Seoul and the Apartment Complex Landscape

If the symbol of Paris is the Eiffel Tower, and then what is symbol of Seoul? What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of Seoul? For me, it is the apartment complex. It is the dominant housing style in Korea, and covers the landscape of Seoul. Fans of apartments always say “I think apartments are the best places to live, because they are convenient.” Well, that may be true. And it is also a very ‘convenient’ answer.








How did the apartment complex became the best option for Seoul citizens?

The indigenous Korean house is called a ‘hanok’, a one story wooden building with a gabled tile roof. The hanok is very different from an apartment. According to Korean law, an apartment building is a dwelling for multiple people, with at least five floors that accommodate more than 20 households. And ‘20 households’ sounds way too pretty. Actually a standard single Korean apartment building can easily hold more than 130 households (15 stories, 잠실주공APT, built by the Korea National Housing Corporation in 1978). Plus, apartment buildings never stand alone, they are built in groups. The change from single-family hanoks to massive apartment complex blocks was very drastic. What caused this change and why did people choose it?

The explanation goes back to the Korean War. Right after the war (1950~1953), there was nothing left but ash for Seoul citizens. The government was spending the majority of their rehabilitation budget on basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges and harbors, but not parks and social housing. Because of the lack of housing, citizens took initiative and created their own urban villages.

Next, the implementation of the 5 Year Plan of Economic Development (1962~1966) caused a huge increase in the middle class who demanded high quality housing. The government’s strategy to solve the housing problem was to let private companies deal with it. Since the urban situation was so unhealthy, construction companies decided to design apartment complexes that included parks, parking lots, and markets. At this time, these complexes were the only decent housing available. In this context, living in an apartment building connoted prestige and wealth, exactly the opposite connotation of apartments in western societies, as demonstrated by the demolition of Pruitt–Igoe in the United States (1972).


Where were apartments complexes constructed?
In order to build massive apartment complexes, a vast blank canvas was essential. After the Korean War, old Seoul was about to explode because of population growth. Believe it or not, it was dams that made the dream of apartment complexes possible. Like many other megacities, Seoul developed near a river. Since river flooding was so unpredictable and sometimes dangerous for citizens, the government implemented the Han River Development Plan (1967~1970).


During this time, President Park Jung-hee and Seoul Mayor Kim Hyun-ok both followed a very development-oriented policy and exercised an invincible power on their territory. The whole Han River went under construction. Major dams were constructed, stabilizing the water lever. Bridges were built and small islets were either destroyed or reclaimed, and the riverside was precisely defined by riverside highways. As a result, the sandy plain around Seoul turned into a dry, vast canvas, the tabula rasa for a new apartment city. But the riverside plain was just the first experiment. After proving the success of the apartment complex, they started to spread all over Seoul and now cover the rest of Korea.

Check back soon for part two of this blog post!

wonseok croppedBy
Wonseok Jang

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

Globalization: Impacts on Food Security, Environment, and Biodiversity

As a Global Environmental Health Sciences MPH candidate at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, I am interested in working in the field of nutritional environment and food security. During my studies, I have become interested in examining the effects globalization of food has on the human population (ie. decreased food security and nutrition) and on the environment (ie. decreased biodiversity and pollution).

DSCN1847Due to development, states and cities face strong pressure to enter the global market. Often one of the first products that is available for export is agricultural goods. The globalization of food production and transport lead to many negative externalities and other costs, on top of the economic costs of food production.

The media often states that the number of malnourished people in the world is increasing. The figure cited includes solely the number of malnourished individuals, and leaves out the more than two billion undernourished (due to nutrition deficiencies or dietary imbalances) people in the world today.

As a result of globalization, farmers are pressured to sacrifice the long-term sustainability of their crops for higher productivity. Farmers often opt to use modern industrial agriculture techniques. This higher productivity is associated with increased and heavy use of fossil fuels, synthetic fertilizers, and harsh pesticides. Synthetic fertilizers are highly dependent on the use of fossil fuels and common pesticides kill many non-target organisms living in commensal symbiotic relationships with crops.

Modern agriculture techniques are associated with monocropping (growing a very narrow range of crop species over many seasons), overgrazing, and an increase in land cleared for agricultural use. For these reasons, modern agriculture is strongly associated with reduced biodiversity. The environmental impacts of modern agricultural techniques include soil erosion and increased soil salinity.

IMG_7892In order to transport agricultural products to distant markets, there is an increase in carbon emissions. Tthe amount of the increase depends on the type of transport used – truck, train, boat, airplane – and the distance traveled. Recall that farmers are facing strong pressure to enter the global market. These same farmers, before globalization, were mainly subsistence farmers and sold their excess crops (often the second harvest) in local marketplaces. This pressured to enter the global market increases food insecurity on the local level. Even if food is available locally after globalization, it is often unaffordable to local residents.

As 2014 approaches, it is important to address the biodiversity and food insecurity problems that were introduced by the globalization of food. These problems are directly associated with multiple Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): MDG 1 (eliminate extreme poverty and hunger), MDG 4 (reduce child mortality), MDG 4 (improve maternal health), and MDG 7 (ensure environmental sustainability) and are indirectly associated with many of the other MDGs.

