One thing that irritates me about Seoul, are people’s desire to make the city a major international tourist attraction without A) examining what makes the city unique and B) examining what foreigners are actually interested in. It seems that decisions on creating tourist attractions and campaigns are based more on a committee which have very little to do with the place and the audience.
The city will be repurposing an old overpass near Seoul Station and turning it into the Seoul Skygarden, an elevated park in the middle of a busy city center. They hired international designers to create the park, thus hoping to add some international design accolades on paper. Great, just great. I work near that area. It has extremely heavy traffic and the station itself is popular among homeless people. An elevated park with cafes and restaurants will not only worsen traffic conditions, it will further displace the homeless population. That or they would just gladly hangout at the internationally, designed structure.
It’s like the designers and city planners just thought about modernity and ignored everything else. It’s already been done with the station itself. Seoul Station used to be this old building built during the Japanese occupation. Ugly history aside, it’s still a beautiful and historic building. But the city decided to build a new Seoul Station right next to it, a modern structure that says absolutely nothing. Passersby wouldn’t even be able to make out the shape of the whole structure amongst the menagerie of glass and neighboring shops.
They do this again and again. City Hall is shaped like a wave that is trying to hide behind other more interesting buildings. Dongdaemun Design Plaza replaced the old stadium which displaced many of the people who used to do business in the old structure. Now it’s a pretentious glob right in the middle of a shopping area. It houses high-end fashion shops, replacing old merchants struggling to make ends meet by hawking their wares. Noryangjin Fish Market is being modernized into a soulless department store-looking bland attraction. Fish mongers who’ve done business there for years are being pressured by the city as well as gangsters to move to the newer, modern-looking area. City planners, instead of seeing what works and embracing it, they try to modernize things into attractions that would ultimately look old and dated given five or ten years. Seoul City Hall is not iconic, neither is Dongdaemun Design Plaza. They look like poor stabs at looking modern.
It’s really is a shame, but Koreans are often misguided when it comes to capitalizing on their environment and cultural appeal outside of K-pop. Even their attempts to coming up slogans for the city and the country have been disastrous. “I.Seoul.U” is a confusing mess that would attract no one. If anything, it reflects on the need to sound modern and hip to the detriment of language and communication. As for “Creative Korea,” ironically, it looks like it was plagiarized from “Creative France.” Appropriately, it speaks to the lack of creativity and poor attempts by the Korean tourism authorities. And in both cases, I believe no English-speaking expats, people who have learned to appreciate the country from an outsider’s point of view, have been consulted for the slogans.
Mind you, other cities are not immune to this. As much as I love Winnipeg, I’ve never liked its much-beloved Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I feel for the sentiment and the purpose of the place, but it looks like structure straight out of Mad Max. Also, who would travel to Winnipeg to see a museum on human rights? At least Edmonton had the wisdom to build the West Edmonton Mall. Americans and Canadians alike would drive for hours to visit Edmonton, a city of less than a million people, just to visit the giant mall. This would never be the case with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s like city planners are actively targeting the mandatory school field trip crowd. And despite being a structure dedicated to human rights, I remember planners were quick to ignore Aboriginal concerns regarding artifacts and Aboriginal graveyards. Just like Seoul, it’s a modern ugly structure that ignores many of the locals’ concerns and would likely not increase local tourism.