Letter to the Seoul Development Institute

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A Letter e-mailed to the 66 officers and researchers of  the government affiliated Seoul Development Institute: (http://www.sdi.re.kr) in response to their report  Mid-term evaluation on the implementation of  Preservation & Regeneration of Bukchon (SDI 05-R-06)

This is one of a number of reports  the SDI have published that give glowing reports about how implementation of the plan is achieving everything that was hoped for.

A slightly different letter went to Dr. Seok Jeong, the senior author of the report.

January 17th 2007

Dear  Dr. [Name]

I recently came across the SDI’s report “Mid-term evaluation on the implementation of ‘Preservation & Regeneration of Bukchon’ ” (SDI 05-R-06). The report suggests that although some problems have been encountered, the outcome so far is generally positive. Moreover, according to the report, the problems can be addressed and remedied in later stages of the project. Someone reading this report would feel re-assured and confident that the promise of the plan was being fulfilled and a historic district of Seoul was being carefully restored in line with generally accepted international standards for the conservation and protection of architectural heritage (e.g. ICOMOS, the Venice Charter, etc).

With respect, I would like to differ. From my direct observation and experience of the implementation of the plan, it has completely failed to protect the key features of Bukchon that make the area so important to Seoul.

Most significantly, the implementation has led to the complete demolition of many hanoks in the S1 district of Gahoe-Dong 31. These demolitions began in 2001 and are continuing today, despite the fact that the survey of the district completed in 2001 pronounced these to be in excellent condition. The laws and regulations that are supposed to protect the old hanoks of Bukchon have been systematically ignored or circumvented by developers in collusion with officials at Jongno and in the metropolitan government.   

The new buildings that have replaced the old hanoks are constructed primarily from reinforced concrete. Most are two-storey buildings with a hanok-like construction on the upper floor [e.g. http://www.kahoidong.com/pix01.htm ].

Both the metropolitan government and Jongno-gu are fully aware of this, and have been aware since the demolitions began. We have been protesting against this since 2002 and have consistently received written responses from both metropolitan government and Jongno-gu either denying that anything incorrect is taking place or stating that they approve the developments.

Those new buildings we have examined also violate Construction Laws. Both the metropolitan government and Jongno-gu have consistently ignored this illegal work.

The use of public money for the repair and conservation of hanoks has been improper. For example, grants and loans have been extended to owners who have completely demolished hanoks and replaced them with modern buildings. A number of these recipients of public money have also been given commercial licenses to use their hanoks as restaurants, retail outlets, or places of entertainment.

There are also problems with the classification of hanoks. For example, our application to register our own hanok (Gahoe-Dong 31-79) in July 2004 was rejected by Jongno-gu who also told us that it was pointless for us to apply since they would never register Gahoe-Dong 31-79 as a hanok. You can make up your own mind about this decision by reading the description of our hanok published in the Bukchon Plan (Volume 2, pages 286-289) by following this link:

I appreciate that you may not have copies of the original planning documents to hand, and so I have made these available via the internet here in Korean and here, in English

The English translation of the original plan enables scholars, architects, and planners in other countries, who may not read Korean, to join in the discussion about how the Korean authorities have managed the Bukchon Project.

The English translation will be augmented with photographs and video to illustrate what has been done, and copies of documents from the metropolitan government and Jongno in which officials assert that what has taken place has been authorised and approved by them. You can read my own views on this subject here.

The poor management of the Bukchon project has directly contributed to social problems. Former elderly resident of the Kahoi-song 31 district were cajoled and bullied into selling their properties at less than fair prices to the benefit of speculators. As a consequence land values have risen solely to the benefit of speculators and their accomplices.

I invite you to re-consider your evaluation of the implementation of the plan to take account of these matters, to consider what should be done to prevent further destruction, and what should be done to undo the damage that has already been done.

From the SDI’s report, and others I have come across, I gather that you have consulted the opinions of residents and other interested parties. Although I have been a resident of  the S1 district of Gahoe-Dong since 1988, on no occasion has anybody asked my own views, or the views of my wife (Korean) or of the Korean members of my family, on the plans for Bukchon. However, please allow me to add my own comments to the Bukchon Plan. In my view, the vision of the original plan is excellent and its goals are achievable, worthwhile, and affordable. How tragic that the implementation has been so marred by incompetence, negligence, and corruption.

I am aware that you are not an author of this report and probably had no role in its preparation. However, both as someone who is involved in urban planning issues and as a member of SDI, I felt I should bring these matters to your attention.

Yours sincerely

David Kilburn

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