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[Opinion] “New Town”

Posted November. 09, 2003 23:17,   


There is an old district called the “French Quarter” in New Orleans, a southern port city in the U.S. The French Quarter in New Orleans is now living on tourists’ lavish money as it has lost its old fame as a trading port. The tourists look at a run-down house where the play writer, Tennessee Williams of “A Streetcar Named Desire” fame, used to live, listen to jazz music being played at a place not much different from a barn, wander around the streets filled with French architecture, and finally arrive at a bar for a beer when they get tired and thirsty. There is also another old district where the pioneers first settled in Quebec, Canada, and it is also a famous tourist site.

Hanyang is the old name for Gangbuk, the area north of the Hangang River. Hanyang was the place where families of the nobility, merchants, and the military lived, and there were different districts for different social classes. With Changdok Palace as the center, there were also the East Village, West Village, North Village, and South Village. The Western people, who were the dominant power during Josun dynasty, lived in the West Village (area around Seodaemun). The Noh Theory people lived around the North Village (Cheng-un-dong), the Soh Theory people lived around the East Village (Ewha-dong and Wonnam-dong), and the Southern people and military personnel lived at the South Village (Namsan-dong, and Hoehyun-dong). The Dongdaemun and Euljiro areas, known as the “Lower Part,” were where the merchants lived. The merchants who spearheaded the modernization efforts settled in the areas around Cheongye-chon for several historical reasons. On the other hand, the land that the nobility coveted the most was around Songhyun-dong near the Dongsipja-gak (near the present Hanguk Ilbo Company building). There was a luxurious villa of Sim Sang-gyu, who was the most influential persona of Noh Theory, which even had been ostracized by the king. (Gang Myoen-gwan, ‘Sceneries of Back Streets of Josun’).

It is such a pity that Hanyang, the old capital of Korea, has been so distorted during the industrialization era that one cannot even recognize its old face any more. A few palaces, the Gahoe-dong area, and some traditional-style housing in Namsan Valley--those have only survived the “developed Korea” among the traces of old Hanyang. Politicians after the independence have disregarded the legacies of the Josun dynasty and have emphasized too much on the modernization of the country. It is quite contrary to their adherence to traditional values such as state-oriented thoughts and hierarchical order to rationalize their authoritarian governments.

There is a “New Town” being constructed in Gangbuk. It is aiming to control the skyrocketing prices of the Gangnam apartments and redistributing the flocking demand for the apartments from Gangnam to Gangbuk. However, I cannot stop thinking that it looks as if it is trying to turn back the history of time by building a “New Town” where there should actually be an “Old Town.” I wish the project will live up to the ideals and causes for constructing a new town, but I still think that it is a good idea and timing to think of restoring the “Old Town” since we are now working on moving the administrative capital.

Visiting Editorial Writer and Professor at Seoul National University Song Ho-geun