Thursday, May 27, 2010

Apartment article

The Joongang Ilbo has an interesting article about the desire in Korea for apartments. It gives some interesting statistics:
According to the city, about 80 percent of the newly constructed buildings in Seoul were apartments in 2008, while this year about 56 percent of the city’s households lived in apartments, 13 times higher than in 1970. The number of houses and apartments in smaller buildings - known here as “villas” - fell by about 10,000 over the same period. [...] In a survey of 3,560 people conducted by the country’s top lender Kookmin Bank in 2009, 73.8 percent of respondents said they wanted to live in apartments.
We're also told that "Seoul's very first apartment building appeared in 1962 in Mapo, near downtown." This isn't true. Other apartment buildings had appeared before this; Mapo was the first apartment complex (or the source of its apartment complex), which I've looked at before here.

The article also mentions some of the attempts being made to move away from apartments, such as the Seoul city government-backed Human Town Project:
The project was designed to improve the quality of life of residents living in“villas,” by adding neighborhood facilities often found inside high-rise apartment complexes, such as security offices, surveillance cameras, parks, parking lots and senior citizens centers.
I've noticed that in the neighbourhood my school is in, which was slated to become a new town under Oh Se-hoon's plans to add another 25 new towns to Lee Myung-bak's original 25 (which was dropped when the economy tanked), that a lot of new villas have been built instead. I think villas are just as comfortable, but the problem is that they don't appreciate in value.

The article spends some time looking at Valerie Gelezeau's research:
Most [Koreans] told her Koreans had no choice but to build tall apartments because the country’s territory is too small for its many people. But Gelezeau already knew that Japan and the Netherlands, which also have high population density, were not dominated by apartments.[...]

Seeing the love affair with the apartment as a unique by-product of Korea’s modernization, Gelezeau came to the conclusion that Korean apartments function as factories, producing a middle class through investment. Families buy apartments for lower prices before they’re even built through the “bunyang” system, then when construction is completed and values shoot up they find themselves suddenly wealthy.

“In Korea, apartments have become products measured by price, and that’s the reason Korean apartments were mass-produced and so hugely popular,” Gelezeau wrote. “In addition, the purpose of an apartment [in Korea] is to be owned, not to be rented to the working class as in many other countries.”
I've mentioned her work before, looking at this worthwhile presentation:
On April 5th, 2007, the Korea Society hosted an Arts program titled "How Did Korea Become a Land of Apartments" with Valerie Gelezeau, associate professor of Geography at Marne la Vallee University in France and author of The Republic of Apartments. Gelezeau explained how South Korea has transformed from a country of single-unit housing to one where apartment living is the dominant paradigm. Gelezeau believes that in addition to economic and demographic factors-such as a growing population and a shortage of buildable land-this change has been driven by cultural factors.
More on Gelezeau can be found over at Hunjangui Karuch'im here and here, as well as in this Chosun Ilbo article, and in this review of her book (translated in Korean as The Republic of Apartments). A podcast of her presentation can be found here.

The article continues:
That financial gain brought high-rise apartments their cultural mystique. Today, mothers consider moving to apartments when their children reach school age as a status symbol.

“I purchased a new villa [apartment] earlier this year but everyone around me said I should have bought a [high-rise] apartment. They say my children will be discriminated against by children living in apartments when they go to school,” commented one woman on a Naver cafe for mothers in Incheon named “Precious Ties.”
Has 'What kind of building do you live in?' become just another 'finding someone's place on the social totem pole' question like 'How old are you?' and 'Are you married?' I find it hard to believe that young children would care that much - though those with helicopter moms controlling their children's lives might. The article ends by making it clear how popular apartments are - or at least it gives some idea of the supply part of the equation:
Despite the city government’s efforts to bring diversity to housing in Seoul, many people still hope to move into a new apartment. On May 19 alone, apartments in 30 buildings were put up for sale nationwide, and a whopping 17,000 apartments will pour onto the housing market next month.
The article begins with a photo of a stampede to get apartments in Songdo New City in Incheon. I hadn't realized how far it was coming along until I saw it from the top of Cheonggyesan yesterday (obviously it was a very clear day - the Incheon bridge (at right) is about 30 km away!):

A naver search turns up these photos of the area, including blogs like this, this and this. I guess South Koreans got so tired of not being able to go to Pyongyang that they built one on Songdo.


kushibo said...

All that's important, but... the average Korean is too busy to deal with yardwork.

Andrew said...

I know my wife is often asked; "how many pyeong is your apartment?"

Anonymous said...

It is a completely unique phenomenon. What strikes me most about it is that many Koreans find the buildings and complexes themselves to be attractive. I have no idea what it is about them that they consider attractive though.

For me, they're all as ugly as sin. It's clearly a factor of nurture over nature - in my country apartment blocks are generally seen as housing for the poor to put it bluntly, and are often run-down, low grade places. Therefore, even new blocks are tarnished with this brush, and I think this means people like me just aren't able to see them as attractive. In Korea the reverse is true, they're expensive homes for the forward-thinking, upwardly mobile, and I think people's opinions of the aesthetics change accordingly. Therefore blocks of apartments that I think look ugly and Pyongyangish, South Koreans think look great. I just find it interesting how outside factors influence even our opinions on the appearance of buildings.

I think it probably also has something to do with the fact that an apartment block is a self-contained, self-proscribed group or community. It fits in perfectly with the societal preference and desire for groups and group-based lifestyle.

kushibo said...

asdalthought, I think you raise some good points, but at the same time, I'm not so sure how "unique" it is. I've made fun in the past about how Korean the apartments in Hawaii look. Like Seoul, Oahu land prices are astronomical, and many people who want to own homes (or even just rent) realize they must live vertically in order to afford that.

That doesn't explain the drab, cookie-cutter apartment designs and colors in both places, but I'm not so sure either that I agree that KoKos find their exteriors to be especially attractive. Maybe some of the amenities are good and convenient, but the buildings are not "attractive."

But that, too, has been changing with some more recent designs. In western Yongsan-gu, none of the new apartment blocks looked like the ones before them.

As you say, it is largely the self-contained community that is the appeal, plus the fact that no matter what the outside looks like, the inside can be made to look nice, by whatever standards that may be to the owner.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly my point, Kushibo, I think a lot of Koreans do think they look attractive. We don't, sure, but it's something that's always puzzled me, and so I make a point to ask about it. some people even bring it up in conversation first - doesn't our apartment block look nice type of thing.

I've never been to Hawaii, so I'm in no position to judge, but from your comment it seems like people are resigning themselves to the fact that they have to live in apartments due to lack of realistic alternatives for the reasons you describe. In Korea, however, they've almost given up building alternatives - as Matt's post shows - because people just outright want to live in apartments.

This is what I'm saying seems more unique to me, rather than the buildings themselves.

hoihoi51 said...

Most Japanese hate high rise apartment.
The apartment and mansion house are a temporary residences before the own house is built.
As for those apartment houses, they are made to despise oppositely.

I asked many korean abou that.
one is SK is not safty
The infrastructure is not maintained. that is why they need an enemy for unity

If the number of such apartments increases, the tradition and the festival in the region like Japan are lost.

Jens-Olaf said...

Since three years I am collecting reasons why the apartments are looking like they are. So far it seems there are more than 10 reasons to consider that leads to the outcome. The result is quite unique in quantity comparing world wide. I only wish there could be more creativity like the Dutch practise for example. High density but a lot of varieties.

Lifestyledesign said...

If there's one thing that'll drive me out of Seoul and South Korea, it's the dominance of ugly, godforsaken apartment blocks that sap my will to live. I hate them with a passion.