Field Trips Anywhere
CHO(HAN)Haejoang
Field Trips Anywhere
CHO(HAN)Haejoang

영어버전 8th pacific rim community design network 기조강연

조한 2012.08.16 16:11 조회수 : 3974

 

     

Breathing New Life into Urban Communities Struck Down by the “Block Attack” and Apathetic  Individualism”

 

Cho Hae-Joang (Yonsei University, Department of Cultural Anthropology)

 

1. The Modern City and the 'Urban Village'

 

The history of the city is, in itself, the history of modern times. The people of the feudal age, suffering under the crushing exploitation of the feudal lord and a patriarchal system that controlled their lives, left their homes in the countryside en masse for the city ? a place where they imagined the air to be free. The rise of the individualist era began as young people abandoned their rural homes for the city to work as 'free laborers' where they could choose their own occupations, their own spouses, and to live in a nuclear family structure without the eyes of their parents and grandparents bearing down upon them. The modern couple came to be thought of as a hard-working husband putting food on the family table while the wife looked after the children, together saving for their own house in which to raise their children and grow old together. It was at this time that, with the blessings of the Market, the idea of the modern urban nuclear family where each member was able to enjoy his or her individual liberty to the fullest took hold. If we say that pre-modern era was centered on village life where extended families and their relatives gathered together for their common good, we can characterize the modern era as one centered on city life with the individual, the nuclear family, and the friends and neighbors at its core. After living together side by side for long periods of time, a new form of social organization emerged in pockets of the city, something we can call an 'urban village', with 'neighbor cousins' taking the place of relatives. Over time, modern industrial cities have favored this 'urban village' form of life.

 

However, these 'urban villages' within the city have disappeared rapidly within the context of the 'developed country'. With the rise of wages that accompany development, capital seeks out cheaper sources of labor. Factories move to countries with lower labor costs, leaving many urban residents without jobs. If they are not financial centers, it is difficult for cities to survive without being administrative capitals or especially without putting emphasis on the development of its service and cultural industries. The age of the enormous sprawling metropolis has arrived. In these remaining giant metropolises, people are scarcely happy. This is because employers demand increased labor productivity and intensity, and while salaries increase, the products one “needs” to buy increase at a similar rate. People come to realize that the only freedom they still possess is to choose products to buy and that they can only enjoy this freedom when they have money to spend. The Market has been globalized and the flows of money increased, but people themselves lead busier lives that are increasingly hand to mouth. Finally, people fed up with this unsatisfying, stultifying city life start trying to find ways to leave it behind. But with this decline of the city, has the era of a new postmodern city begun to emerge?

 

Today we've come together to share our thoughts about urban communities that are emerging at this particular turning point in time. I have no easy solution for the difficult problems ahead of us. I think, because of the difficult and complex issues that we are facing, we ought to spend our efforts to find the right questions to ask rather than racing toward finding quick and easy answers. It is time to put our heads together to try to grasp the overwhelmingly difficult situations in which we are living. So what is the problem causing us so much difficulty? And who is the “us” we are speaking of here? Now in the era of post-Enlightenment, hoping to find a single right answer may not be a wise step. By coming together in this place, each of us explaining the problems we are trying to solve in our own domain while drawing strength from one another, by working together through networking, I believe we can do it better. Today, I want to share with you some thoughts from my vantage points as a citizen of this real place we call Seoul, as an anthropologist and feminist who want to live in a people-centered city, and as a public intellectual who is engaged in concrete projects to support the creation of new “villages” within Seoul.

     

      2. Seoul Under the 'Block Attack'

 

When speaking the city of Seoul as a community, a central issue to be dealt with is that of the 'block attack'. The evolution of the city in Western countries and in Asia was not fundamentally different. As capitalism advanced into its more mature stages, this development took on very similar forms to the West. If there was a difference in the case of Asian society, it was that it always had ‘the model’ to follow, that of the so-called “advanced” Western countries. In that respect, it's important to note that, in the case of South Korea at least, these changes took place in a very compressed time frame in comparison with the West. Earlier, I mentioned that cities first developed as rural residents flocked to the cities and the case of Seoul is not an exception. Within a short span of time ? from the turn of the 20th Century, new immigrants flooded into Seoul from the countryside. Existing housing was utterly insufficient, so many new residential areas sprang up and the houses themselves were often constructed pell-mell, sometimes with common walls or roofs, and sharing common wells and toilet facilities. Less desirable lands on difficult to reach hillsides were often commandeered for this purpose, resulting in the omnipresent daldongne (shantytowns) of the 1970s and 80s. As the urban immigrants grew accustomed to their new environment, they reacted creatively and cooperatively in the new environment to make the place more livable. Having grown up in country villages, they built human-scale 'urban villages' that suited the needs and sensibilities of human collective life. Ultimately, they were successful in turning an empty 'space' into a livable 'place' in harmony with the environment, using wisdom drawn from the cooperative spirit that imbued their former lives in the countryside.

