Saturday, October 07, 2006

Seoul: Then and Now (Part 1)

Okay, for those of us from small towns in the West, Seoul can be overwhelming: the traffic, the density, the crowds, the smog. But it wasn't always this way. South Korea was, until the big industrialization drive under Park, Chung Hee, mostly rural and agricultural. In 1948, the country's population was 14.5% rural. By 2000, it was estimated to have reached 78% urban. Seoul's population in 1955 was 1.575 million. By 1960 it was 2.4 million. It is now between 11 and 12 million with over 19 million in the metro area.

The first photo here is from 1959. It shows the Yongsan U.S. Army Garrison looking south over the Han River to Kwanak Mountain.
The second photo was taken today, and shows a similar view, albeit from a bit further away and to the West (they wouldn't let me on the Yongsan base to take photos - GO FIGURE!) but shows essentially the same thing. Those lush green fields to the south are long gone. The area south of the river, all farmland in 1960, is now home to some 7 million people and the dense development stretches well beyond the furthest of those mountains in the background.
One notable thing is missing in the second picture - clean air. And today wasn't even really a bad pollution day. At least you can see the mountains.
Incidentally, the Korean and American governments have reached an agreement that will see the Yongsan base returned to Korean ownership by 2008. After some 150 years in foreign hands (first the Chinese, then the Japanese, then the Americans) this piece of prime real estate in the center of the city will once again be all-Korean. The city has ambitious plans to convert the area into a magnificent Central Park-like oasis. Yeah right. I give them a few months with this juicy parcel of land and the condos and malls will be sprouting like shrooms on a golf course.

1 comment:

G said...

As I said when I talked with you, I think this is a great idea.

Looking forward to more "Before & After" shots.