Creating a Human City: Review of the Suwon Forum 2018

For the past 3 years, CityNet and Suwon City have collaborated to organize the Suwon Forum which is an annual event centered on the creation of an “Asia Human City” and was made to facilitate the sharing of best practices and strategies needed to create a better living environment for the population. This year’s theme was titled “Human Cities for All” and featured topics such as Urban Regeneration, Housing Welfare, Urban Resilience, and Civic Democracy.

This year, on September 17th-18th, I had the opportunity to work as a staff member for the 2018 Suwon Forum. Before attending the event, I had little knowledge to what the concept of a Human City meant, but I discovered that there are varying meanings behind a seemingly simple term.

Within the overall theme, three sessions with sub-themes took place in order to provide insight into the various factors that are needed to create a Human City:

  1. A City Where Everyone is Happy
  2. A City Where People are Always Safe
  3. A City Where Anything is Possible

Speakers and participants weighed in on the numerous aspects behind a Human City and what contributes to its creation. A main element that was highlighted was the need for public participation. For instance, Oswar Mungkasa, the Deputy Governor of Jakarta, shared this when giving his idea of a Human City; a place in which the government and citizens work in collaboration and co-create the city, and one where the population can have a role in developing city policies and implementing them.


Another aspect that was frequently noted for a Human City was the importance of environmental sustainability through the incorporation of various ecological elements such as greater walkability, the creation of public spaces, and efficient and affordable public transportation through the use of BRT systems. For Taoyuan, Jiunn-Ming Chiou, the Deputy Secretary General of the city, expressed how one of the ways that they are working to achieve a human-oriented city is by improving the air quality and implementing more low carbon practices. One of their initiatives is the use of energy efficient infrastructure and housing, as 86 buildings of the city having attained GREE certification.

As the forum progressed, it became increasingly evident that a Human City was a multifaceted concept with many cities now developing an array of policies to implement in order to achieve this. However, the term itself started in Suwon.

A couple of years ago, the Mayor of Suwon, Tae Young Yeom, gave Suwon this concept of being a Human City. At this year’s Suwon Forum, he expressed the vision for the city; one that welcomes and values people, and is a place in which citizens have a role and opportunity to actively participate. During the forum, much was mentioned about the former king of Suwon who lead many initiatives for his citizens and constructed the Suwon fortress which is now a proud emblem for the history of the city.

On the second day, after the closing ceremony of the event, participants were taken on a site visit to the Hwaseong Fortress mentioned during the event, along with the Haenggung-dong Mural Village and the Hanok Technology Exhibition Hall in order for the forum’s participants to learn more about Suwon’s history and traditional heritage. With a walk through the city, one can see how deeply connected the city is to its culture and citizens. The well-maintained 222 year old fortress, the preservation of the traditional Hanok architectural style, and even small historical representations of past citizens painted along the pathways depict the value that Suwon has for its people, history, and culture.

During the site visits, I noticed that the collaboration from the people of Suwon can be seen throughout the city. In the Haenggung-dong Mural Village, the city is able to represent the people of the past through art representations made by the citizens of the present day. The art in the village also helps represents elements of a Human City as, during the tour, the guide noted how the artists and owners of the houses in the village collaborated on the design for the murals. One of them was even created by the community as the artist had laid out art supplies in front of the wall and allowed citizens to join in the process of creating the mural for the city.

The words “Human City Suwon—사람이 반갑습니다 (people welcome)” were even written in various places throughout the city.

Although having a Human City is a new concept, the practices shared by all in attendance at the Suwon Forum will help spread this idea across Asia, and I’m certain that the Suwon Forum will further this initiative for many years to come.

Serena_bio_imgSerena Spurgeon
Serena Spurgeon received a Bachelor’s degree in Foreign Languages and International Studies at the University of North Alabama, and is currently pursuing a Specialization Master’s degree in International Relations at the Univeristà Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy. She was a co-author in political research conferenced at the Midwest Political Science Organization in 2018. Her areas of interest include environmental sustainability, SDGs, human development, and peace and conflict studies.