 

      However, recently, the city has been invaded by gigantic ‘blocks.’ Winy Mass comments that, “We have identified through research in Asia that apartments continue to proliferate as a means of property, seemingly without taking into consideration any of the aspects of life that residents truly desire, such as spatial richness and social diversity.” [1] Mass is the Dutch founding director of the world-renowned architectural design team, MVRDV. The MVRDV investigative team that looked at major Asian cities came to the conclusion that the cities are quickly being consumed by “blocks”, and called this phenomenon a “block attack.” The cities have, in a very short period of time, fallen victim to an invasion of mass-produced high-rise residential apartments and office buildings. Mass maintains that the blocks have already almost wiped away the 'urban villages' in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Seoul while quickly expanding in Beijing and Shanghai. Among these large cities, the most severe block attack has taken place in Seoul, which has some 1.3 million of these apartment blocks on record.

 

      The warmth and life of the 'urban village' has disappeared ? almost in a blink of an eye ? to be replaced by high-rise towers of concrete. As the 'villages' have been supplanted, the sense of community life that nurtured individuality and diversity has disappeared. The small restaurants and the neighborhood barbershop that was open until late at night, the secondhand bookstores and the comic book shops full of children and adults, and the traditional outdoor market that served as a center of the neighborhood ? those places set on small streets built on a human-scale that thrived during the modernization process disappeared, to be replaced by large-scale amusement parks, department stores, big supermarkets where you wheel a giant cart around, and chain convenience stores on every corner. Busy, anxious residents would never have occasion to meet their neighbors, except when haggling over the price of apartments. While building these huge apartment complexes, the government planned for cultural and sports centers, but here again, the residents were simply consumers, paid teachers or paying students.  In these residential areas struck down by the 'block attack', one lived wrapped in a cocoon of one's own apathetic individualism, without the support of family, relatives, or neighbors ? left on one's own to manage one's life. In these places, it is difficult to find the core elements of a full, rich life ? the elements of diversity, flexibility, individuality, collectivity, and intimacy.

 

Seoul is still caught up in the whirlwinds of urban redevelopment where the dream of turning the old village into new cash still thrives. The myth of one day owning one's own apartment seems invincible as television advertisements remind viewers every day that if they miss the chance to own an apartment, the bluebird of happiness will forever pass them by. Of course, there are many forces behind the scenes sustaining this 'block attack' on people's quality of life. The stage directors include building contractors who collude with financial institutions and the government sector to secure the most profit from these grand construction projects. The building contractors carry out the construction projects very aggressively, using any means necessary including bribery, sanctions, and various forms of violence.[2] In a certain way, the government, the market, and ordinary citizens who believe in the myth of ever-rising apartment prices are all accomplices in a project that represents the pinnacle of capitalist speculation. During the bubble economy, profits were distributed to potential owners. However, following the Wall Street financial crisis, apartment values have gradually depreciated. As a result, the 'new town' and local redevelopment plans force out not only the remnants of the 'urban village' but, due to the lack of social consensus in the process, inflict much pain and violence on the residents themselves. Unless these wounds are dealt with properly, it will be difficult to rebuild urban villages in Seoul. Because the political sector is deeply complicit in the creation of these problems, it will be all the more difficult to solve them

 

3. New Urban Village Movement in Metropolitan Seoul

 

We are now living in a post-modern period of perpetual crisis. It's been called a post-growth era, a post-development era, an era of global competition, a risk society. It's marked by high unemployment and a stagnant job market. We live in a turbulent time ? a turning point where we can't look back to the past for examples of what to do. Rather than searching out ideal models to guide our actions, we need instead to look into a mirror in order to find our way. While South Koreans can be proud of the Korean Wave and the number of gold medals won in the recent Olympics, at the same time one must remember that South Koreans suffer from the lowest birth rate, work the longest hours, and have the highest rates of suicide ? both of our youth and the elderly ? among the OECD countries.  Rather than taking ourselves as a model of success, we need to look closely in the mirror to examine our failures. In Seoul hit hard by a severe ‘block attack’, there has been a new movement to revitalize local lives. Don't we say that “every dark cloud has a silver lining?” From this perspective, Seoul is a ‘developed’ city. If Seoul can successfully revive village life on a human scale, it will be a hopeful sign not only for South Korea but to the rest of Asia and the world.

