Where do people run in Seoul

Seoul settlement in transition
The long-lived ones

Wall paintings in Changsumaeul | Photo: Malte E. Kollenberg

In half a century, South Korea has developed from an agricultural state to a high-tech country. The slums that formed after the Korean War and that over time have become real, albeit irregular, settlements are now considered worthy of protection.

Every morning, around 10 a.m., the small shelter on the outskirts of Changsumaeul fills with women. Women who have been living in the small settlement below the old Seoul city wall for half a century. And women who moved here at some point in the past 50 years. Every now and then a male resident drops by.

Then a small truck with groceries comes by. Like a swarm of bees around honey, the women surround the greengrocer. Hardly anyone is younger than 70 years. In German, “Changsumaeul” can be translated as “village of long life”. The women buy persimmons and mushrooms. There is nowhere cheaper food. And above all not without having to walk a long way or even take the bus.

The bus, a tolerable topic among the old people in the village. He drives up, behind the city wall. The bus stop is too far and most of all the mountain is too steep to go there. It is 35 meters from the main street in the village to the bus. An almost insurmountable obstacle, especially in winter. So they stay at their meeting point, drink hazelnut coffee and talk about how the settlement has changed. There is no local bus.

When most of you moved here, Seoul was a different world. And Changsumaeul, which today exudes old charm but does not reveal any of the comfort that Koreans often want in their own four walls, was an illegal settlement. "Here were tents and mud huts," say the "long-lived" of the district.

After the Korean War in the early 1950s, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. South Korea had a gross national product per capita of $ 876. 20 years later, South Korea's gross national product per capita had more than tripled. Today, nearly 30 more years later, South Korean GDP per capita is over $ 22,000. Much is much more regulated and legally orderly today than in the years of record growth.

At that time, the government simply moved in and had everything torn down, say Changsumaeul's residents. But shortly afterwards the huts were back. Rebuilt by the residents. “It kept repeating itself,” recalls one of the old women as she sips her coffee. Until the government gave up. The settlement was still illegal, but had just established itself and was left alone.

"Large parts of the country here belong to the state," explains Sungjoon Baek, professor of urban planning at Hansung University. Strictly speaking, it is 64 percent of the area of ​​the district. When Baek looks out of his window, he looks at the settlement diagonally from above. Every day. On houses for which the Korean state still gets around 16 million won per house from someone. Usage fee for the past 50 years.

“Changsumaeul was new development area number four,” explains Baek. The new development area number three is directly adjacent. Only one road separates the two. “District number three is still being redeveloped. In the case of Changsumaeul, the plans have been rejected. "

In 2004, the spatial planning of the city of Seoul envisaged redevelopment of the small village, the district, a few meters below the city wall. Many of the private landowners had speculated on this. Quite a few South Koreans have become wealthy and rich because at some point a huge apartment complex was built on the site of a small hut. Those who did not own land hoped to receive support in moving to a better area.

“People have been waiting for the redevelopment of the district to begin,” explains Junghak Bae. He is 47 years old and the good soul in town. Bae is everywhere where his help is needed. He organizes, plans and, above all, is on hand to help.

“The Seoul city wall was a problem at first,” he says, a little thoughtfully. The protective wall built in 1397 runs directly above the village. A historical relic that, it has meanwhile been agreed in Seoul, must be preserved, also because of the overall impression. No house in Changsumaeul can therefore be higher than the wall. That ruined the apartment plans of many homeowners. Skyscrapers are not built. Instead of getting rich through skillful real estate speculation, investments should now be made. The city of Seoul gives one part, another comes from the residents, owners, tenants. But what the ownership structure is in the quarter is hard to understand.

The city wanted to preserve the historical value of the settlement. Not the slum that Changsumaeul was 50 years ago, but the settlement that has developed over the past 30 years. The settlement that symbolizes the long way the country has come to the apartments of today. The aim is to preserve the small, steep streets, which, in combination with the white-painted houses with blue roofs, exude Mediterranean charm.