Congress Over But What’s Next?

The CityNet Congress 2017 was successfully over. With participation of over 300 guests of honor from around the world, the Congress hosted in Colombo, Sri Lanka from Nov. 5th to 8th also marked the 30th anniversary of CityNet.

It was truly amazing to see how participants from different parts of Asia Pacific were engaged in discussions and networking through different sessions. They not only shared their ideas on sustainable urban development goals (SDGs) but also their deepest concerns: how do they replicate the best practices of other cities, which are so different from their own in size, population, culture, living style, social expectations, political structure, level of economic development, to name just a few?




As a platform dedicated to city-to-city cooperation, whether from North to South, South to South, or North to North, CityNet strives to improve the lives of communities in the Asia Pacific region and worldwide. The complicated and multilayered nature of the region, with some of the richest, poorest, and also highly developing cities in between, however, pose gargantuan urbanization challenges. Through the networking of CityNet, the cities can better identify their situations, obstacles, and disadvantages, and thus come up with solutions.

To help the cities do so, CityNet has mapped out a series of activities for the upcoming year of 2018. These can include capacity building programs, projects and other initiatives, partner development, etc.

Take the capacity building programs for instance. CityNet and its partners are going to provide an extensive number of workshops to help enhance the cities’ urban development capacities. These include Mayors Forum, Financing of Urban Energy Infrastructure and Urban Lighting, Water Management Workshop with ARISU, Climate Change Workshop, among others.

To advocate its members’ voices on the global stage and help them reach tangible results, CityNet also plans to participate in major international conferences such as Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum, Kuala Lumpur.

CityNet will continue encouraging its member cities to be engaged in CityNet Services, National Chapters, Cluster Activities, Urban SDG Knowledge Platform and so on in the upcoming year.  As megacities in Asia are expecting further urban growth in the years to come, the success of the urban future largely depends on the Asia’s secondary cities since two-thirds of the world’s secondary cities are located in Asia and Africa.

Partnerships remain the driving force to support the intimidating tasks the cities face ahead. Through the platform of CityNet, the cities can gather to share their ideas and problems, benefit from feedback and reflection, and draft a blueprint of how to deal with urban challenges in palpable steps.

“Together we can do more, that is the theme of CityNet,” said Mary Jane C. Ortega, Special Adviser of CityNet. And together we can grow.


Photos: courtesy of CityNet


By Julia Szu-tu, CityNet Secondment Staff

Julia is a section assistant at the Department of Information and Tourism, Taipei City Government interested in international affairs and environmental protection.

Our City, Our Future

Thriving, harmonious, efficient, safe, resilient & green: words that we dream of when planning our cities of the future. Across Asia, governments, communities and businesses are moving to realise the dreams of people with many eco-city projects under development. This gives us an insight into Asian models for sustainable development.

Cities are currently responsible for more than 70 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and opportunistically also represent a key force in reducing emissions and resource consumption. Sustainable development requires bold action, while also strengthening the local economy and creating a better place to live.

Courtesy of WiNG via Wikipedia

Courtesy of WiNG via Wikipedia

In identifying a unique Asian model of sustainable development, the Tianjin Eco-city a Sino-Singapore flagship project is a good case study to explore. Not yet fully constructed and recovering from the deadly August industrial explosion, the vision of Tianjin was defined to be “A thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development”. This vision is brought together by the concepts of the Three Harmonies and the Three Abilities.

The Three Harmonies involves creating an eco-city where:

  1. People living in harmony with other people;
  2. People living in harmony with economic activities;
  3. People living in harmony with the environment.

