Historic Preservation and Gentrification in Seoul

Authors: MyungIn Ji*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Asia
Keywords: Historic Preservation, Development, Retail Gentrification, Symbolic Landscape, Discipline of Landscape
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Historic preservation has played an important role in remaking urban fabrics by mediating the decision-making processes of what the city would look like. However, literature on urban geography has barely paid attention to historic preservation and its agency of gentrification. In this context, this paper explores a specific urban neighborhood in downtown Seoul, Seochon, which has been retitled as the Historic Preservation District in 2010. Drawing on governmental documents, media coverage, and ethnographic research of participant observation and interviews, I argue that historic preservation and its discipline of landscape have become alternative strategies of urban regeneration, and ultimately, gentrification. Preservation policies and regulations (re-)shape a symbolic landscape of Seochon as an “authentic urban village” by utilizing selected images and styles of the past. Through renovating, rebuilding and new-building of Korean traditional-style houses, the previously dilapidated neighborhood has transformed into a hip commercial place: Trendy restaurants, local coffee houses, and microbreweries have replaced old retail stores which provided the daily necessities for residents. Meanwhile, decisions of what should be preserved facilitate both explicit and implicit exclusion by drawing boundaries between what should be in the landscape and what should be eliminated. These research findings are critical to understand not only globalized urban strategies of gentrification, but also Seoul’s specific case, which has been dominantly identified with state-led, large-scale, new-build urban renewal projects. Ultimately, this paper aims to demonstrate how the seemingly contradictory logics of preservation and development are intertwined and together negotiate gentrification on the ground.

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