Inventing a Jangchungdan Complex

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Inventing a Jangchungdan Complex

The Jangchungdan area in Seoul is a glaring example of an urban district functioning lethargically even though it boasts ample conditions to emerge as a quintessential cultural space.

The neighborhood still retains the vestiges of the ancient castle capital of the Yi Dynasty, and nature is preserved in one of its most beautiful states in Seoul, a 600-year-old historic city.

Jangchungdan Park was the earliest urban park in Seoul and the Jangchung Gymnasium nearby used to be the city''s finest cultural and sports facility in its heyday.

Above the park is the National Theater of Korea, the mecca of the country''s performing arts.

Next to it is the Korea Freedom League building, commonly known as the Freedom Center, which hosted a number of landmark conferences and events during the Cold War.

The Shilla Hotel, originally built as Korea''s state guest house right by the fortress walls of the ancient capital, and the Tower Hotel also loom nearby. The sites of these two five-star hotels were selected because of their advantages in introducing the history and geography of Seoul to visitors from all over the world. Also in the neighborhood is Dongguk University, established as a global Buddhist university.

Yet each of these superior facilities with historic significance functions apart from the others today. The district''s outstanding geographical location and large area are more than sufficient for it to become a world-class cultural complex, but the city of Seoul continues to neglect the task of merging the facilities into a whole.

The area is right next to a subway station, from which Seoul''s main streets extend in every direction. Three access roads to the Riverside Highway, linking the southern and northern districts of the city, pass through the neighborhood. It is also only a stone''s throw away from the Dongdaemun district, the intersection of four key streets within the four gates of Seoul and the venue of both modern shopping malls and traditional markets attracting many foreign tourists.

If we overhaul Jangchung Gymnasium into a multi-functional cultural hall and relocate the National Museum of Contemporary Art to the Freedom Center, they could function as a center of arts and culture in northern Seoul, together with the National Theater of Korea.

If we expand Jangchungdan Park to provide a cultural space for citizens and to serve as the centerpiece of the complex, the vicinity of Jangchungdan encompassing Dongguk University could come together as a single cultural zone. An urban district that had remained dysfunctional could be reborn as a topnotch cultural complex.

Times Square, once an abandoned slum neighborhood in the heart of New York, has become the symbol of the city now, attracting more than 10 million tourists a year, after the government of New York City decided to take wise measures to optimize the possibilities inherent in the district.

The South Bank district in London was comparable to today''s Jangchungdan in the past. It was the site of the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal National Theater and a number of other attractions, but failed to perform as a genuine cultural district. It was transfigured into the city''s premium cultural hub at around the time of the opening of the Tate Gallery, after the city authorities organically linked existing cultural facilities.

New York and London provide excellent examples that a small government can be sometimes more powerful than a large one. A government has to recognize and empower the promise of a possibility and turn it into a full-fledged reality. Harmonizing market principles with government intervention should begin by systemizing existing market functions.

The cultural facilities in Jangchungdan can blend together to become a highly competitive cultural space, based on a minimal level of government intervention.

Once the government rezones the street system in the neighborhood, links it with public transportation systems and reorganizes the public traffic network connecting the south-north Riverside Highway with the center of Seoul, Jangchungdan can become a first-rate cultural attraction that also merges with the nearby Dongdaemun Market and Dongdaemun Stadium.

Government intervention is necessary to integrate existing clusters of cultural facilities into an urban infrastructure and to ultimately develop it as an urban cultural infrastructure.

Starting new development projects is all well and good, but just as much care should be given to reorganizing existing systems so that they can serve a greater function.

If the Jangchungdan cultural complex were made over as a cultural infrastructure linked with the Namsan National Park and Dongdaemun Market, it would surely become one of the most noteworthy sites in Seoul.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government and Jung-gu office will have done a great service to the public if they succeed in turning the Jangchungdan district into an urban cultural center that enriches the values of urban life between Dongdaemun Gate and the ancient fortress walls preserving memories of the 600-year history of Seoul.

Isn''t this the kind of projects that politicians are supposed to pursue?

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