Three Abilities requires an eco-city to be:

  1. Practicable – the technologies adopted in the Eco-city must be affordable and commercially viable;
  2. Replicable – the principles and models of the Eco-city could be applied to other cities in China and even in other countries;
  3. Scalable – the principles and models could be adapted for another project or development of a different scale.
Courtesy of Blick vom Fernsehturm Richtung via

Courtesy of Blick vom Fernsehturm Richtung via

Another case for achieving sustainable development from government was shown in the city of Sanya in China. Along China’s southern cost of tropical beaches and tourism resorts, Sanya took an ambitious plan to do a stock measurement of the value of its ecosystem services in 2005. After 15 years of immense economic development, the city leaders decided on a new green growth plan which would incorporate natural capital accounting alongside their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A famous quote by US President Robert Kennedy says that the standard measure of our economies GDP “…measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. Natural capital accounting is a prominent step in sustainable development, and it involves measuring a range of ecosystem services in a city or town that we would not usually measure in our GDP.

Natural capital is the land, air, water, living organisms, and ecosystem goods and services that we rely on for survival and wellbeing. Our cities, businesses and communities receive some immense economic benefits from ecosystem services, such as New York City’s water supply. Manhattan, in New York, gets its primary source of drinking water from an update source, which was threatened by urban sprawl. The city decided to spend $1.5 billion to preserve 80,000 acres of natural landscapes to avoid paying $8 billion for a water filtration plant costing more than $300 million per year to run. Forests for example, play a role in stabilising sediment and excess nutrients from waterways. A forest wetland can filter water at approximately one-seventh of the cost with basic maintenance per thousand gallons than conventional wastewater treatment systems.

By considering these vital services from nature, Sanyo was able to make some important decisions on how they plan infrastructure and industry growth to ensure community wellbeing and sustainable development. This led to the creation of the below map where red zones represent areas decreasing in natural value, orange slightly declining and green zones increasing. Sanya valued their natural capital at approximately $40 billion (USD), 5.6 times their local GDP in 2013.

Since it’s first ecosystem measurement in 2005, Sanya has been growing its economy and the value of their natural capital stocks and their provided services (eco-tourism from coral reefs). Since tracking the change in natural capital, Sanya has been able to demonstrate the growth in its economy shown as GDP in red, natural resources shown in blue and ecosystem services shown in green from 2005 to 2013. Sanyo is able to holistically develop its quality of life in real terms beyond income measures.

Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon describes in his work the five ‘tectonic stresses’ which are bearing down on civilization: climate change; energy scarcity; environmental degradation; and intense conflict from urbanised megacities; and the extreme economic imbalance throughout the world. The enormity of these issues I know overwhelms many people still today and we struggle with how to begin to set our cities on the path to sustainable development.

Pushing beyond these enormous challenges of the world, my eternal optimism re-imagines sustainable development as going back to the basics and recultivating new approaches for empowering communities towards sustainable development. It is essential that we connect and communicate stories with people to inspire them to act and motivate change–stories about local communities and initiatives, which are green and bold. Communication is the key and the catalyst for broad social change.

I identify with this sustainability movement that is focussed on creativity, family, community, fun and reflection. Through innovative and decisive initiatives, vision and a sense of community, we can realise much success with sustainable development.


By Grant Duthie
Grant is from Australia who has lived and worked in Asia studying the cultural drivers, new social perspectives and trends in Asia-Pacific urban communities. Through his experience in social living environments, Grant writes on regional urban themes on his blog Urban Billion

Improving Energy Efficiency of Street Lighting

Improving the energy efficiency of street lighting is perhaps one of the easiest ways for a city to reduce costs for energy consumption and tackle climate change. Many cities in the Asia-Pacific region have exploited this great potential and successfully retrofitted their street lighting with efficient technologies.

By replacing old inefficient lamps with new lighting technologies (retrofitting), cities such as Akola, India managed to reduce the electricity consumption of street lighting by over 55 % (2,100 MWh per year) and save annually over USD 130,000 in electricity bills. With a project payback period of less than a year, Akola financed the retrofit through an energy saving performance contracting model. The contractor, an energy service company, used cost savings from reduced energy consumption to compensate the investment. Financing mechanisms such as energy performance contracting, utilize private expertise and investment, allowing cities to achieve energy savings without upfront capital expenses and the use of limited budgetary resources. Akola’s successful approach in improving the energy efficiency of its street lighting has led – with support of the World Bank – to several other similar projects in India (Read more).

