Monday, May 21, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part II)

This is the second part of my focus on Magok District:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)


2) Magok's horizontal verticals

In the first part we saw how, by its simple location and connectivity, Magok District enjoyed key assets for a business hub. In the third one, we'll see if its environment can, as advertised, attract researchers and creative minds. Here, we'll focus on the innovation cluster promise.

The signature used in recent advertorials sounds familiar, and as usual with previous Korean projects sharing similar ambitions in the past, 'Korean Silicon Valley Magok' ("한국의 실리콘밸리 마곡") is supposed to create a haven where big fish and small fry cohabit. But as usual, chaebol struggle to envision innovation clusters beyond proprietary ecosystems, which can become a major hurdle for diversity and creativity (see "Redrawing Korean Maps - Innovation Clusters").

Magok doesn't aim at aggregating value around business 'verticals' like the Sangam DMC, conceived as the name suggests for media and entertainment, or even Songdo, when it was desperately looking for a way to reboot and better market itself. Here, we're into 'convergence and fusion technology', more in the Pangyo Techno Valley vein, but with a stronger industrial - manufacturing touch.

As the first big fish to sign for this former swampy rice paddy area, LG Group set the tone for 'convergence and fusion', pooling Research and Development teams from key subsidiaries (LG Electronics, LG Chem, LG Display...) in its LG Science Park complex (18 buildings, capacity of 25,000 employees) to better tackle such challenges as robotics or A.I.. Similarly, Lotte Group is looking for new synergies between Lotte Food, Lotte Confectionery, Lotte Chilsung Beverage, and Lotteria...

Should we dub this higher stage of chaebolism 'horizontal verticals'?

Clockwise, the site of Tadao Ando's future LG Art Center / LG Science Hall, LG Science Park's ISC (Integrated Support Center), Kolon One and Only Tower.
LG Science Park Integrated Support Center (

LG also provides the neighborhood with a cultural venue designed by Tadao Ando. The new LG Art Center will open in 2020 on Magokjungang 10-gil, across the LG Science Park and next to the park itself. The group will operate the theater for thirty years before offering it to Seoul city.

It's way too early to judge this new ecosystem, particularly since, like in the DMC, small players are supposed to join after the big ones. Urbanism and architecture can give us clues about the potential, though. For instance, LG Science Park can look like series of containers from a distance, but many buildings are porous, with atria and green walkways, giving the ensemble a campus-like touch, more open to its surroundings than other, more monolithic centers.

Unlike the actual Silicon Valley, where most companies of all sizes and shapes settled in existing urban or peri-urban environments, this research complex consists of contiguous lots, most of which will be developed by one powerful player. So if you're having a coffee in the Eastern half of Magok District, chances are it will be in a building owned by one of those, which may alter the way you pitch your startup over a cup of java.


If Magok District will welcome garage startups, they are not its main target. The aim is to boost innovative research in industries that do have fuzzy edges, but also complex cores and cycles, and it already signed enough significant players to succeed. More will want to join in a site ideally located for logistics and within the capital city, but quality of life will also be a factor. Ideally, Magok's environment must stimulate creativity, but in not necessarily too 'speedy' and disruptive ways. 

Is it likely to deliver? That's what we'll check in our last part of this focus.
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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part I)

As we've seen before*, Magok District deserves specific attention as Seoul's last big chunk of undeveloped land (until they decide to chop off all remaining mountains), and one of Korea's ambitious innovation clusters.

If new pieces keep being added every now and then to this urban jigsaw puzzle, recent weeks have seen major developments and PR operations, particularly with the inauguration of LG Science Park by MOON Jae-in, two years after PARK Geun-hye's speech at its groundbreaking ceremony. Of course, since many initiatives in Korea boil down to real estate, a lot of this PR aims at promoting new residences in a neighborhood that's been rather overperforming the market.