There are some potential solutions to the problems introduced by globalization, but these solutions, like many solutions to others, usually work in theory, but not in practice. The solutions that will go the farthest in addressing these issues deal with distal factors, the hardest pieces to impact. These distal factors include introducing political change, increasing equity, decentralization, democratization, and implementing land reform.

Many farmers acknowledge that the use of modern agriculture is not sustainable, so this is not an issue of education, but rather an issue of a clash of knowledge and the political and economic pressures placed upon them by the local, national, regional, and global systems. The farmers know that they should increase the fallow periods of their land, use green manures and natural predators, and practice crop rotation. Without lifting the political and economic pressures placed on farmers, it will be extremely difficult for them to implement the necessary changes in their agricultural practice.

For more information on agriculture, health and food security, see the below links:
“The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013” Food and Agriculture Organization (
The World Health Organization definition of Food Security:
WFP Global Food Security Updates:
international Food Policy Research Institute:;

meredith squareBy Merdith Knaak
Former CITYNET Intern
World Health Organization Intern 2013

CYP: Environment-Friendly Development in Jeju

A group of CITYNET interns and Young Professionals had the opportunity to participate in a workshop about environment-friendly development. This 3-day workshop was organized by CIFAL Jeju and UNITAR. The location was the beautiful Korean island Jeju. It was the second time that they organized this workshop and this time around 70 university students participated.

CYP participants on a field trip to Yongnuni-oreum

CYP participants on a field trip to Yongnuni-oreum

The first day included lectures about climate change, green industry and Jeju’s unique species. On the second day the participants chose either to go hiking or go swimming. That perfectly covered both main characteristics of Korea’s largest island. Even though there were a lot of activities during the day, each evening we had to prepare a presentation about an environment-related topic.

We met a lot of new people and visited places on Jeju, which tourists only seldom see. “Nature, Future and the Youth” was the slogan of the event and I saw that there are a lot of ambitious people concerned about the earth’s future. The last main activity was that each of us had to introduce their personal “green dream” in a 30-60 sec video clip.

All CITYNET participants with Director of CIFAL Jeju, Dal-ho Chung
Thanks to CITYNET I was able to make new experiences and instead of office I enjoyed the nature with its beautiful mountains and beaches. I hope that the spirit of our group will spread the idea of green development and that many people will pursue a green dream.

nikola2By Nikola Medimorec, CITYNET Intern
Co-Author of

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

The Geography of Seoul

Walking around any city, I learn various things about the city’s characteristics; the skyline, transportation, vegetation, the way people dress and behave, and even the feeling of the pavement and air. Based on these simple indicators, we can discover the distinct personality of a particular city.

What is your impression of Seoul?

Seoul is a city with a long history. Nonetheless, compared to other big cities, Seoul seems very trendy and new. On one side, traditional buildings such as the Royal Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrine are preserved, but on the other side, relatively new 30 year old apartment buildings are broken down and replaced with even taller ones.

In bustling areas like Hongdae and Gangnam, the speed of circulation is beyond belief. Moreover, people are everywhere. Considering that one fifth of the entire Korean population is concentrated within the Seoul metropolitan area, the physical area looks amazingly cramped. But the infrastructure of Seoul manages to accommodate citizens’ needs somehow so that people can live a decent life. For example, the subway system efficiently connects different parts of Seoul and serves 6,670,000 citizens, and water is sucked up from the Han River and supplied to more than ten million citizens.

So what was my initial impression of Seoul? Since I used to be stranger here too, at first I thought it was very vibrant and compact. What is your impression?

What makes Seoul Seoul?

As I said, Seoul is a city with a long history. Even thousands of years ago, Seoul was the symbolic center of the Korean Peninsula. Because Seoul was surrounded by mountains and contained a river, it ensured the safety and survival of citizens. For these reasons, the three ancient kingdoms of Korea (BC57~AD668) were eager to take over this territory, and there were many power shifts during that time period. But after the unification of the three kingdoms, no matter how much time passed, the way people viewed the geography of the land did not change that much.

There is a certain theory that choosing a building’s location brings fortune or misfortune. When the royal palace was planned during the Joseon Dynasty, its location was selected for the good energy that results from having mountains behind the palace and a river in front. This idea and urban planning philosophy still influences contemporary Seoul to this day. The Presidential House is right behind the Old Palace, and the avenues that connected the palace and major shrines still play an important role. Even the ports along the river that were previously used to collect tribute have now been turned into bridges. So even though Seoul has changed drastically since the Joseon Dynasty, the basic shape of contemporary Seoul can be attributed to its surrounding geographical features.

wonseok croppedBy
Wonseok Jang

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

Goodbyes and Gratitude

The CITYNET Secretariat is sad to say goodbye to the first two Seoul Secretariat interns, Daniel Kim and Kunchol Kim. While we will miss them, we are happy to see that they are moving on and up after their time with CITYNET! Read below for their reflections on their time here.