Many other cities in Asia are improving the energy efficiency of street lighting. Seoul, Korea aims to replace all public lights (streetlights, security lights, traffic lights and lights in public buildings) and 65% of private lighting with highly energy efficient light-emitting diodes (LED) by 2018. Two other CityNet members – Surabaya, Indonesia and Da Nang, Vietnam – have identified and prioritized street lighting as energy sector with great potential of saving energy, costs and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Both cities were pilots in the World Bank’s Sustainable Urban Energy and Emissions Planning (SUEEP) program. With the support of the World Bank’s SUEEP and Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) Surabaya and Da Nang are developing solutions to improve their energy infrastructure and combat climate change.

Street Lighting in Seoul, Courtesy of Trey Ratcliff

Street Lighting in Seoul, Courtesy of Trey Ratcliff (

Despite various excellent practice examples, in many cities the great saving potential of improving street lighting remains untapped. Many cities in the Asia-Pacific region could save over 50 % of their energy consumption and costs if they choose to replace old lamps with LEDs. However, some cities are still wasting more than 10 % of their overall budgets for inefficient public lighting – even though they have to carefully and sustainably spend their limited resources for various other public services.

Street lighting retrofit projects are the ‘low hanging fruit’ of climate change mitigation projects. They are one of the most cost-effective ways in reduction of electricity consumption and GHG-emissions, very feasible, attract private investment, enable cities to save money and can be easily replicated.

By Felix Kalkowsky

With a background in urban planning Felix had worked as a climate change mitigation manager for a local government in Germany before he joined CityNet.

Buses Mean Business

Rapid private vehicle ownership and fast population growth have stretched city infrastructure thinly over the last few decades. The need to regenerate urban boundaries has seen a massive uptake in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems that provide out of the box solutions that are favourable with citizens. BRT systems provide several economic benefits such as a lower investment to operating costs ratio, efficient performance, fast construction turnaround as well as greater flexibility with the usage of existing roads. Challenges still remain nonetheless on improving boarding techniques, vehicle design to accommodate more passengers at higher speeds, route and timetable management and express lane construction costs. Since the pioneering Curitiba, Brazil, BRT system in the 1970s, which propelled a global trend, many more system innovations have been brought to life, which I would like to share.

A notable BRT implementation strategy was deployed in Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya, which aimed to reach more than 80% of city residents and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.6 million tonnes by 2020. In a city dominated by private taxi and minibus vehicles, the BRT required extensive collaboration between the government and operators to ensure smooth and efficient implementation. To manage the re-distribution of public transport users to the BRT, the city of Johannesburg allocated all of its company shares to the independent taxi operators. Similarly during its construction, ‘Corridors of Freedom’ were established to ensure priority routes were established among poorer communities to foster more system engagement. Re-fits of the station shells have delivered revolutionary value such as large identifiable station markers to improve accessibility containing touch screen information podiums on routes, times and support. Automated door opening systems at stations ensure more comfortable passenger experiences minimising roadside pollutants, weather impacts and noise. The enclosed station shell format allows for voice-overs to support accessibility with future potential to accommodate different language supports.

Rea Vaya stop in Johannesburg CBD on Commissioner Street at Ntemi Piliso Street, Courtesy of Keizers

Rea Vaya stop in Johannesburg CBD on Commissioner Street at Ntemi Piliso Street, Courtesy of Keizers

One of the fastest BRT systems is located in Adelaide, Australia through an investment in guided bus technology lanes forming what is termed the Adelaide O-Bahn. The specially built track system combines elements of both bus and rail infrastructure with an L-shaped track resting on sleepers that keeps bus movement steady and higher speeds safer. It works by locking in place with a guide-wheels cushioning buses on the track. The guided bus technology allows for an average BRT speed of 80km/h and a maximum speed of 100km/h. A number of interchanges along the system allows buses to enter and exit the busway and continue on suburban routes providing more comfort for passengers with direct routes. Along the O-Bahn system, station stops are infrequent with its core aim to deliver express services with the interchanges allowing transfers into more frequent suburban stops.