Time seems ripe for an update on Magok's narrative, reality, and fundamentals. Could it mark an evolution in Seoul's postwar urbanism (for the big picture, see 'Inhuman, all too human Seoul')? Certainly not a real disruption, since in many ways it remains a classic, zoned Korean 'New Town'. And the focus being on business, let's see how this 'swamp thing' can compares to - or coopetes with? - neighborhoods I've seen rise from a landfill (Digital Media City), the sea (Songdo), or a valley (Pangyo).

Like my 2013 focus on the DMC and Songdo***, I'll slice this one into 3 pieces:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)

'Magok's future Seoul Botanic Garden' (20180518 -


1) Framing Magok

What better image to help you grasp the scale and level of completion of the 3.6 M square meter Magok District than this recent aerial view?

Magok District from above in 2017 (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Stretching over Magok-dong and Gayang-dong, Magok District lies at the very heart of Gangseo-gu, which badly needed a center to make better sense. It's articulated around the gu's backbone: its road to Gimpo Airport, Gonghang-daero.
  • To the West: Banghwa-daero, Banghwa New Town, and Gonghang-dong which hosts the airport. 
  • To the North: Olympic Expressway and the Han River
  • To the East: Gangseo-ro (East), and Deungchon-dong. 
  • To the South: the new Balsan District and Gangseo Agricultural and Marine Products Market.

Actually, only a tendril of Seoul Botanic Park - but a most essential one - reaches the Han River. Most of the district remains under Yangcheon-ro, blocked to the West by the Seonam Water Recycling Center, and to the East by Gungsan, a cute hill which I hope will be preserved, along with the village at its feet.

Magok's four defining dimensions were 'industrial', 'business and commercial', 'residential', 'parks and green', with zones clearly visible from the initial masterplan:

Within the district, three main axes have been created to border its 503,000 sqm park:
  • Magokjungang-ro to the West, with Magok Station (Line 5) at the intersection with Gonghangdaero, and Magongnaru Station (Line 9, and soon AREX) to split what's North of it into two even parts. If Gongangdaero is as wide as a highway, Magongnaru area is booming around the relatively narrow winding road leading to previously developed Banghwa-dong. 
  • The much quieter Magokdong-ro to the East separates for the moment two LG research blocks, with Kolon's spectacular One and Only Tower (!) at the interection with the third axis.
  • Magokjungang 10-gil marks the park's Southern border, with LG Science Park on the frontline (obviously, LG's L still stands for Lucky; the early bird did catch the worm).
So this is basically the frame being filled step by step...
' map keeps filling up (ad in my mailbox)' (20141207 -
 ... its central park still missing, but continuously advertised as a key asset:


Keep in mind this brief framing of Magok District when we move on to its business purpose (Part II) and living environment (Part III). It already reveals precious advantages:
  • a simple, compact, and flat map
  • seamlessly integrated to its urban vicinity, unlike Songdo, or even Pangyo (highway) and the DMC (railway). As you know, I value "urban continuity" as a key factor of success.
  • even if it's located in the capital's far west, Magok District is very close to the airport (a clear advantage over Pangyo for instance), but also directly connected to the historic center (Gwanghwamun via Line 5), and to key business hubs (e.g. Yeouido, Yeongdongdaero via Bongeunsa Line 9). When AREX opens at Magongnaru Station, the synergies with DMC and Guro Digital Complex, both one stop away, will be even easier.
  • in spite of the Olympic Expressway, Magok provides a unique corridor to the Han River, and its park enjoys relatively little competition in a wide radius. Can it bring Gangseo-gu's half million inhabitants closer together, and reach beyond?

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* e.g. "Magok District on cruise mode", "Magok District: SIM City as in "Seoul Intra Muros"? Alleyways as in "Seoul Inter Muros"?", all posts related to Magok District.
** "Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part I)", "Part II", "Part III"

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Chirps vs Tweets

'Chirps vs tweets - Inter Korean Summit' (20180428 -
What a week... a long expected reunion, waves of relief, hope, doubts, cautious euphoria, speeches, informal chats, laughs, tweets, and actual bird chirps.

