[VIEWPOINT]Making a dream city a reality

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[VIEWPOINT]Making a dream city a reality

I heard a sociologist claim in a seminar on the subject of "community" that communities in the future will not be based on space. The cyber community formed through the Internet was the example he gave.

Perhaps it can be seen that way. In this high-speed information society we live in, numerous contacts are being made each minute and numerous groups and organization are being formed in cyberspace. The number of Internet users is increasing at an explosive rate. This phenomenon is the realization of a new form of community in virtual reality. But it is merely an illusion. Virtual reality is, after all, virtual and not real.

I read an article in a foreign newspaper a few years ago that said the inhabitants of a neighborhood where the Universal Studio sets once were located believed they themselves were movie characters. They talked like people in the movies, dressed like them and acted as though they were living someone else's life. These people were living fake lives, their own identities lost in virtual worlds.

It does not matter whether the set for the shooting of "Wang Gun," a TV drama, takes place in Gaeseong, the actual historical site of the depicted events, or somewhere in Chungcheong province, where the TV set is being constructed. The set was built to be taken down at some future date. The virtual reality created on the Internet is identical to a movie set.

We feel as if we were expanding into boundless territory through the images and words on computer screens, but when we log off the computer, we once again find ourselves within the limited boundaries of our real world. This is because the world that had just disappeared with the blink of an eye was not founded on land and space.

Is the real city we live in founded on land? I sometimes wonder. Whether I go to Ilsan, Bundang or any other new city, the cityscape is the same. Even the old cities are becoming so similar that you cannot tell Seoul, Busan or Gwangju apart. That's not all. Daehangno, where my office is, looks like an exhibition of architectural sets. The faces of buildings and the scenery of the streets are changing by the hour. This could only be a virtual city created as a set. In other words, this is a society that does not last. Community does not last in a cityscape that does not last, and we even start to doubt our memories in this floating city.

A city that was planned a long time ago by a group of publishers has been taking shape on 924,000 square meters of land near Paju, roughly 30 kilometers north of Seoul. It is different from the cities that were built before it in many ways. First of all, it is a city that appreciates the value of land. That is why the city planners are trying to preserve the existing scenery, and even while building new houses, they are trying to make Paju look like a city that has always existed.

An important factor is that the planners do not build houses without thought, but decide first which areas should not be disturbed, then houses are built around these areas. Thus, it is a city full of spaces. Houses are not built to look grander than neighboring houses and all are similarly unpretentious in form. There are no fences in this place where everyone is free to come and go through others' fields, and everyone shares their space, accepting other people's existence. There are no conventional tree-lined streets, but wild grass and flowers flourish everywhere.

A small river shining with silver reeds weaves through the community. The ever-present sight and the slow rhythm of this stream, the lower Han River, and the dazzling glow of the sunset are all part of this city's beautiful ubiquitous charm. This city is not like the conventional "new cities" of the past. It is being built in a special place and is meant to be Korea's new era, our new culture, and a new paradigm for how we should construct our lives.

Some 30 architects and 100 publishers are struggling in these difficult times to make this city reality. The construction plans for the city are to be exhibited Saturday in the empty fields of Paju under the banner "the value of communalism."

This is a noteworthy thing in a floating era filled with false communities.


The writer is an architect.

by Seung Hchioh-sang

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