Example of Guided Technology: Stagecoach in Huntingdonshire bus, Courtesy of Bob Castle

Example of Guided Technology: Stagecoach in Huntingdonshire bus, Courtesy of Bob Castle

The Guangzhou BRT system represents one of the first systems in China to engage with the multi-modal system to integrate with metro trains as well as a bike share system and bike parking facilities integrated into the design. It maintains a direct service system rather than a trunk model, meaning passengers do not need to transfer and the buses come in and out of the corridor. The corridor has focused on developing plazas around the BRT system, which integrate well with the bicycle facilities. An integrated contactless card the Yang Cheng Tong can be used to store value on it and pay for the bus fare at the turnstiles to the bus terminal and can also be used to collect and pay for a bicycle.

Guangzhou GBRT Tianhe Sports Center Station, Courtesy of Efilm

Guangzhou GBRT Tianhe Sports Center Station, Courtesy of Efilm

The Brisbane, Australia BRT system maintains an operating strategy focusing on a trunk bus route that runs the full length of the route to a main interchange point usually the business district. The system was developed to complement robust pre-existing urban rail for a multi-modal system and thereby providing a consistent and standardised interchange point across suburbs and the main business district. To accommodate BRT growth, major infrastructure works have provided express BRT lanes as well as underground corridors for greater connectivity. This core inner-city infrastructure supports a dynamic network of suburban networks that provide a wide catchment and on-street pick-up points.

Exterior view of Greenslopes busway station, Courtesy of Reubot

Exterior view of Greenslopes busway station, Courtesy of Reubot

One of the upcoming underground tunnels represents a world first combined dual bus and train track into a single, double-decked, 15m-wide tunnel. By managing both rail and bus simultaneously, the project drives cost-efficiency and extends the infrastructure’s usage lifespan.  Similarly, the system runs a number of high-frequency express services that improve interconnectivity and connection synergy across other transport modes in the city. The Brisbane system maintains a notable high-quality station design with grade-separated pedestrian access between platforms and covered overpasses with accessibility lift. Buses also utilise low-floor designs and fold-out ramps which connect up with station platforms to improve accessibility for people with a disability. Similarly the system is heavily deploying natural gas powered buses which lowers road-side pollutants and irritants for passengers making the journey more comfortable.

The BRT systems provide significant support to infill development and transit-oriented developments to manage urban sprawl. In the case of the Brisbane BRT systems property value growth of up to 20% was identified in bus route corridors. Significant in-fill development was recorded around the routes as well as property values in area within 6 miles of stations growing at 2-3 times faster than those at a greater distance. Brisbane has recorded some strong increases in density growth in the inner-urban areas that are well connected and served with the BRT. The Brisbane BRT performs both a central CBD radial function from sprawling suburban areas on the edge of Brisbane to the CBD as well as a short distance function to provide traffic-free, fast, high-quality city links. BRT is considered a far more versatile and flexible technology system to serve spread-out development patterns than urban rail or car and can assist in slowing down urban sprawl and extending infrastructure lifespan. This is further incentivised by a reduce travel time from the suburbs to the City reduced from 60 minutes on the motorway to an 18 minute express service. The flexibility, efficiency and latest technology in BRT ensures that it is a consistent mode of choice for rapidly growing cities in the Asia-Pacific. The scope and system innovations since Curitiba provide strong support for the continued roll-out of BRT systems into the future.