I'm of course referring to the 2018 Asan Plenum, kicked off by a surreal Trumpian gospel according to Edwin J. Fuller, and wrapped up by a stimulating manel on North Korea. As the theme 'Illiberal International Order' suggests, it's a tad early to wear rose-colored glasses, and a 'red nose' still remains possible (even if Victor CHA joked that he'd 'never heard of it'). When Paul Wolfowitz passes for a dove heralding liberal democracies, you want to be cautious. Once more, kudos to HAHM Chaibong and the Asan Institute, it was great to see familiar and new faces speaking their minds out at such a defining moment.

And what moment. Not that handshake, not that bear hug, not even that Clinton-Yeltsin-ish burst of laughter after a few drinks (see below). But the moment when a North Korean leader left his mob to walk alone across the demarcation line. If we'd been there before, we'd never seen that.

So whom to credit most for this breakthrough? Donald TRUMP certainly served as a catalyst, and XI Jinping as an enabler, but nothing could have happened without MOON Jae-in, and the man who's seen it all, SEO Hoon.

Can we trust DPRK when they say they will give up nukes? Not really - exhibit A Inter Korean Summit I, exhibit B Inter Korean Summit II.

Can DPRK trust us? Not really - exhibit A Gaddafi, exhibit B Iran Deal.

Anyway, as someone uses to say: 'let's see what happens'.

ICYMI, Asan Plenum Day 1 in tweets: in tweets

ICYMI - - the DMZ strut, KIM Yo-jong's choregraphy, RI Sol-ju's dash, and that other Panmunjom Declaration carved on the trunk of the tree planted by both leaders: 'J hearts J'


- 'Complete...'
- 'Verifiable...'
- 'Irreversible...'
- 'Detoxification!'
- 'Sorry, I can't give that one up'

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* Michael wondered what was so funny about that $ 100 bill, and the answer is of course that it was old counterfeit money from North Korea, the $ 300 bill with Kim Jong-un's face, and Uncle Jang at the Treasury (

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Gwanghwamun Square Enters Third Dimension

Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Cultural Heritage Administration unveiled yesterday their plans for a 'New Gwanghwamun Square' by 2021, and they came up with a weird 'solution' for the potential traffic conundrum I mentioned four years ago, when the project started taking a clearer shape (see "Gwanghwamun, Donhwamun, and the Tale of two Royal Roads").

Gwanghwamun Square 3.0 - the royal Sejongno-Gwanghwamun-Gyeongbokgung-Cheong Wa Dae-Bugaksan-Bukhansan perspective

This modification of Seoul's most defining center has potentially even greater consequences than the previous one, which we followed step by step a decade ago. I will as usual focus on the urbanistic impacts (passing by many familiar spots), but since this is also about Korea's center of power ever since its capital was founded, I'd better start with some political context.

It's the politics, stupid?

Such a project deserves to be carried by both the local (SMG) and national (CHA) governments, and PARK Won-soon as well as MOON Jae-in happen to have a special bond with a site where PARK Geun-hye started and ended her presidency.

Started? If we all remember the massive, peaceful demonstrations that led to PGH's destitution, who could possibly forget that kitschissime wishtree** on Gwanghwamun Square, her first symbolic stop on her way to Cheong Wa Dae?

During his own campaign, MOON Jae-in pledged to move the presidential offices from Cheong Wa Dae to Sejongno, and the presidential residence closer to Gwanghwamun, in order to cleanse the feet of Bugaksan, and to honor the place where democracy took a stand and won. MOON also picked Gwanghwamun Square to celebrate his victory.

Retrospectively, I shudder when I remember AHN Hee-jung's over-the-top cheering that night - back then, I didn't know he couldn't even control his darkest pulsions... anyway, his DSK / #metoo moment completely revived the ambitions of a man who tried to steal the show on the very same night.

