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Asian Urbanism

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First World – Mixed Use Residential New Songdo Style

The Sharp (The #) First World is one of the first completed residential projects in the New Songdo International Business District. The property was designed by international architecture firm KPF, and Korean firm Kunwon.  The project opened in January of 2009 with a lighting ceremony to celebrate the project and residents began moving in shortly after. The Sharp (The #) First World is a luxury apartment and office-tel mixed use development with ground floor retail services. In total there are: 1,596 Residential Units, 1,058 Office-tel Units and 294 Ground Level Retail spaces. The Sharp (The #) is designed to  house approximately 7,000 of New Songdo’s projected 65,000 residents as well as a health club, a daycare center, and a seniors’ center. The complex is located next to New Song Convention center and near the  Northeast Asia Trade Tower and River Stone Mall, it is also near on of several planned subway stops on the yet to be completed system.

As is common with hotly anticipated properties in Korea all of the 1,596 residential units sold out within the first two days they were listed on the market.  To read more about this phenomenon take a look at our article ‘Real estate lotteries, bidding wars, and tax audits in New Songdo’.

New Songdo has master plan that lays out a number of sustainable principals and The Sharp (The #) First world follows these principals. The overall plan is inspired by the pedestrian cities of Europe and North America and the design utilizes a pedestrian-scaled street grid, engagement with the street through the use of continuous street walls, and plenty of open space.

In order to challenge the perception of the super-block as a single “housing estate” as evidenced by the realization of the Radiant City paradigm in urban areas throughout the peninsula, FWT was conceived instead as being an assemblage of distinct communities. An analysis of Korean social hierarchy (the Ma-Ul, the Dong-Ne, and the Yi-Woot) informed the organization of the FWT into four courtyard communities each of which is subdivided into three neighborhoods of approximately 200 households.

The traditional Korean built environment also influenced the design, wherein circulation through palaces and gardens is characterized by repeated shifts in orientation and displaced axes. At the perimeter, gates and seven-story street walls provide a sense of enclosure, beyond which densely planted interior courtyards are viewed through large scale “urban windows”.

Displacement is also a theme at an architectural scale, where the ashlar patterns of traditional garden walls inspired the exterior wall articulation. The discontinuous lines of these surfaces break down the vertiginous effect of windows more characteristic of high-rise building, and in so doing reduce the apparent scale of the development.

The design for FWT further addresses the profound problem of scale associated with the super block typology by varying building heights in a rhythmic, nonlinear progression. Within the framework of the buildings, scalar elements such as large apertures, arcades, and pavilions assist in translating very large elements down to the scale of the individual. S

Fact Sheet

  • Occupancy: January 2009
  • 1,596 Residential Units, 1,058 Officetel Units and 294 Ground Level Retail
  • All Units Sold Out
  • Buildable Area: 5.7M SF/531,670 SM
  • 12 Buildings from 3 to 64 Floors
  • 4,892 Car Parking Garage
  • Architect: KPF/Kunwom
  • Contractor: POSCO E&C
  • Pursuing LEED for NC Certification

Gale International

Canal City: The Anatomy of a Japanese Mega Mall

Major Attractions at Canal City

Major Attractions At Canal City

Canal City Hakata in the Japanese City of Fukuoka is not the largest shopping center in world but it is one of the most memorable.  When walking through the central corridor of Canal City, it is like walking through a land form. While there is a waterway running through the central corridor it is the shape of the walls as they undulate in and out like a canyon that have the greatest impact on the pedestrian experience. One thing I found ironic about the complex is that while it’s named Canal City the project has very little interaction with the canal it actually borders.

The development is one of the largest private developments in the history of Japan with a total cost of $1.4 billion. S

The development was built partially as a response to the city’s situation in the late 1980s when Fukuoka was trying to deal with a massive influx of people, the shopping district was floundering, and reports say that the city as a whole was suffering from a lack of community. Canal City has turned out to be a great success in terms of both commercial traffic and its effect on the surrounding area.  Records indicate that in its first year more than 16 million people visited the complex and sales exceeded $500 million.S The development has also spurred regeneration in the adjoining historic shopping arcade due to increased foot traffic.