“On April 15th, 2013, I came back from the United States to Korea with a Bachelor’s degree. Around that time, the CITYNET Secretariat moved from Yokohama to Seoul. I was checking the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s webpage to find some internship opportunities at international organizations, and I saw CITYNET’s open internship position. I did not know much about CITYNET, but after reading some articles and information on the webpage, I applied, and became the first intern of CITYNET.

Because CITYNET had just moved from Yokohama, there was a lot of work to do for settlement, and also for the Congress that will be held in November of this year. It was actually a good thing for me, because unlike other internships, I could really experience an international organization’s work by developing new projects and dealing with different tasks. I could try new things and in the end I learned a lot. It was definitely a great experience for me, and I recommend interning at CITYNET to students who are willing to learn and experience an international organization.”

– Kunchol Kim

“My internship experience at CITYNET was one of the best career experiences I had in my life, simply because of the people that I had chance to meet and work with. I got hands-on experience through various projects undertaken by the program team, and also had opportunities to interact and build networks with public officials. Overall, I would definitely recommend CITYNET internship to any student interested in urban planning, international studies, or public administration!”

– Daniel Kim

Daniel and Kunchol during the Friendship Festival, May 2013

Daniel and Kunchol during the Friendship Festival, May 2013


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

Seoul’s Rooftop Gardens

Climbing to the top of buildings to discover the hidden treasures of the roof and take in an almost-guaranteed magnificent view has long been one of my favorite distractions from my daily routine. In college, I often went with my friends to the top of one of the tallest buildings on our campus to feel the breeze, watch the evening lights of Los Angeles, and relax until the security guard told us to leave. The door to the roof was later locked and a silent security system installed, robbing us of our Wednesday evening fun. I always pictured roofs like this: an ugly, cemented space that hid the buildings’ giant air conditioners, usually had a corner janitorial closet, was always off limits, and yet contained beauty and refreshment unmatched elsewhere.

F1_2_Blue-Ribbon-GardenOutside of bars built on roofs to purposely create a romantic atmosphere, the first city roof I encountered that aligned with my own vision of a delightful and peaceful roof experience was the roof garden at the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The roof of the building designed by Frank Ghery is a space with areas to sit, shady trees, herbs and edible flowers (used at Patina restaurant), and secret garden enclaves to enjoy in much the same way that you would a park.

seoul_skylineRooftop gardens are not an entirely new phenomenon, but as urban dwellers crave green and peaceful spaces within their city, and as the social, environmental, and economic value of these spaces increases, urban gardens are growing exponentially. This is nowhere more true than in Seoul, home of the CITYNET Secretariat and a capital long known for its grey skies and predictable skyline (skyscrapers and towering apartment buildings as far as the eye can see).

Since 2002, the Seoul City Government has been encouraging building owners to create rooftop gardens as part of its “Green Seoul” initiative. Although rooftop gardens provide a peaceful resting place for building employees and the public, they also bring other benefits by decreasing electricity costs, reducing standing water, creating cleaner air, serving as therapeutic areas in hospital buildings, growing food and herbs, and providing a green space for the public to play, learn, and gather together. These roofs are not without challenges, however. Live plants require water, a gardener, and regular attention. Roof leaks and roots coming through the building have forced some roof top gardens to close.

Nonetheless, as evidenced by their continued development and use, rooftop gardens are an increasingly valuable piece of the Seoul urban landscape and their size, design, and purpose is as diverse as the city is large. Even the roof of CITYNET’s building (The Seoul Global Center) has a garden, solar panels, and open spaces. Below are some of Seoul’s rooftop gardens. What do you think makes an ideal rooftop garden? Which rooftop gardens have you discovered in your city?

Trinity Garden at Shinsegae in Myeongdong

Trinity Garden at Shinsegae in Myeongdong

Seongbuk Gate Hills in Seongbukdong

Seongbuk Gate Hills in Seongbukdong

Four Season Park at Garden-5 Shopping Center in Songpa-gu

Four Season Park at Garden-5 Shopping Center in Songpa-gu

marina cropped 2Marina Brenden, CITYNET Intern

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

Leave No One Behind!

When most people think of the challenges of responding to a natural disaster, the responsibilities seem overwhelming. Imagine facing those same challenges, but with a physical disability. Kazol Rekha, a 24 year old woman from Bangladesh with partial paralysis, refuses to be overwhelmed and has helped her community respond to the needs of people with disabilities. Take a look at her fantastic video describing the challenges of acquiring a disability, losing her loved ones and surmounting those setbacks to develop a small business, educate her neighbors and build her community to become disaster resistant for ALL people.

The video WON for Best Human Interest Film at the UNISDR Asia Disaster Risk Reduction Film Festival in 2012.

Watch this video and feel the inspiration! (I promise… You’ll feel it!)


“When it comes to floods and other disasters, people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. In many cases a person with a disability is forgotten and left behind.”
– Kazol Rekha

Let’s make our cities, communities and neighborhoods disaster resistant and resilient so no one is forgotten or left behind!

jacki cropped 2Until next time,

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