Only weeks ago, PARK Won-soon was clearly out of the game for the 2022 presidential elections, and about to be dumped by his own party for the upcoming mayoral elections (June 2018). Now he's leading the polls by far (against WOO Sang-ho and PARK Young-sun for the primaries, and against AHN Cheol-soo and KIM Moon-soo beyond), and this new project looks like the ideal platform for both ballots: he can make a splash in 2018 on the very site that boosted his predecessor's reelection***, and deliver the goods just months before 2022. Of course, PWS already combined a major urban project with a major political event before, but PGH's impeachment derailed Seoullo 7017's perfect timing ahead of the 2017 elections (see "Seoullo 7017, and more roads to Seoul").

Now is the right moment to communicate a grand scheme and vision, big enough to mask PARK's most recent shortcomings: he barely managed to avoid criticism for Seoul's waste management crisis by sending deputies to face the media, and he let his rival WOO preempt the usually well coveted 'public transportation' territory by campaigning on a new metropolitan authority, including yet another revival of the key Seobuseon project (after 2013, when "Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority", the city dropped the ball once again).

So yes, it's about politics. But regardless of this context, Gwanghwamun Square and its surroundings needed a fix.

3.7 times bigger, 3.7 times better?

So what's the plan? Basically, the pedestrian zone grows not only, as expected, to the West and along nearby streets, but also right in front of the gate, making the road map much more complex, what I dubbed Seoul's 'Royal T'**** turning into a Y:

Seoul also revived its old ambition to restore Baekundongcheon, Cheonggyecheon's main source, the diagonal still visible on today's map (see "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"*****).

Seoul city advertises about the 3.7 factor by which pedestrian surface booms from 18,840 m2 to 69,300 m2, the reduction of traffic lanes to 6 along Sejong-daero, and its renewed demands to the State for a GTX extension to Gwanghwamun.

All this sounds very positive and environment friendly, but no really new green spaces are planned, and the extended square might make Summers and Winters even more merciless in what looks more like Tiananmen Square, or the barren landing site that preceded Yeouido Park.

There are still no dedicated lanes for buses or bicycles, and buses shall be redirected South, which seems recipe for disaster for public transportation around downtown Seoul, particularly since the new road map deprives Sajik-ro 8-gil (formerly Naejadong-gil) from its role of main NS/EW dispatcher.

Compared to Gwanghwamun 2.0, the 2009 revolution that brought pedestrians back to the heart of the capital, this Gwanghwamun 3.0 adds only marginal change to their experience. I like the idea of restoring the 'parvis' in front of Gwanghwamun, the Eastern pavillions and hanok around a 'History Square' that could liven up the walk from Seochon to Bukchon... but pushing traffic further downtown, and adding new bottlenecks to already saturated axes does seem like a big price to pay. 

Unfortunately, like with Seoullo, impact surveys have obviously been eluded in a race to meet electoral deadlines, and authorities chose to worsen traffic situations by not tackling them. Even the curve of the new road following the back of the central government building (that by the way shouldn't be on that History Square) tells about quick and dirty fixes without consideration for the big picture.

What Seoul needed was a consistent vision and plan to prepare its whole historic center Sadeamun (intra muros) for a driverless future. What Seoul delivered was a dangerously incomplete, short-sighted, ill-prepared PR stunt.

The city will take one year to select a proposal, start work in January 2020, and finish by EOY 2021. Mayor PARK missed by a few months last time, and 2021 seems safe enough a goal for him to inauguration the new (if not improved) Gwanghwamun Square. 

I sincerely hope he'll reconsider this plan, and grow some ambition for our city.

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* see "The Anipang Election: Park wins big, but who won?"
** see "Park 2 Day 1 in pictures"
*** will OH Se-hoon rise again (on billboards, at least - see "OH Se-hoon returns... but did he ever leave?")
**** see "Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time"
***** note that since my 2009 focus, the streets West of Sejong-daero have been renamed Saemunan-ro 9-gil and Saemunan-ro 5ga-gil. Seoul also renewed the project of highlighting walls around Sajik-dan and Sajik-park.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Seoul cartoneros

I jumped from my seat as soon as I noticed the skinny 80-year-old man falling down, but arrived a couple of seconds too late. Luckily, two gentlemen had already caught both him and his bike before they hit the macadam. Yet the four of us couldn't prevent the slomo collapse of his load ; about two cubic meters of cardboard miraculously held by a single rope, the fruit of a morning's hard work for that ancient Seoul cartonero.