Canal City is a mixed use development with a primarily commercial focus  and a number of cultural and entertainment functions as well.  The project was designed by Jerde and covers 9 acres with a total building area of 240,000 square meters.  There’s a 400 room luxury hotel,  and a 420 room business hotel.  There is a 13 screen  movie theater complex, a business center, gallery, the Fukuoka City Theater, and a number of large commercial stores tucked  into the complex. S


3D shot taken from google earth


What struck me most about Canal City during my visit, was that while the development has a number of big stores they do not monopolize the experience.  When walking through your standard North American shopping mall in the major stores are used as anchors at either end of the main shopping street and thus they tend to define the mall being both its beginning and end. This is done on purpose as a way to increase traffic between the anchors so that people will pass and by extension patronise the smaller stores located between along the mall’s main routes.  In the case of canal city most of the anchor stores are tucked away in a single Mega Store building at one end of the complex and are removed from the sight lines of the main street. Instead the complex is framed by things like that Fukuoka City theater, the water way running through the middle, the outdoor theater, and the two hotels. What generates foot traffic in Canal City is the architecture itself, the building is so interesting that you are compelled to experience all of it. In my case I happily spent about two hours walking around, not buying anything, (well I did stop at Wendy’s but I hadn’t had a real burger living in Korea for the previous six months) just experiencing.

The development brings its massive size down to a human scale through the creation of neighbourhoods, or unique districts within the project.  The waterway with its winding path through the middle of the development, and the curving walls of the structures that border the waterway create visual interest.  In some ways it appears that Jerde took a couple lessons from Alan Jacobs’ book ‘Great Streets,’ the central corridor has pleasant proportions that fit within the Japanese context, with upper story setbacks that allow sunlight to permeate, and open public square areas like ‘the sun stage’ that allow for places to linger and watch either your fellow pedestrians or the performances offered.

Canal City offers an example of how large mall complexes can be incorporated into a dense urban fabric and bring about positive results. Plus it offers a view of how much better a mall can look without acres of parking surrounding it. To experience Canal City for yourself find a Place to stay in Fukuoka.


Profile of Hanoi

Hanoi tree

Do you like chaos? Do you want to feel the whisper of Death in your ear each time you leave your front door? Is the ever-present sound of motorbike horns music to your ear? Then Hanoi is the city for you!

Don’t get me wrong; Vietnam is a wonderful country, full of amazing sites, friendly people and delicious, cheap food. The problem with its cities, including Hanoi, is simply the frenzy that takes place in every square inch. There is no respite from the noise and the traffic.
Motorbikes reign supreme in this city of over 6.2 million people. To put that in perspective, that is almost the combined populations of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver. As far as I could tell, there are at least that many motorbikes on the streets at all times, and their drivers are honking their horns every 3-5 seconds. The traffic is like a river, flowing unceasingly through every street. When an accident occurs, the rest of traffic surges around the blockage.

The sidewalks are no escape for pedestrians, as they are for parking one’s bike on when one is not cruising the streets. This means if you’re on foot, you must take your life into your own hands and walk in the streets with the bikes, taxis, delivery vans and trucks. This does not create a peaceful strolling environment, which in my mind is a major strike against a city.


Amid all this chaos, however, lies a charming Old Quarter, with beautiful, French Colonial buildings, excellent bakeries, and every possible item you could think to buy lining the narrow, winding streets. There are also traditional wooden Vietnamese buildings, lovingly preserved and open to the public. If only one could meander through the streets at one’s leisure, rather than constantly watching for the killer mopeds…

The streets of the Old Quarter are named for the various wares traditionally sold in the shops along them, such as the “metal street” and “silk street”. While the shops are more varied now, especially in the heavily touristed areas, there is still a unique feel to the different areas.
One of the highlights of a trip to Hanoi is tasting the coffee sold by independent roasters at little street carts. While you sit on brightly coloured, low plastic stools, the roaster will grind some fresh beans, and brew small amounts of the different types of coffee for sale, so that you can chose to your liking. I have it from some serious coffee connoisseurs that this is some of the best stuff in the world.

