 24 -26 November, 2009, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India


Maintaining Harmony Traditional and Modern

spite of a tragic history of colonialism, civil war and aggressive industrialization. The experience of Seoul reveals that through the process of modernization of traditional society, culture is not lost, although it can be overlooked. At the same time culture cannot be fixed, it must evolve. Like a handful of sand that slips between the fingers, the inherent value of culture is lost when grasped too firmly. The following is a case study of Seoul, to claim an Asian model of an urban landscape harmoniously integrating modernity and tradition. The first part of the essay outlines the history of the relationship between culture and the built form in Seoul revealing that modernization of the city has been influenced and modified by colonial and Western forces, but nevertheless remains rooted in distinctly East Asian urban practices as exemplified by the naturalization of the modern apartment and the re-investment in old inner-city neighbourhoods that harmonize traditional with contemporary architecture. The second part of the paper analyzes the current direction of the Seoul Metropolitan Governments (SMG) urban regeneration initiatives. The current direction of the SMG is shown to encourage development that privileges cultural memory, public realm enhancement and ecological benefits, although competing ideologies of neoliberalism and commercialization are still obstacles to overcome. 2.0 2.1 PARADOXAL SEOUL Traditional Urbanism

Seoul is an historical city over 600 years old. Its urban framework remained virtually untouched in the first 500 years of its existence as the capital of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). Now, Seoul has developed from the rubble of the Korean War to an ultra modern city in less than half a century. Tourist guides, like the Lonely Planet, advertise the city as Paradoxal Seoul where, beneath the manic modernity, Korea remains arguably the most Confucian nation in Asia. Like nowhere else in Asia, younger generations of Koreans, particularly in Seoul, still feel (and do consider themselves devoted to) the firm pull of culture and tradition [Robinson 2006: 10]. Despite the drastic changes of the 20th century, the modern city of Seoul maintains a distinguishable traditionalism. Although Seouls experience of modernization in the 20th century is weaved with a tragic history of Japanese colonization, the Cold War and military dictatorship, in the 21st century, Seoul serves as a model for the harmonization of modernity and tradition in the midst of rapid change. The modern city of Seoul was founded on the tradition of pungsu, or fengshui in Chinese, adapted by King Taejo, first king of the Choson dynasty [Ryu 2004: 9]. According to fengshui principles, the layout of the city was guided by the waterways and the geographical configuration of the surrounding mountains. Of two major types of fengshui-based landscape designs for mountainous regions, Seoul was formed according to the convoluted patterning (Jangpung-Deuksu in Korean), which is often related to promoting military security and rice production [Hong et al. 2007: 227]. The traditional practice of fengshui is a fusion of natural and cultural considerations in the process of land evaluation and development. Forestry professor at Kookmin University, Sun Kee Hong, explains that, fengshui theory views biophysical entities through the lens of empirical cultural knowledge, so that holistically-meaningful sustainability is melded with cultural historical aspects of the human environment [222]. That is, fengshui provides the theoretical foundation for the modern practice of holistic landscape ecology in Korea [236]. Fengshui remains one of the most significant legacies of the Choson dynasty on the urban form of Seoul. However, a period of exponential growth and disregard for natural and cultural heritage replaced fengshui with the development-first principle of the development-state era.

10th International Congress of Asian Planning Schools Association FUTURE OF ASIAN CITIES 24 -26 November, 2009, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India


Maintaining Harmony Traditional and Modern

Figure 1. An 18th century painting of the urban landscape pattern in Seoul depicts connectivity through a river-stream-road network andsmall remnant forest patches dissected by residential and agricultural areas and largely surrounded by mountains, adhering to Fengshui land evaluation principles [Hong et al., 228].


Colonial and Reactionary Urbanism

The year of Japans colonization of Korea in 1910 marks the beginning of a drastic departure from Seouls traditional urbanism and the beginning of the modernization of the city. In his study on modernism and development in Seoul, Hyungmin Pai explains how colonization replaced traditional practices like fengshui with the introduction of rational techniques from the West to redevelop and expand urban areas; For the Japanese to exploit fully the land resources of Korea it had to be recognized in a rational and systematic manner [110]. For example, the German practice of Umlegung, adapted by the Japanese, introduced the repartitioning of lots in the city for expansion and building [110]. Rather than adding to the existing fabric, Japanese colonization brought in a new morphological order centred on large boulevards and European style buildings. The massive colonial government building erected in the place of Gwanghwamoon (Seouls most prominent gate of the wall encircling the old city) overwhelmed Gyeongbok palace, political and cultural centre of the Choson dynasty [111]. This period of colonial urbanism was the opposite of harmonious integration with the traditional urban structure of Seoul and introduced a new scale controlled by monumental artefacts. During this colonial period, it seemed to many that colonialism, urbanization, capitalism, and modernization were in fact one and the same thingTo be on the side of modernization was to be a Japanese sympathizer and a traitor [114]. Modernization was seen as a foreign invader, not of the Korean people. The legacy of colon