Asia Pacific - Issue 115 - Magazine | Monocle

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Liberating feeling

South Korea — Urbanism

Things are looking up for Haebangchon. The hillside neighbourhood on the southern slope of Seoul’s Nam Mountain is getting an €8.6m makeover courtesy of the local and central governments.

Squeezed up against the concrete wall of the soon-to-be-closed US military’s Yongsan Garrison, Haebangchon’s makeover will include the laying down of a much-needed pavement along the neighbourhood’s only two-lane road. But the centrepiece of the project is the revival of Shinheung: an all-but-abandoned hilltop market that was once Haebangchon’s commercial centre. According to urban designer Han Gwang-ya, these renovations will help transform Shinheung into a venue for a new generation of designers – Han is overseeing the regeneration.

Founded as a squatter settlement following the end of Japan’s colonisation of the Korean peninsula in 1945, the first dwellers in Haebangchon, or Liberation Village, were refugees from north of the 38th parallel in search of better fortunes in the south. For decades it was home to a thriving knitwear industry but by the 1990s, many of these small sewing shops closed up or moved out of town. The community experience a downturn, Han tells us.

New businesses in Shinheung, which include cafés, a candlemaker and a leather-crafts shop, can now be found next door to some of the few remaining original tenants, including a herbal-medicine vendor, a sashimi restaurant and a handmade-noodles shop. “It was like walking into the past,” says artist Yeo In-young, who runs the exhibition centre Space One inside the market, as she recalls her surprise at discovering that such a place still exists in Seoul.

Track changes

Vietnam — Transport

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are once again locked in battle – only this time it’s to be the first to build a metro. China is backing the former with money and know-how; Japan is supporting the latter’s efforts. So far Hanoi is winning: it is expected to begin testing its system later this year. Its inaugural line 2A – the first in a planned network of eight – is a crucial first step in plans to combat congestion, ultimately resulting in a ban on motorcycles by 2030.

Alas, a lukewarm reaction to the metro has been compounded by growing suspicions of Beijing. The best advert will be the sight of green-liveried Hanoi Metro trains racing along the elevated tracks as riders and drivers in traffic watch on below.

When a plan comes together

China — City-planning

Riverside activity in Shanghai is no longer monopolised by the Bund area. The first phase of a facelift of a 45km stretch of waterfront along the Huang River has been revealed and not before time: the project that started in 2002. The centrepiece has been the opening of Xuhui, the waterfront section larger than Gibraltar that has transformed a defunct industrial zone.

What was once filled with aircraft factories is now bursting at the seams with tree-lined bike lanes and lawns that link up with museums and art galleries.“It brings together all my friends who are outdoor-sports lovers,” says Zhang Ji, co-founder of urban cycling-tour company wkup Ride. Cultural connoisseurs in the Xuhui section have more to look forward to later this year too, when the ribbon-cutting of a theatre and two concert halls will allow daytime strolls to roll into night-time sonatas.


Jill Garner

Architect, Victoria state government


Jill Garner advises Victoria on architecture and urban planning. Her expertise comes at a critical time for Melbourne: a booming population and subsequent building bonanza will inevitably reshape the Australian state’s largest city over the next few decades.

What are some smart planning projects coming down the pipeline in Melbourne?
A shift in larger-scale residential design is showing that higher-density projects are no longer dominated by single-bedroom apartments. Projects are becoming more diverse [and we’re seeing] multiple and even four-bedroom homes. This suggests a changing acceptance of the apartment model as an alternative housing type.

How significant is the recent increase in federal funding toward Victorian infrastructure projects?
Federal government funding has reinforced the state’s commitment to a number of infrastructure projects over several years. Urban design is always part of the solution to an infrastructure challenge and federal support will contribute to embedding positive urban design across the state.

What does the state need to do to address housing affordability in its cities?
This issue of housing our population is critical. The state needs to be brave and take a strong position on the requirement for all developments of scale to commit to affordable housing. This should also be provided across single- to four-bedroom accommodation. Victoria could consider having a minimum of 20 per cent of a development [earmarked as affordable housing] to match the international standard.

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