By Grant Duthie
Grant is from Australia who has lived and worked in Asia studying the cultural drivers, new social perspectives and trends in Asia-Pacific urban communities. Through his experience in social living environments, Grant writes on regional urban themes on his blog Urban Billion

Penang: Citizen Action Technology

Citizen Action Technology (CAT) Penang is a social network application created by stakeholders to lodge complaints or ideas from the Seberang Perai community, monitored by the Municipal Council Of Seberang Perai (MPSP). This application was created and maintained by volunteers using their own resources. It links to MPSP administration via the latest technology, such as smartphones. The objective of this application is to enhance the management of the community and improve two-way communication between stakeholders and MPSP. Complaints and ideas received will be addressed instantly. Users can forward their complaints and feedback using either pictures or ideas through a three- step method. Users upload a picture, tag the location, and post the issue on the CAT. This method can be used in two languages, Bahasa Malaysia or English.

Citizen Action Technology Screenshot

Citizen Action Technology Screenshot

The implementation of this project covers the whole administrative area of MPSP which is approximately 738.41 sq km. Monitoring of the application is supervised by the Department Of Corporate And International Affairs located at the main office of MPSP in Bandar Perda, Bukit Mertajam, Seberang Perai, Malaysia. Using mobile applications, all complaints and ideas will be directed to MPSP Watch-Facebook or Citizen Action Technology, which officers will monitor.

MPSP Facebook launched in July 2011

MPSP Facebook launched in July 2011

The Smart Monitoring System (SMS) is integrated with MPSP Watch and Citizen action Technology Penang to enhance the application. The President and Municipal Secretary can monitor all the complaints that have been received through this system. This user friendly application already has 10,681 followers. In 2013, there were 2064 complaints that MPSP received and 100% have been attended to within the same year. This is an effort from all the people in Seberang Perai towards creating an international and intelligent City that harnesses technology to build better solutions for all. The CAT system can be accessed through

CAT Launch on April  4, 2014

CAT Launch on April 4, 2014

IMG_1643Madam Maimunah Mohd Sharif
Municipal President
Municipal Council Of Seberang Perai, Penang, Malaysia

Seoul and the Apartment Complex II: Form Follows Function

In South Korea, apartment complexes look very simple and undecorated. From the street, they seem to be a series of boxes. Truthfully speaking, every building is slightly different from its neighbor. A building’s height, design, and proportions are regulated to maintain the appropriate density in urban areas. But from the perspective of residents and citizens, it is hard to spot these differences. In Seoul, you might hear descriptive phrases such as, ‘apartments like matchboxes’ or ‘apartments like a folding screen’ to describe the homogeneous and repetitive shape of housing complexes.

image composite 1

What makes the form of apartment?
‘Form follows Function’ Louis H. Sullivan(1856-1924)
The apartment complex is a very honest building. On the outside, there are open green fields and parking lots. This open space is possible because each unit is built vertically, not horizontally. On each floor of an apartment complex there are multiple units. These units share one elevator, stairway, water supply, electricity and internet connection. As you see on the picture on the right above, every apartment concentrates those vertical elements together, which looks like outstanding tower in the middle. On one side, there are the rooms that access water utilities, such as kitchens and toilets, and have less exposure to sunshine.

The final form of an apartment complex is a mere repetition of every unit. While apartment complexes and their layout did not originate in Korea, they have perfectly adjusted to the Korean lifestyle after a long process of adaptation and experimentation. The evolution of apartment complexes means that now only the fittest ones have survived in the fierce jungle of urban Korea. While many factors influence the form of Korean apartments, cultural and institutional factors contribute heavily.

Koreanized Apartment Design

Left: Korean Apartment Plan Right: Japanese Apartment Plan

Left: Korean Apartment Plan Right: Japanese Apartment Plan

Every unit is designed for a nuclear family of 4 people. Two bedrooms for children are right in front of the entrance. The master bedroom for the parents is placed in the deepest room and has a separate bathroom. The living room is located in the center of the unit, integrating the other rooms. Balconies, which mostly face the south, provide extra sunshine and outdoor access. There might be little variation from this plan, but it is very rare.

