>(Ed. Note: feel free to check out an interestingly edited version of this story that ran in the October issue of Groove Korea.)
Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work. A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending.
– James Howard Kunstler The Geography of Nowhere
Cars and trucks were parked haphazardly on half-finished sidewalks and streets that broke down into trampled pits of muddy rainwater. Rows of identical buildings stood gutted, half-painted and devoid of plumbing and electricity. If it weren’t for the handful of tradesmen working their way through a Sunday afternoon, Pangyo New Town would have felt like post-apocalyptic old town.
Developers hope come January these boulevards will house thousands of families. Pangyo – South of the capital’s city limits- will be the newest in a series of blitzstadts growing out of the greater Seoul conurbation.
As a former high-rise construction worker in Vancouver I’m always amazed at the incredible pace of South Korea’s residential development. As a resident of an overpopulated planet showing irrefutable signs of stress, this development fills me with dread.
In cities and towns across this peninsula wet concrete formed by metal frames vaults the vertebrae of identical apartments into the smog-filled atmosphere. South Korea is roughly the size of Kentucky, but with 49 million residents it is the third most densely populated country in the world. Many Koreans live cheek-to-jowl in homes that would make the average North American claustrophobic.
These suburbs may not be as environmentally devastating as the acres of detached single-family dwellings that scar the North American landscape, still such density developing so rapidly cannot be ecologically sound, as Seoul’s constantly clogged commuter arteries can attest.
Neighbouring residents have also complained about putrid runoff water from the construction site fouling their area further downstream one of Pangyo’s four waterways. Like many suburban frontiers, the border where Pangyo meets the natural world is a distinct and disturbing landscape.
Upon first entering one of the main boulevards from the Seoul Ring Expressway, the sheer scale of the development shocked me. Fields of dirt destined to become parks, plazas, and river-side “greenspace” were strewn with heavy machinery and waste from construction.
The subdivision I walked around included 25 towers with 4,000 units, however, Pangyo’s entire population could be close to 80,000 people by next year. It is part of the federal government’s wider plan to construct 300,000 homes in and around Seoul by 2017. Despite this ecologically devastating and seemingly archaic form of development people need to live somewhere. And even though South Korea’s population is projected to decrease 13% by 2050, thousands will continue to stream into urban areas in search of an better life.
That afternoon, walking through Pangyo I wondered: if this is the development model for a country with a decreasing population, then what does it look like in a place where the population is booming?
By Mike Hager