The halabeoji insisted to rearrange his pile alone, and left with only a slightly bruised pride. The rest of us? Crushed by the collective shame of a society that lets its senior citizens risk their lives* to earn a dime.

These people are not even homeless, unlike that much younger can collector who used to sleep behind Seoul Station, years before they tore its walkway down, and converted its elevated road into Seoullo 7017 (again, please do watch Nils Clauss' haunting 'Sigur Ros / Varud' video - see "Happy Seoul").

If Korea's welfare system should theoretically prevent this kind of aberrations, old cartoneros remain a common sight across the city, part of the folklore. We know they proudly refuse our help, but we also know they like us to discard our pieces of cardboard a day before garbage collection, to secure their share.

'Lady cartonero at the Seosomun crossing, Seoul' (20161208 -
We're not saving their jobs, we're institutionalizing a wrongful role for them in our ecosystem. And instead of solving problems, we create new ones by maintaining an unsustainable recycling model.

Consider this: these days, street collectors have a tougher time selling their harvest because China stopped buying recycled material from Seoul. And Korea is considering stopping selective waste collection altogether because it can't process all of it itself. What was the point of investing so well in recycling pedagogy without going all the way?

But no, it made more sense having our eldest citizens risk their lives picking up our trash, and pushing it to the nearest eyesore of a collection hub; it made more sense having this pervasive, absurd logistics network feed whole ships of recycled stuff for China.

Recycling should be about reducing our carbon footprint. And sparing our grandparents' feet.

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* I seriously wonder how many casualties actually stem from this nonsense. A couple of years ago, I helped a very old cartonera push a ridiculously massive cart up a hill... it could have crushed her otherwise, but thanks to me, it might have actually crushed someone else further afield, on the downhill side.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un - Season III

For the third time*, we've been granted an exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un. If you remember well, the first one followed the medieval execution of Unc' Jang, and the second the putinesque elimination of Bro Jong-nam. This time, I only witnessed North Korea's leader gruesomely murder ten bottles of XI Jinping's Maotai baiju, while we choo-chooed back to Pyongyang in his private train.

Seoul Village: "Hey, that's expensive booze. Don't you want to make them last a bit longer? Or did you get guarantees from XI for a free refill?"

KIM Jong-un: "Don't worry, that's part of the agreement we reached in Beijing: every fortnight, somewhere in the South China Sea, an Eritrean supertanker sailing under Panama flag will transfer its whole shipment to a North Korean fishing boat."

SV: "Wait. You're talking supertanker on one side, and fishing boat on the other... How will that ever fit?"

KJU: "We'll use Russian pipes for the transfer - robust stuff, Made in Rason; I collect 99%, Jinping's family 49%, Vladimir 34%, and the rest naturally trickles down through the usual DPRK black market channels. Of course, Paul Manafort gets his cut, and everybody's happy."

SV: "Sounds legit. You mentioned an agreement with China..."

KJU: "Xi."

SV: "Well that's pretty much the same now. So what's the deal?"

KJU: "Obviously, I had to pledge some sort of allegiance. The trick was to not overdo boot-licking, and to avoid as much ass-kissing as possible - believe me, considering Xi's considerable tummy, that required expert level in circumnavigation."

SV: "I see. I also see that you're circumnavigating my question as well."

KJU: "Don't test me. Remember that when I test something, even mountains can collapse... Well Xi treated me like a kid, but I got a few candies in return - our restaurants in China can operate again, for example. And if the US ever try to strike North Korea, China will step in. So when (if) I meet The Donald in May, sanctions won't bite as much as they do now, and there will be a third 800-pound gorilla in the room. When you think that just weeks ago I was totally cornered, and about to get bombed** right after Pyeongchang... now I'm safe until at least May, and under the protection of The Godfather himself..." 