 

For the past ten years in areas of Seoul that were spared the 'block attack' or where residents have successfully fended it off, a movement by citizens to take matters into their own hands and foster the 'urban village' has thrived. Two major groups stand out. In the first, the participants were mainly people who attended university in the 1980s and had their consciousness raised by participating in student activist movements to topple the military dictatorship. After succeeding in their political agenda of establishing a democratic government, activists continued to invest their efforts in social democratization. They focused on two main areas. One was working on social welfare concerns with the underprivileged in society. Through the establishment of 'study rooms' and alternative learning centers for example, they try to build a sense of community. Within their own districts, citizens' movements blossomed that aimed to create village-like places of caring and equality.  The second group is made up of individuals involved in new social movements as a way of bettering their own lives. They basically formed 'village-like neighborhoods' through the establishment of community child care centers with the objective of co-parenting. The case of Seongmi-san village is the typical case. About twenty people got together and carefully selected an area which had not been devastated by the block attack. They rented a big house with a garden in the neighborhood where small-scale flexible buildings formed a network of rather safe small streets for the children to play on. They demolished the tall walls that blocked off each of the houses and established a co-parenting 'village'. They formed a loosely organized cooperative to help focus their energies and their solidarity was galvanized by their opposition to a city ward plan to remove part of a neighborhood mountain to construct a sewage treatment facility. When you have a chance to meet frequently, you begin to recognize the needs of your neighbors. In Seongmi-san village, the “Village Kitchen,’ a shop where working couples could buy home-made side-dishes prepared by three housewives of the community began welcoming customers. An alternative grammar school for the children opened its doors and the children and teachers worked together to operate an organic ice cream shop. An auto-repair shop opened for neighborhood residents, as did a yoga-healing center and a recycling shop staffed by knowledgeable residents. Various festivities planned by the loosely organized community members also helped boost community feelings of togetherness. As the children grew, alternative middle- and high schools were established to meet their needs and now even an alternative college is being discussed.

 

The group of young people in their thirties who attended university in the 1990s began to join this movement begun by the democracy activists of the 1980s. Young mothers began to realize how difficult and lonely it was to raise a baby alone while their husband had to spend 14 hours a day at work. Realizing the shortcomings of the isolated nuclear family structure, they began to join the urban village movement by opening book cafes and children's libraries. Some began to participate actively in the school reform movement, while others began to show interest in creating a more pleasant, greener environment. Over the course of ten years, the locally based social economy grew stronger. Rather than relying upon outside funding, various village festivals, cultural activities, and alternative learning programs naturally began to create jobs or provide opportunities for work. Through the circulation of both human and material resources, and through the creation of semi-public space, life in the city grew more affluent and friendly.

 

The urban 'village' movement seemed to take another big step as people were drawn by a renewed concern with energy autonomy. In particular, in an era of climate change and the risks of nuclear energy, energy production and consumption become a prime concern of urban villagers. Similar to the movement of ‘Totnes Transition Town’ in England (http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org), urban villagers concerned about environmental problems intensified their interest in creating energy self-sufficient communities through the improvement of a village green environment. Using unoccupied space, village residents created mini-parks, neighborhood wells, rain gardens, environmental playgrounds and parks, village forests, and completed projects involving the 'greening' of walls and rooftops. With the village's children's library as its center and working closely with specialists, a program of “energy down, energy shift” was introduced that encourages a transition to renewable energy resources in the place of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

 

