[VIEWPOINT]New century requires new planningExpectations for the development of Seoul’s Gangbuk area are mounting. It is because, with the July 1 enactment of a special law for the redevelopment of urban areas, it became easier to promote redevelopment and reconstruction projects in the Gangbuk area, north of the Han River.
If a place is designated as a redevelopment area, the floor space index, which is the allowed ratio of floor space to the size of a designated land surface, will increase greatly and it will become easier to change the use of the land and will change the limit on the number of floors in a building.
However, will it make Gangbuk a better place to live? More buildings will be built by abolishing the restriction on the number of stories that there can be in a building and the distance between buildings will be narrower by increasing the floor space index.
In Gangnam, south of the Han River, the high floor-space indexes and the large number of high-rise apartment buildings there are not the reasons why the homes are so expensive. There are other reasons, like a twisted school group system ― many top-class high schools are there ― but it is mainly because of a convenient urban infrastructure: Broad streets crisscross the area and neighborhood parks, cultural and other public facilities abound.
This was made possible because a brand-new city was created in an area that was just rice paddies and agricultural fields only 40 years ago.
However, the Gangbuk area is an old city that spread out naturally, starting from the center of the city, the area within the four gates that boasts 600 years of history.
Therefore, the streets in Gangbuk are inconvenient for traffic and it is not easy to broaden streets lined up with buildings. It is even more difficult to create parks or build cultural facilities there.
In order to improve the environment of the Gangbuk area to the level of Gangnam, the expansion of metropolitan infrastructure is urgently needed.
Of course, it is not easy to build new roads, create parks and construct cultural facilities in Gangbuk, which is packed with buildings. But the central and local governments should concentrate on expanding new forms of infrastructure.
The special law does not have a clear plan to do that. It is difficult to do much more than create small neighborhood parks when an urban area’s infrastructure is being expanded.
The living environment improved in Gileum New Town after a redevelopment, but the higher population density has aggravated the traffic into the center of the city and toward its outskirts. To make it worse, no new cultural or public facilities were established there.
If urban restructuring and new town projects like this are promoted continuously, they will not be very different from the redevelopment projects that have been promoted since the 1980s and have resulted in the building of high-density, high-rise apartments along the Han River and in every nook and corner of the mountains in Seoul.
Moreover, the center of Seoul, the area within the four main gates of the old city, is a place with historical and cultural significance. Although there are not many old Korean-style buildings and houses except a few royal palaces and Bukchon ― the government designated Korean-style house preservation area ― there are still traces of 600 years of history.
These traces have not been erased by urban restructuring. We need to establish a discreet plan on how to preserve historical influences.
As times have changed, so has the paradigm of urban development. In the 20th century, industries led urban development, giving priority to automobiles. In the 21st century, developers are giving priority to pedestrians and mass-transportation systems, a more humane system.
The New Urbanism that started in 1990s in the United States is one such trend. New Urbanism criticizes the urban structure that forces people to use cars for their daily lives and the system under which only one use is designated to an area by the government. They insist that urban development should be made in a way that reduces the use of cars and mixes together a variety of uses in one place.
The changes in life patterns, such as the increase in the number of husbands and wives who work along with the aging of society as well as the changes in industrial structures, including the growth of the service industry, means changes to the urban environment must occur. In that sense, the Korean-style house preservation project in the Bukchon area, the Cheonggye stream restoration and the creation of Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall are representative 21st century restructuring projects.
The Gangbuk development should not repeat the mistakes of the Gangnam development. If Gangnam has competitiveness with the structure of a 20th century industrial city, we should equip Gangbuk with international competitiveness by developing it into a 21st century city where history and culture abide.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shin Hye-kyung