Into Seoul’s Forbidden Land: Building the City and “Healing” the Nation through US Yongsan Garrison’s Green Demilitarization

Authors: Bridget Martin*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Urban Geography, Asia, Military Geography
Keywords: Korea; militarization; demilitarization; nature; green space; Seoul
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Cleveland 2, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Known by many as Seoul’s “forbidden land”, the walled 600-acre US Yongsan Garrison is located in the center of the South Korean capital city. With the US command currently withdrawing from the garrison and relocating to a peripheral site, the central and city governments plan to create Yongsan Park, an ecological park and the country’s first urban national park. The Yongsan Park vision is based on the concept of “healing” and casts green space in an ambiguously double role. On the one hand, planners and boosters portray it as the passive stage upon which a slick twenty-first century consumer-oriented urban cosmopolitanism can emerge and be performed by Seoul citizens. On the other hand, they also portray green space as an active force for the recovery of coherence and self-respect of the nation, both literally returning the landscape to its pre-colonial topography while also creating a site that can, over multiple generations, physically displace and obscure the remnants of foreign military infrastructures. From this perspective, the national park’s green space eases the nation’s “painful history” of Japanese colonialism, national division, and war, and symbolically prepares the capital city and the nation for reunification with the north—although mention of the material, social, and political legacy of the US military on the Korean Peninsula remain conspicuously ambiguous in official discourse. Through the Yongsan Park case and focusing on the role of green space in particular, the presentation asks how capitalist logics of space shape the range of possibilities and the limits of demilitarization.

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