The number of citizens unhappy with a life dominated by market productivity and competition, the dog-eat-dog attitude and the winner-takes-all perspective toward life are trying to change at least their part of the world through various practices of mutual aid and mutual aid cooperatives This movement toward valuing the individual, diversity, and cooperation on a human scale is renewing residential areas of Seoul by giving new life to both individual freedom and social solidarity. I believe that these kinds of 'self-help' groups will evolve gradually to serve as a new form of governance in a new era. Urban villagers are the ones who have come to realization that a radically different kind of life can be lived in this new era and that they themselves are the ones who can achieve that.  I speak of the gradual progression of ‘self-help 自助’ to ‘group help 共助’ to and ‘public help 公助as the main principle which will finally produce the miracle of opening up new forms of social life. Forming the critical mass required to make a broad change in general society seems however still far off in the future. The grass roots movement by urban villagers is still in its inception stage and struggles still with scarce material and human resources. Moreover, 'urban village' activists need to cultivate a sensibility toward diversity and flexibility if they want to reach the wider public. Another crucial obstacle is that Seoul residents continue to move to new locations within the city frequently[3]. As an example, the typical university student moves three to four times throughout her education, barely the time to develop affection for any one place in particular. This situation makes it difficult to nurture a sense of 'village' or establish a feeling of 'placeness'.

 

The terribly hectic pace of life in Seoul and its resulting exhaustion remain to be considered. Philosopher Han Byeong-cheol in his latest work, Exhaustion Society,[4] speaks of the extreme exhaustion and fatigue that hold the members of our productivity-oriented society in their grasp. He says, if the 20th Century of early modernity was the era of deficiency and discipline, the 21st Century of post- modernity is characterized by excess and productivity. In such a society, all the members spend their entire time from cradle to the grave running in search of productivity for productivity's sake, with the only thought running through their heads being that they must work quickly to survive in a world where only the fittest survive. However, in this 'productivity-oriented society without real productivity',  human beings will be reduced to either endlessly working machines or depressed, incompetent citizens living on welfare benefits. In a society where there is no communication, a society without relationships, each of us will live out our lives running alone against time on our private islands.

 

As Nancy Folbre emphasizes, capitalist society as we experience it today was not sustained simply as a continuation of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand but also by what she calls the Invisible Heart.[5]

The crisis of the present-day productivity-oriented society is directly due to the sudden disappearance of the Invisible Heart. One sign of its demise is the fading away of the tradition of the helpful neighbor woman next door who asked no remuneration for her services when she offered to care for others in her community. Gone are the days when mothers in their fifties who were freed themselves of the responsibility of child-rearing would gather outside their homes, chatting with one another, caring for the children and the elders of their neighborhood  ? serving as the living and caring leaders of the village. However, these days, mothers are too busy to help their neighbors: they take up hobbies for self-realization, or take part-time jobs to help their grown-up children who still cannot get jobs after college graduation to help them pay for further education to find jobs, etc. Before, mothers would organize a children's library or run a study room to help the children of poor families, but nowadays mothers have no patience for raising their own children on their one and just wait to be able to send them off to nursery schools subsidized by the government.

 

When you suggest to mothers who are ready to send their own children to school to seek out work in the field of communal caring, such as helping out in a book cafe or with a co-parenting project that will capitalize her own experience and knowledge about child care, they tell you that they have had enough of child rearing. They entrust their children to daycare centers, schools, or cram schools as quickly as they can in order to minimize the disruption childcare might cause in their own working lives. I believe this situation of a “deficit of care” ? the rapid disappearance of the Invisible Heart ? is responsible in part for Korea's extremely low birth rate and high suicide rate. This is one of the tragedies of Korea's encounter with the 'block attack'.

 

I want to emphasize that the only way to counter the 'block attack' is through revitalizing the urban village. Only through individuality and diversity, sociability, intimacy, and flexibility can the broken city be made to work again. Fortunately, citizens in Seoul and the city itself have turned their eyes in this direction. People, particularly young parents, have invested time and effort into reviving the 'urban villages' and even move to those places as word of urban village life has spread. The number of people who choose to live in a place where happy children can be raised together, food shared in an atmosphere of reciprocity and hospitality is growing. I also wish to place a special focus on the movement among young people in precarious situations. There is a possibility that the constant self-transplantation, unemployment, and the insecurities of life among youth create a strong yearning for a more human and sedentary life. There are already various initiatives underway among young people who decide to get off the roller-coaster of the modern productivity machine. One of the best examples of these movements is an experimental youth group called “Research Space, Suyu-Nomo” where young people gather together to study modern civilization and publish books about what they have learned. They are not only studying but also experimenting with possibilities that life might take. With time, the study group naturally expanded to form a community caf?, and establish co-residence and ecological communities. The guesthouse Bin-jib (literally, “empty house”) is another example where young people with a feeling for community have turned word into deed by creating a living learning community that continues to evolve into what may become an urban village. These types of living- learning community movements among young people are expanding rapidly. I have found many young people active in the urban village movement who were once deeply engaged in the youth movement. I believe that these creative youth with serve as a new model for community designers in the near future.