Hanoi is 999 years old, and has been the capital of Vietnam for most of the time since it became a city in 1010. There is a unique blend of Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences in its architecture. Being an essentially poor country, much of the city outside of the touristy areas is run-down and in sore need of rebuilding and renovation. It is dusty, noisy, crowded and polluted. But ultimately, Hanoi is a diamond in the rough.

The Demotorisation of Japan


Lately we have been hearing a lot about how important it is for our cities and for the planet that a lot of us get out of our cars and start using public and active transportation. The urban form will be improved, quality of life will get better and so on.

Today I was involved in a discussion about how at the turn of the century mobility was largely restricted by physical transportation and that the shape of cities responded to those networks based on what was available. Walking, horses, wagons, these all kept the spheres of the average citizen’s life relatively compact, and contained.  As technology increased tramways, street cars and urban railways extended these spheres, with each technological innovation mobility increases with the automobile and private vehicle ownership  bringing us to the form we have now. However an interesting aspect that I hadn’t considered before was that things like telephones, fax machines, the Internet, and e-mail are all related to personal mobility and inter-connectivity, which to some extent is the whole point, technology allows us to ‘meet’ with someone  across great distances by  removing the need for us to use transportation to be there to relay our messages ourselves.

It adds an extra dimension the article posted in thestar.com about how for the first time in decades, car ownership is in decline in Japan.  It’s not just that cars are expensive, the economy is in recession, and all the other reasons that spring to mind in current climate, it’s also because of a shift in the way that Japanese young  people think about cars.

To get around the city, Yutaka Makino hops on his skateboard or rides commuter trains. Does he dream of the day when he has his own car? Not a chance.

Like many Japanese of his generation, the 28-year-old musician and part-time maintenance worker says owning a car is more trouble than it’s worth, especially in a congested city where monthly parking runs as much as 30,000 yen, or US$330, and gas costs $3.50 a gallon – or 92 cents US a litre.S


It’s basically a bicycle activist’s dream come true, Japanese young people have stopped seeing cars as a status symbol and view them as just another tool.  The youth are shifting more towards cell phones and personal computers that allow the electronic mobility without the hassles of trying to navigate in a country where the roads are very congested, but the trains are efficient and frequent. The younger generation has seen through the sports car idealizing culture of the older generation.

“Young people’s interest is shifting from cars to communication tools like personal computers, mobile phones and services,” said Yoichiro Ichimaru, who oversees domestic sales at Toyota. “The changes in individuals’ values on cars came cumulatively over time,” said Nissan chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga. “The change in young people’s attitude toward cars didn’t happen overnight. So we have to keep convincing them cars are great.”

The phenomenon is interesting because of needing shape of things to come, while Japan is much better equipped with public transportation it’s an example of how it’s not quite so inconceivable for people to get out of their cars can make use of other forms of transportation, be they public or electronic.

However the article also illustrates another interesting aspect that is often ignored when we discuss transportation, but is an important reality of de-motorization. The manufacturing industry makes up a fifth of the Japanese economy, and the automobile industry is no small part of that.  A slowdown in manufacturing sector we have some very significant effects, very few of which are positive, on the Japanese economy.  If our recent economic troubles here in North America have shown us anything it’s that the automobile industry also makes up a significant portion of our economy too, and reductions in the automobile manufacturing sector have serious implications for the North American economy.  The challenge for countries in dealing with de-motorization, a trend that is both a little inevitable and a lot desirable, is how to replace the economic capacity of the automobile industry with another economic engine. It is important to get everyone out of their cars, but it would be nice if we could avoid ruining the economy while we do it.

