Perils of gentrification
Merchants are being pushed out of their establishments and forced to move their businesses elsewhere due to skyrocketing rents. Landlords push up rents when their neighborhoods turn popular and thrive through an influx of richer, younger and fashionable outsiders, marginalizing the established businesses and traditional mom-and-pop stores and forcing them out of the community. The modern-day gentrification in many parts of Korea is beginning to stir social conflict.
Gentrification that occurs with the arrival of the wealthier for the purpose of improving and adding new dimensions to a neighborhood and community often ends up displacing residents through sharp rises in rent and property values. It is common in every society. That happened with popular areas in Seoul starting with Rodeo Street in Apgujeong-dong in southern Seoul in 1990s, and continued into Garosu-gil in southern Seoul, the Hongik University area, Daehakro, Bukchon and Seochon, and Seongsu-dong in northern Seoul amid a migration of young people in search of trendy shops and new experiences.
The shifting and spread of popular districts, however, only benefited the landlords and building owners. Characteristic features of neighborhoods were lost, their attractions and originality minimized, when the lost the archetypal shops that were replaced by bigger franchise chain stores. The artistic neighborhoods of Garosul-gil and Hongik University area became more commonplace, brimming with clothes shops and restaurants you can find anywhere. Daehak-ro, home to small theaters, turned into a night area for drinking.
The Seoul city government arranged for landlords, merchants, and district governments to cooperate in reining in rents in commercial buildings. The joint agreement aims to ensure mutual benefits for landlords and merchants and protect the identity and values of various communities. But the agreement is not binding as an administration cannot interfere with rents and the functioning of a free market.
Ill effects from gentrification must be addressed in a more comprehensive and broader context. New York City has been running a community board system since the 1950s to allow residents to discuss and help contribute to mapping out policies for urban development and welfare in their communities. Such efforts help to sustain the originality of individual areas. Gentrification should therefore be approached not just with the aim of curbing rents, but to sustain communities’ identities.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 5, Page 30