 

4. Restoring Vitality Through a Network of Caring Village Designers

If we say that in the past the physical city shaped the lives of its residents, now it is time that city dwellers' lives change the city. Feminist Nancy Fraser in her book Justice Interruptus wrote this about our lives: “Imagine a society where mutual synergies arise from participating in a variety of civic social activities in addition to earning money, caring for one another, participating in local and political organizations. Add in some time for play. That future will not come quickly. However, if we can't achieve that kind of vision while moving toward a post-industrial society, it will be difficult to dream of a democratic world.” 

People who recognize that the life we are living is unsustainable began to change the world as they rediscover the city groaning under the aftermath of the block attack.  Creating an urban village is not an instrumental action but rather a communicative one that situates relationships at the center. A new era for designing living communities has just begun. The era of 'village designers' is upon us. At this time, designers are not the specialists we have known in the past. Their “specialization” is not particular skills of an instrumental nature but an attitude that values communicative action, just as a village is not an instrumental community, but a communicative community founded on caring and mutual coexistence. Therefore, the designer must foster her sense of fruitful communications and caring before being concerned with productivity. In this respect, the most dangerous person for a village project is someone who makes plans on his own and wants to carry them out as planned. The designers who fail to recognize that “small is beautiful” are dangerous. People who have faith and trust in others and who consult all those affected and who try to glean all the available wisdom in the spirit of “doing it together” are those who are best suited as village designers. In fact, community designers should be entrusted with coordinating, facilitating, animating village life with loving respect toward others and a healthy respect for networking.

Are you happy just sitting around the conference table listening to the stories of your neighbors? Are you good at bringing villagers together in an atmosphere of exchange? If so, you are a great community designer. Revitalizing a village is a process that begins with the enjoyable encounter of two or three villagers who then surround themselves with others seeking community wisdom, taking joy in working together to identify and to solve common problems. Its methodology is a spirited way of beginning to change the world as well as one's own life. The 'excellent village designer' is someone who has the skills to get everyone deeply involved around the conference table ? someone who feels great joy in small miracles. And they are the ones who, when they began to network with other village designers, make big miracles happen. The Seoul Metropolitan City government has announced plans to assist these spontaneous grass root urban village movements to transform the city life of Seoul. Can citizens who have raised their consciousness and city government officials meet and make big miracles happen together? This is not an impossible dream if many competent governmental officers join together in respect and harmony with new urban villagers and the community designers.

Let’s hope the city of Seoul succeeds in this hard task. Let's hope that the chill brought on by the 'block attack' will pass and that a new spring warmth will blossom here in Seoul. I also hope, with your help, that the madness of the concrete tower city will be only a memory soon throughout Asia.



[1] LEE In-seon, “Blaming the dissolution of community due to uniformity in high-rise dwelling. Investigation into the need for individuality and diversity,” Hanguk Ilbo 2012/7/4. Ju Yeong-jae, “Traditional urban villages built like apartments,” Gyeong-hyang Shinmun, 2012/7/12. “The 'block attack' concept”: 2012/07, an exhibition at the Total Art Center (vertical village). MVRDV, Vertical Village, Equal Books, 2012.

[2] Recently, a documentary by Kim Il-ran and Hong Ji-yu entitled “The Two Doors” caused a sensation when it exposed the realities of the connections between government power and systematic violence in connection with urban redevelopment.

[3]     According to a 2011 presentation by the National Statistics Office, the rate of movement is 17-18% per year. This means that, in the Seoul city area, 20 out of every 100 people will move. Comparing this to the Japanese rate of 2-4% per year, KIM Sang-cheol asks, “Is the Seoul city village creation initiative really working?”. Seoul Cultural Association presentation materials, 2012/06/07.

[4]  Han Byeong-cheol, 2011 Piro-Sahoe, Exhaustion Society, Munhak gwa Jisong-sa.