Click Here to read The Star article.

Neighbourhood News Jan 5th

dongtanThe Christian Science Montior
In China, overambition reins in eco-city plans

If all had gone to plan, by now the first residents of China’s newest city would be unpacking boxes. An experiment in sustainable living, Dongtan was billed as a urban center where green technologies and smart design could slash the carbon footprint of up to a half-million people.

On recent rainy afternoon, the onsite view was less electrifying: miles of sodden farms and wetlands, and not an ecobuilding to be seen. It’s unclear if any will be built. The state-owned developer has torn up a timetable to accommodate 50,000 residents by 2010. Some permits for the project have already lapsed.  In a country overloaded with environmental challenges, Dongtan is a symbol of political overreach that straddles nearby Shanghai and Britain, the home base of Arup, the firm that dreamed up Dongtan. Its failings show the limits to getting bold ideas off the drawing board, even in China’s top-down political culture, where outsized schemes get traction. Read more

wind-turbThe New York Times
A Cleaner Way to Keep the City Running

FOR centuries, grist-grinders and sailors have exploited the wind. Now, New York developers, homeowners and city leaders might be coming around. A handful of buildings are already drawing electricity from wind turbines, which typically resemble table fans, or mounted airplane propellers.

Unlike some of the skyscraping versions that dot rural hillsides, small turbines supply power directly to homes without first sending it through a utility company’s lines.

One major sticking point in the city is that densely packed buildings tend to scatter breezes, making it tough to capture steady gusts. Although this and other kinks need to be addressed before the widespread rollout of small turbines is possible, there are signs of gains. Read More

The South will rise again! Looking at Korean Apartments

There are not many people who would argue that North Korea will make a comeback and outshine their Southern brethern, but once, this wasn’t the case. During the war, both Koreas were raped, pillaged and flattened by waves of Chinese soldiers or American bombers. The North had more reminents of Japanese industry, the South (except for Seoul) had been used by the Japanese as a rice-basket.

Quite easy to find Pyeongyang on the map

Quite easy to find Pyeongyang on the map

By the early 1960s South Korea was heading the same way as the US backed Banana republics of Central America, or the Banana Republic of Asia, the Philippines. There was little or no industry, life, as the historians like to quote (Mills, I think) “was savage, brutal, and short”. This goes well for the architecture as well.  The other night I was flipping through my old Lonely Planet guide for SK with a student, and my student was complaining that all the photos were 50 years old. They weren’t, but they only showed the most rural aspects of the country. If you were to browse the book in a shop, you would get an image of Thailand’s North, or Laos.

South Korean cities, until recently, were much like their Northern counterparts. Filled with awful public buildings and horrific Eastern European apartment blocks. The two countries couldn’t possibly be more different now. In the North there are virtually no cars on the street, and people have even forgotten how to look for traffic, cars are so rare in the countryside. In the South, this isn’t the case. With car ownership reaching North American levels (almost 82% of people, compared to 89% in the US). This causes problems, as Korea is 70% mountainous, there just cannot be enough tunnels or bridges to handle the masses of cars.

I stole this photo fromOverlooking an old neighbourhood in Ulsan

A new way of thinking, Concrete and Green

A new way of thinking, concrete and green

The beauty of average Korean cities, on either side of the DMZ leaves a lot to the imagination. Both countries were rushing to build nations, not to build quaint neighbourhoods for strolling around on a Sunday afternoon. The military-industrial complex that Kim Il Sung and Park Jung Hee developed in the 1960s helped create a ‘quantity over quality’ mindset in their respective people. Of course, today nobody in the North has anything, but in the South the ‘Quantity’ mindset is slowly being replaced by the ‘Quality’ one. The endless white towers of the 1990’s and first half of this decade aren’t being built as much. Newer, larger towers (that usually end up painted a shade of white) are springing up around the country. The architects are finally being allowed to build more interesting projects. Space is still at a premium, but the parking lots crowded out with cars are being buried beneath inlaid brick paths and small parks.