Ri Sol-ju (in beige), Kim Jong-un (in Mao neck jacket), XI Jinping (in red tie-carpet-vases), Peng Liyuan (in cowhide)

SV: "I presume Xi was not happy to learn that you could meet Trump before himself."

KJU: "Now that one got me flummoxed in the first place. I never imagined that Don would accept that quickly. But then again, our meeting may never happen."

SV: "But you did confirm Xi you were committed to denuclearization, right?"

KJU: "Yup, with the usual caveat: I've always been willing to denuclearize once all the conditions are there: first the US-ROK drills stop, then the US withdraw completely from the peninsula and from Japan (I'll throw the Philippines and Guam in for good measure), then Korea reunites under my rule, and only then I give up all my nukes."

SV: "For good?"

KJU: "Sure, forever. Just like the States and Russia when they pledged to do so."

SV: "So if I get it right, you keep your job, your regime, your nukes. But you return under Beijing's wing, and you have to resist the urge to test new toys for a while."

KJU: "Bah. Anyway, testing nukes in Punggye-ri or what's left of it was getting each time trickier. Xi suggested me to ask some of my customers to test my products for me in their own most deserted wastelands."

SV: "I get the picture. And I bet Bashar has paved the way for many new potential sites. With this new diplomatic frenzy of yours, we may all start from a blank slate."

KJU: "Peace, at last."

SV: "I almost forgot. You'll meet MOON Jae-in pretty soon..."

KJU: "Who?"

SV: "MOON, the South Korean president." 

KJU: "Ah, that guy. Well I have to, haven't I? After all he's done to get me out of this mess. I guess I'll have to find him a job for after the Unification. Not the management of Moranbong, anyway - I already promised that one to the dude who was supposed to succeed him."

SV: "AHN Hee-jung? He's heading for jail, now - Mr Nice Guy turned out to be Weinstein on steroids."

KJU: "Precisely the kind of people I can trust. I also have a job in mind for John Bolton when this is all over."

SV: "Uh... Bolton's American. And not exactly a fan of yours."

KJU: "He's my next Chief of Staff. I need to recruit radical warmongers just like him. Also, people who thrive in corrupt environments, experienced ones like PARK Geun-hye or LEE Myung-bak. Zuck is already helping me source new talents."

SV: "Mark Zuckerberg?!?"

KJU: "Our JV, Kimchi Analytica, has been screening social networks for years. How do you think we selected you for our interviews? And as an expert in Weapons of Mass Disinformation, would you like to head our KCNA?"

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* see "EXCLUSIVE-Second interview with KIM Jong-un", "Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un" - Agence Fausse Presse.
** see "Alert!"

Monday, February 19, 2018

Year of the Underdog

This is, so far, the image I'd keep from the Pyeongchang Olympics: Lee Sang-hwa and Nao Kodaira enjoying a victory lap together*. Beyond the victory of the Japanese underdog over the Korean double olympic champion, the victory of fair-play and mutual respect, timeless values in sport, even more admirable for a decade-old rivalry in uber-competitive speed-skating. 

'Even more than the joint North Korea - South Korea ice hockey team forced down a coach's throat, the genuine mutual respect between Nao Kodaira and Lee Sang-hwa in speed skating short track can help bring two people together' (20180219 -

So in the land of bballi-bballi, in times of over-speeding news cycles, I'd like to pause and enjoy olympics as they were meant to be. And I sincerely hope that Olympic Athletes from Russia will not be allowed to parade under their national flag for the closing ceremony, particularly after the latest doping scandal (in curling, of all sports!).

And don't forget your gift for the new year: the free ebook of my 2007 short story "Year Of The Dog".

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* no, not that obvious one (see "Closing doors at Pyeongchang's Opening Ceremony")

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