Not green enough? Environmental gentrification-by-demolition and greenbelt deregulation in Suburban Seoul’s Misa Riverside City

Authors: Jay Bowen*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Urban Geography, Asia
Keywords: Seoul, urban geography, political ecology, neoliberal nature, environmental gentrification, amenity space, deregulation, dispossession, agriculture
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Increasingly, urban sustainability studies have addressed concerns over environmental remediation and green amenity provision producing gentrification in lower-income urban areas. Seeking environmental justice without gentrification, they propose ‘just green enough’ strategies that integrate green spaces with grey commercial and industrial infrastructures to avoid pricing out long-term residents and businesses. This paper examines Misa Riverside City, a mixed-use peri-urban megaproject encompassing 5.47 km2 of former Seoul greenbelt, to identify potential limits to ‘just green enough’ approaches in Seoul. Using interviews, ethnographic observations, media, and academic sources, I argue that: 1.) ‘just green enough’ spatial practices in Seoul’s greenbelt tend to justify rather than resist gentrification, and 2.) gentrification at Misa Riverside City fits within a regional historical phenomenon I call ‘gentrification-by-demolition’ involving a combination of state, corporate, and local actors. Here, plan-rational developmentalism facilitated market-rational neoliberal urbanization through deregulation, devolution, reorienting public services to the creative class, and enrolling area denizens in their own dispossession. Designating area farmland, light industry, and commerce as having ‘low preservation value,’ the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs deregulated greenbelt land for redevelopment. The national Land and Housing Corporation (LH) initially planned public housing for low-income residents. However, a state audit and local demands for better compensation prompted a devolution of redevelopment activities to largely corporate-financed construction of luxury housing advertising green amenities. Consequentially, the majority of the reduced public housing was allotted to young entrepreneurs. Finally, negotiations with state and corporate entities engaged local occupants in their own dispossession, culminating in regional gentrification.

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