Considering that this is the result of a long period of adaptation, the main characteristic of a Korean apartment is the ‘living room centered plan’. This is a reflection of the ‘madang centered plan’ of hanoks, or Korean traditional houses. Compared to other urban housing, like the Japanese apartment that you see on the right above, the main difference of the plan is the openness of the living room, which makes the house look bigger and brighter. Moreover, it is the place where many family activities take place such as watching TV, ancestral rites, and receiving guests. It is also important to note that in Korean culture the living room plays a role in reinforcing patriarchy. For example, when the whole family watches TV, the person who controls the remote is the one who controls the family. Funny, but it is often quite true.

Policy Determines Volume
The plan you see above is of 85㎡ (25PY), which is the standard size of so-called ‘People’s housing’ (국민주택). This policy of the Korean government has promoted the supply of this type of housing by providing a value-added tax (VAT, 10%) exemption to buyers. Apartments do come in multiple sizes, such as 60㎡ (18PY), 85㎡ (25PY), 102㎡ (30PY) and 135㎡ (40PY), however these 5 sizes are usually the only options available because the government closely regulates apartment purchases through a ‘housing subscription policy’.

The purpose of this policy is to regulate prices and speculation. According to the policy you should open the apartment-application deposit and pay the designated amount of money depending on the size that you choose. As a result, the sizes of apartments are tightly regulated.

Unavoidable Homogeneity
These fixed-size apartments are the unexpected side effect of the Korean government’s current housing policy, and apartment layouts are correspondingly limited. Based on the generic nature of apartment design, people usually treat apartments as assets that can be converted into cash. Apartment owners tend to appreciate hearing the news that property value will increase in their neighborhood, or that their complex is slated to undergo redevelopment. Even though high property values mean higher taxes, and redevelopment means relocation, apartment owners see their housing as a cash asset and welcome these changes.

When renovating or enlarging an apartment, it is common to encroach on the balcony area. Living rooms and bedrooms will become extended to the balcony. I remember when I was traveling in Paris, I saw a variety of dwellings that enriched the street with rhythmical elevation and diverse construction materials. But in Seoul, where I live and work, sadly the streets are filled with generic, homogeneous apartment complexes.

The companies who construct these identical buildings, want to make their product unique from others by strengthening their brand name. They attach their brand emblem on the outside of the boxy building and make the gate of the apartment complex elaborate and distinct. Believe it or not, they also provide smartphone applications that allow residents to manipulate the electricity devices and gas valves of their apartment remotely.

After this long history, the Korean apartment complex has become amazingly standardized and automated. Consequently people’s lives reflect this. Despite the complaint of a boring urban landscape, apartment complexes continue to contribute to the housing problem in Seoul. From another perspective, it is the realization of modernism.

This image is Ville Contemporaine (Contemporary City, 1922) that Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture, drew. I find it similar to Seoul’s landscape. The description is as following.

“The centerpiece of this plan was a group of sixty-story cruciform skyscrapers built on steel frames and encased in curtain walls of glass. The skyscrapers housed both offices and the flats of the wealthiest inhabitants. These skyscrapers were set within large, rectangular park-like green spaces. At the center of the planned city was a transportation hub which housed depots for buses and trains as well as highway intersections and at the top, an airport.”

It is 100 years after Le Courbusier dreamed of this urban landscape. If he was alive, he would say Seoul is the utopia that he had dreamed. But would it be still a utopia? Is the apartment complex still the best option for Seoul’s citizens? There are so many questions behind urban housing, and there are also as many experiments for better housing around the world. However, whether it is good or bad, the apartment complex will not perish in the near future. Instead it will change little by little, adapting to the evolving urban jungle. And hopefully we will see another utopia in the future.

wonseok croppedBy
Wonseok Jang

Disclaimer: The posts and comments on this site do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CITYNET or its members.