Urban change and local culture: responses to urban renewal in Wangsimni

Journal of Seoul Studies, 37, pp. 117-153
Institute of Seoul Studies | Seoul | 2009 | ISSN 1225-746x

Urban renewal is a process, which improves quality of life in cities and addresses disparities caused by past urban development at the local level. Yet cities have also become increasingly integrated at the global level. The competition between them influences the way a particular city reacts to pressures and opportunities of globalization. Urban renewal is therefore often instrumentalized by political elites and private investors for improvement of global status of a particular city, which may in turn result in undesired social, economic, environmental or political outcomes at the local level. Seoul is no exception in this regard. This paper deals with the urban renewal in Wangsimni, an old neighbourhood east of the downtown Seoul, in order to study how globalization affects the urban renewal, how urban renewal constrains everyday life in cities, and how the citizens respond to challenges caused by it. In the conclusion the article argues that local culture has been a major source of responses to urban renewal in Wangsimni, although in this particular case the actual outcomes of those responses were far from desired. Urban renewal in Wangsimni namely seems closer to developmentalism, characteristic for Seoul in the past, than to anticipated sustainable development of Seoul in the future.

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