Build it and they will come – Korea’s love affair with World Festivals

What’s with Korea’s penchant to host world fairs, expos and sport events? As well as build public spaces that no one uses?

This article from Fast co.Design reminds me about what will happen to the Yeosu Expo grounds after it closes in August. Ives Maes’ photographs capture the loneliness of what is left behind after the fair closes. I wonder what will happen in Yeosu.

I heard the Aquarium is supposed to remain open. But what of all the other structures? And I sincerely wonder about the loss of the water eco-system in that area. When I was there you could smell the bleach and chemicals used to make the ‘natural’ water more structure-friendly (reducing algae on structures).

Will they turn it into an amusement park or a water park like at Yulpo Beach near Bosong? But then Yeosu has already been over industrialized with its mega power park, so perhaps we should write-off Yeosu and it nature. I hope the Yeosu power plant serves Korea well in these sweltering temps this summer when everyone is inside in the AC instead of enjoying the forests, mountains and beaches.

Jeollanamdo, the supposed bread basket of Korea, has been cemented over. More and more agricultural land is being lost. The recovery efforts after the Korean War of planting trees in the federal reforestization program have decreased substantially in the past 20 years.

If you go to the countryside you pretty much see only the aged and the very young. Most of the young adults and middle-aged are living in a big city somewhere for economic reasons. Farms are being sold off sometimes to finance younger generations education; older generations deflect youth from considering farming as a job and way of living because being a farmer is not a career respected by modern Korean society.

Federally-funded construction projects – to build whatever is the new ‘trend’ are what politicians fight over in Jeollanamdo and Gwangju. The ‘green projects’ of wind and solar power, well, often these plans trample over existing bio-systems in order to install a more trendy ‘greening’ that really doesn’t match the philosophical foundations of preservation and conservation. And what is built on this prime farming land? You can see the ‘international airports’ of Yeosu and Muan (which actually have no international flights, I believe) and the Four Rivers project (resignedly accepted by Koreans despite the enormous negative impact on eco-systems that help keep the earth in balance) redirecting the rivers to provide new unused bike pathways built alongside empty expanses of riverbed.

Gwangju is well on its way to welcome the 2015 Universiade, another build-it-and-they-will-come venture. Fortunately it is repurposing some residential apartment buildings into an ‘athlete village’ for the visiting athletes to live in while they are in Gwangju. Good thing too, since almost all the old-Soviet-style tourist hotels have been dismantled (No more Prince Hotel in Unamdong, no more Grand Hotel downtown, no more Kukje Tourist Hotel near Baekgun Junction.)

I have written before about the questionable nature of building sports stadiums as projects to bring more financial prosperity to cities. In the case of Gwangju, not only do we have a new stadium being built alongside Mudeun Stadium, and various other projects like the tennis courts being built over neighborhood gardens in Jinwoldong, but we also have the enormous monstrosity of the Asia Culture Complex being constructed downtown to be the ‘hub’ of culture and art of  . . . ASIA! I still don’t see how these sports, culture and arts locations can be successful, sustainable, and I wonder how anyone thought they were even viable.

Until it becomes easier to get to Gwangju from international locales, Gwangju will continue to fester as a backwater. Gwangju suffers economically because Seoul is still controlling the purse strings by controlling the access to the region. If you are an international business person and you plan on coming to Gwangju for an event, expo, or business meeting, you will be funneled through Seoul first. This lack of access is because of government regulations, not because the infrastructure is not here in the region.

Gwangju is the location where newbie government officials are sent that don’t have enough social capital to get a juicer job in Seoul or another more economically prosperous province. Gwangju suffers because of the apathy and hostility of the federal government towards it. Visitors from abroad who come to Gwangju to do business, never usually meet anyone who actually loves or values Gwangju. They usually meet some grump that speaks English, Chinese, Japanese or another European language well, and who gives the impression that Gwangju, well, Gwangju, is kind of “backward.”

Enough with those from outside of the province telling the world their impression of Gwangju! Gwangju and Jeollanamdo need to connect their voices more directly to international business especially entrepreneurs; Seoul needs to free things up and let Gwangju and Jeolla be more autonomous and less like Seoul’s own serfdom.

Perhaps a translation of  The Devil in the White City into Korean is overdue. I’d recommend it to all politicians and government officials. Stop building construction projects that fund corrupt officials pockets and start advocating for Gwangju’s freedom to have a successful economy without Seoul’s interference.

An editorial by Maria Lisak

Check out these photos of Beijing’s Olympic Areas, four years after the event.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Build it and they will come – Korea’s love affair with World Festivals”
  1. Mark says:

    A thoughtful and provocative article. The empty shells left behind after these events conclude are aptly symbolic.

    • koreamaria says:

      Thanks, Mark. I really wish the world would stop looking at construction and cars as adequate ways to buff up an economy. We so need to get politicians (and the public) to realize that the Internet has let a whole new world of prosperity open up to us. We have better knowledge about caring for the planet. We have ways to create livelihoods and economies without using fossil fuel!

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