[VIEWPOINT]New vision for urban growth

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[VIEWPOINT]New vision for urban growth

After the government announced measures to stabilize housing prices in the capital region on Feb. 17, plans to rebuild high-rise apartments in Seoul’s Apgujeong area sustained a great damage. But the issue has only become quiet temporarily. Plans to build high-rise apartment buildings to replace the existing housing units are not only the matter of Apgujeong area. It is an issue that will quickly spread in the entire Gangnam region of Seoul.
Technological developments from automobiles to mobile phones have changed our lifestyle, and skyscrapers have become a natural constituent of an urban setting following the developments of architectural technologies. As a building’s height grows, construction cost goes up, but a human desire for a better view always urges higher payments. Preference of a skyscraper apartment building is an individual taste, but the demands of such buildings continue rising because it allows wider choices for housing. When apartment buildings first appeared in the 1960s and 70s, they were severely criticized and compared to a chicken cage. Today, an apartment building has become a standard format of our housing culture.
Apart from individual preferences, if skyscraper apartment buildings will eventually become a widely accepted norm of housing in our cities, we can no longer ignore or postpone dealing with the issue of building such high-rise apartment buildings in Gangnam. If we approach this issue, which is like a time bomb, on a case-by-case basis coping with stopgap measures, it will later bring about an undesirable outcome of increasing the stakes of the housing market. That has already been demonstrated in the government’s policy in Pangyo, originally intended to stabilize housing prices in Gangnam. Therefore, it is better to come up with long-term, comprehensive urban and housing policies to resolve the situation all together.
In terms of the government housing policy, the direct and ultimate resolution to stabilize housing prices in Gangnam will be largely increasing supply in the area by allowing plans to rebuild apartments in the existing locations. That plan, however, is not implemented at this point due to the concerns over short-term real estate speculation. If fears of speculation are the main concern, the government, then, should focus its policy on returning the surplus profits from the apartment rebuilding plans to our society, rather than simply banning the construction itself.
It is more effective and environmentally friendly to build skyscraper apartment buildings in Gangnam, an already densely developed area, than building them in the suburban areas or environmentally protected Green Belt areas.
Today, skyscraper apartment buildings are scattered around the city as if they were isolated islands. Such urban development is harmful to the aesthetics of a city and does damage to neighborhood areas. It is, therefore, desirable to build such buildings collectively in an area that is already densely developed. In suburban areas, it is more appropriate to build low-rise, less-dense housing.
Despite such idealistic concepts, the government plans to build low-income rental housing in greenbelt areas where environmental protections will soon be lifted.
That is never desirable in terms of not only urban policy but also housing welfare. Such greenbelt areas on the outskirts of Seoul lack infrastructure such as public transportation, and it is extremely difficult for the low-income families to reside there. Rental housing for the low-income bracket should rather be planned in areas set aside for redevelopment near the stations of existing cities.
By developing the neighborhoods around train stations, profits will be generated and a large supply of rental housing will be possible by building decks over railroad sites. Utilizing such spaces will not only reduce the cost for purchasing land, but also help low-income residents to have easy access to public transportation such as subways.
It is time to use architectural imagination, by envisioning a three-dimensional outlook for our future city, to seek solutions for today’s dilemmas in various urban and housing problems.

* The writer is a professor of urban planning at Seoul National University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Mack-joong
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