Imun-dong, the irreplaceable setting of our cultural landscape, teems with aching hearts. It has been suffering from speculative urbanization and forced resettlement. The last gasp of memories of local heritage was revived through the exhibit “Jaegaebal Rhythme,” driving HUFSans to think about the migrant nature of their Imun neighbors and reflect on how we easily turned a blind eye to them.
The artist Cho Kyu-hye (29), who is a graduate student in Korea National University of Arts, always had doubts that her school was practicing socially engaged art-making, going beyond the aesthetics of art. The exhibit took place in an alley behind the Central Library from Feb. 15 to March 15, in the basement of the Imun-dong Coffee House: Imun-dong’s Deserted Land (無人島). Walking down the stairs, a recording that narrates the residents’ lives could be heard. It is a dialogue of Cho and the people she met while collecting garbage from the redevelopment area.
Cho said, “Redevelopment in the Korean urban context is usually depicted to be inescapable from its political norms, dividing into debates of gentrifiers and those being displaced by them. However, it also contains numerous stories of tenants who lived through their twenties in gentrifying processes, and that may someday become your story.” Entering, there lay the records: pictures Cho took, along with used cosmetics, buttons, cards, toys, cassettes, letters, and albums once belonging to former inhabitants, salvaged from the garbage.
Kim Se-min (38), a commercial tenant who provided space for the display, remarked, “Change is inevitable, sort of like an evolutionary process, just as I renovated my coffee shop this winter. Regarding the security of the neighborhood and various hazards of older buildings, redevelopment may be a necessity. However, I am aware of the increasingly dominant distribution of apartment complexes in our district and hope this rapid development slows down enough for us to preserve our memories of this neighborhood.”
Cho believes that we should end the romanticism of redevelopment. She hopes this exhibit will inspire people to one day break from homogenized textures of living and form their own contexts, and thereby reconstruct the fabric of society. Visitor Kim Eun-ji (30) replied, “I was bewildered by this drama-set-like display, even though I am not a kind who ruminates over issues like urban renewal. It is quite bitter to find out that there is a lot going around us, but we are too busy to notice it.”
Imun-dong, with its dwellings in winding alleys, is a university neighborhood consisting of HUFS, Kyung Hee University, and Korea National University of Arts. It is distinguished from the other regions like Shinchon, which is already settled as one of the most prestigious cultural hubs. Since 2006, Imun-dong has been a Development Promotion Zone (DPZ) according to the Land Readjustment Program whose replotting-based approach exchanges and subdivides land without altering the existing property rights. Imun Renewal District One and Three are ongoing processes, in hands of the land owners and associations anticipating its development. The Argus looked through this redevelopment through the eyes of the Imun people.
Kim Yoon-sik, a representative of Hoegi-dong People:
“These days, when I look at the residential officetel brand Minjoktongil that line the streets and the continuous expansion of the Raemian apartment complexes, I think apartmentization. The transience of urban life violating residents’ rights through such expansion triggers in me skepticism. But I guess, to the generation born in concrete jungles, reflecting on the city’s past and elements might not be much of a priority.”
Lee Yu-jin, a professor and alumnus of HUFS:
“Are there any students who have actually observed the life beyond the other side of Line one? I reckon not,” claimed Lee, who spent 26 years with HUFS.
“Before HUFS participated in Demolishing Walls Campaign in 2003, there were wire entanglements along the big walls surrounding the Seoul campus. Despite this, HUFS today is far more hostile today, proving the halls of Academe to be ever more exclusive and homogenous. Many speak ill of Donald Trump and his American-Mexican border wall, but I wonder how many would vote against rebuilding the campus walls. After all, HUFS would become free of intruders. There would be public favor for the student union, in the past, when they proposed to restrict visitor access to the school cafeteria, which was refused by the school administration. Minerva, the symbol of our university, is the goddess of Wisdom but was given birth to with forged weapons and armor. HUFSans, why not fight for the real knowledge that draws no distinction in between?
Imun 1 Renewal District: Shingo Bookstore, Kim Hae-gak (78)
“Imun-dong has long been underdeveloped compared to other districts of Seoul. It housed the Korean CIA headquarters, so regulations limited building height for security reasons. Real estate speculators gathered in numbers upon the removal of regulations, and the redevelopment projects were launched in highly undemocratic ways, evicting tenants with government issued dismantlement orders. Looking into the cases of Germany, Japan, and France, the agreement of at least 90 percent of the residents is needed and Real Estate Appraisal must consider the present value of the properties. This differs from Korea’s unchanged rules from the Yushin era, a period of developmental dictatorship. Can you even imagine a land area about one hundred seventy-five chuck square appraised at just 11,000,000 won (US$9,694.19)? Being the head of the emergency planning committee of our district, I have put in petitions hoping to rectify these wrong policies at the District Offices, but it is futile. I am even considering asking the HUFS students’ union to protest together on the destruction of our neighborhood.”
Imun 3 Renewal District: Dokkomari, 134-6 Imun-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul
Dokkomari is a village community that tries to embrace solitudinous youths, provide spaces for the children to play about, trying to form a happy neighborhood and save it from force that might occur during the redevelopment processes. The community must be relocated, but because of redevelopment prospects, the surrounding real estate has doubled in price.
Called upon anonymity, one member of Dokkomari commented that, “It has been 10 years since redevelopment talks started. From then on, landlords would refuse to repair their houses. Only people of slender means live here, and the landlord usually live out of town. We joke that our lazy trash collection must be the doings of the Redevelopment Union members, urging us to move out.” Another member, Han Mi-suk (52) followed, “I heard that the union in charge of our district is grinning from ear to ear as the migration rate goes up to 97 percent, the highest anywhere. Though the New Town Project increased the amount of housing, the resettlement rate lies below 10 percent. This means that these new homes go to people who are already homeowners elsewhere and the original residents are forced to move to the outskirts of the Seoul metropolitan area like Paju or Incheon. I deliberately raised my kids in this neighborhood as I believe there is community here. It is such a shame to say that this old, but affectionate community, will be vanishing.”
Lee Chae-hwa, Dept. of Economics ‘18:
“As a lover of many shops and restaurants here at Imun-dong, all of the demolition is just wrong, as they’re only money-seeking operations. I am already upset that spaces I have been fond of are all under construction, from the library, to the new Global Hall dormitory, and the closed roads at the back gate of school. I am repulsed that the constructions will continue even after I graduate. In addition, I sometimes feel my rights are violated whenever we lack space when locals intrude our cafeteria or library. I believe the purpose of a university lies in education, and the school should at least guarantee basic rights to a proper learning environment by flexibly regulating visitors access to the campus.”
Hyun Ye-won, Dept. of International Economics and Law ‘16:
“Finding a place to live in Seoul was no easy task, after graduating from a high school in the provinces. The deposit and the monthly rent were ridiculously high, so I chose a dormitory housing in Seoul run by my local administration. The biggest advantage of living there was the low monthly rent of about 150,000 won (US$132) and meals that are served. However, I could not handle the expenses of commuting to school and not being able to hang out freely with friends, with an allowance of only 300,000 won (US$264). Currently, I reside near HUFS, but have a roommate in order to save on expenses. My friends are similar cases. One took out student loans and is in over 20,000,000 won (US$17,645) of debt and another lives in a goshiwon, where there is not even space to unpack. We are not really laughing when we joke about our future-having to start our career with a mountain of debt. I guess, we, the students are now too exhausted to look around at what is happening around us, like this neighborhood’s redevelopment and have become indifferent to what seems to not directly affect us.”
By Kwak Hyun-jeong
Staff Reporter of Theory & Critique Section