But for many residents, the concrete and stone houses that they inhabit today are no more than “shabby huts”. Despite renovation, the refurbished houses, brimming with Korean 80s charm, are far from what South Korea saw as comfortable, safe living in 2013. The next apartment complex is only a stone's throw away from Changsumaeul. Many of the residents in the village would move there immediately. It is the apartments that embody wealth, prosperity and success and the ownership of which says something about one's own success in life.

The younger ones have moved away. The neighborhood has undergone a demographic shift, from a gathering of young people drawn to the city to an aging neighborhood. Anyone who still lives in a settlement like Changsumaeul must have done something wrong. Didn't work hard enough yourself, raised the children incorrectly? Those who can afford it move away. Rural exodus, internal migration, in the middle of the city.

Korea University sociologist Kim Mun Cho has studied the people left behind in places like Changsumaeul. “These are victims of urbanization. You have no way of moving, ”he says. It is not your free choice to stay there.

At the same time, Kim is also certain that the dissolution of the community that exists in a place like Changsumaeul would have serious effects on the well-being of the former residents. “Everything would change all at once. That creates confusion, ”he says. Man is a social being; if relationships with others were separated, one could no longer speak of "life".

Many of the boys have moved away. The sociologist is certain that if educational opportunities, good public transport and general comfort find their way into Changsumaeul, the young will come back.

The villagers eyed the newcomers curiously. Word quickly got around in the village that two Germans were there. It should be designers. Many villagers would prefer experts in insulation technology. But designer? One wonders what they want to design. In winter it is cold in the houses. People want thermal insulation.

Daniel Pietschmann and Fynn-Morten Heyer have moved into quarters near the village. This will be her place of work for three weeks. For three weeks you want to try to integrate yourself into village life, want to understand what is happening in the community, how it works? Why which things are handled by whom in the village and how? “The fact that during the time we were there the whole village was a construction site and gas pipes were laid everywhere is of course something that people benefit from,” says Daniel Pietschmann. It quickly became clear to the two designers that the infrastructure was not what they should focus on. You could. The social interaction in the village, the people who shape the city, who populate the grandmothers meeting place, people like village manager Bae, aroused their interest.

One could say that Pietschmann and Heyer have solved urbanization problems around the world. In Hamburg and Istanbul they designed urban living space and in Belgrade they have already worked with the Goethe Institute. They are supposed to do something similar in Seoul. To do this, they have to put themselves in the shoes of the villagers.

"We have developed a questionnaire to find collective potential through general questions," explains Fynn-Morten Heyer. They quickly came across gentrification. On problems, some of which can be traced back to the beginnings of the village. And actors who have created a village community that hardly exists in uniform, anonymous apartment complexes.

What took place in 2013 in South Korea, the best networked country in the world, even among neighbors on the Internet, still works in the traditional way in Changsumaeul. Personal social interaction of the residents and the urban spaces that are available to them crystallized into the right one for the designers Starting point out.

When Pietschmann and Heyer want to introduce themselves to the village - in the community center - they quickly notice where the problem lies. Only a few residents make the arduous journey into the building on the mountain.

Manager Bae leads the two of them to the places where village life takes place over the next few days. Again and again on small paths and steep stairs through the district. Where the old women of the village meet. The little shelter on the bend in front of the town exit, opposite the only small shop in the district. The place that almost everyone can reach. From here, Heyer and Pietschmann want to creatively improve urban space, the city in which the "long-lived" move in the 2014 part of the project.

The neighborhood is slowly beginning to realize that it is time to participate. That it is no longer the city, the government, that determines where the village is going. But that it is the residents who can shape their environment. Who can turn their small settlement into a place where they themselves like to live for a long time.

For Heyer, that is exactly the goal for 2014: “It is always terribly valuable when people act in a self-organized manner. When you are in contact with the city and not in a pure dependency. ”Organizing yourself and improving communication in the district, Pietschmann and Heyer want to help in April. How exactly is not yet clear. What is certain is that they want to use the creativity of the residents. The aim is to support the local social structure that has developed over half a century. Because the project should be sustainable. "Long-lasting", if you like.
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