The newest generation of Korean apartments are spacious and well designed on the inside, and much more community oriented on the outside. The old ‘domino’ apartments had only space for cars, not for people, but the human is being thought about now, and children play in playgrounds, rather than in carparks in the new complexes.

NVS: Infrastructure Development Plan – Beijing

An airborne trip through Beijing detailing an infrastructure plan for the future of the city.

It is slightly frightening how much of a presence cars have in this video, I really hope that they don’t repeat mistakes make in the past with heavily car dependants networks.

It reminded me a lot of living in Asia as I watched the way the city is presented. In North American cities the giant public stadium is often seen as some what dubious. To often they are left lonely after the major event for which they were built has come and gone, but in in Asia they are often very busy. Not necessarily because some event is going on, that is when they are insanely packed, but just because it is the third Saturday in July. It puts this this video’s extended focus on the Birds Nest stadium at the beginning in a slightly different perspective.

The New Village movement or What's the name of the dictator that helped build Granny's?

A Village formerly known as 'A New Village'

A Village formerly known as 'A New Village'

Believe it or not, this is part 2 in my history of the development of Korea.

So gather ’round, because today, little children, I’m going to tell you the story of the Dictator and the village.

During the Korean war, the president was Syngman Rhee, who, all told, was a wanker. He was outrageously anti-communist, which is why the American’s liked him, but he was also completely pro-me. In other words, even though the American’s had hoped to see democracy spring in Korea, what they ended up with was another life long dictator.  By 1960 the Korean people were sick of him, and gave him the boot.  He was rescued by the CIA and was set up in Hawaii. After Rhee there was a shortly lived republican government, then a coup by Park Jung Hee.

A happy house with late summer crops drying in the sun

A happy house with late summer crops drying in the sun

President Park was another strongman, but this time he had some vision. He rounded up the usual suspects, a group of gangsters and mob breakers, and handed them the countries future on a plate. These baddies were such players as the presidents of Hyundai and Samsung. Both companies later grew into massive global organizations, all backed up with Park’s money. There was more then just corruption though, President Park actually meant to build a country, and he did. He forced a highway to be built from Seoul to Busan, and pushed Korean soldiers into the Vietnam war, where they basically fought as American mercenaries, bringing home the dough to help propel their country. During this period he started a moved called the ‘new village’ movement.

The basic goal of this program was to build modern infrastructure in the country. Seoul had electric street cars in the 30s, but most of Korea in 1960 was still mud and wattle huts. President Park planned to change this. He gave each village a few hundred tonnes of free concrete. Then, the next year, whomever used the concrete best would get more. This lead to be building of industries, and a revolution in the countryside. The mud and wattle began to disappear, as newer (though still very traditional) concrete houses began to spring up around the country.

Though these villages abound in the countryside, few remain in the cities. The houses were all traditionally designed, with small outbuildings surrounding a center courtyard and closed in by a large gate. These courtyards were the heart of the old villages, where all the veggies were dried (Korean food involves a lot of dried foods), games were played, life was lived.

New Village?

New Village?

But, as President Park was fated to be killed by his right hand man (who feared that Park was becoming a megalomaniac) the villages were troubled. Thanks to Parks massive reforms, underhanded business dealings, the extra-ordinary efforts of the common working man and woman, and plain dumb luck, Korea started to boom. With a modern boom comes urbanization, and the death of villages.  Though there are still tens of thousands of ‘new villages’ spread across Korea, the inhabitants are almost all ‘silver citizens’. Korea is now one of the most urbanized countries in the world, and men who still make a living on the farm find it almost impossible to attract a Korean wife. 52% of rural weddings in South Gyeongsang province last year were Korean/S.E Asian weddings. Rural men are finding it easier to acquire a foreign wife who is willing to farm than a modern, urban Korean girl. The fate of the Korean countryside is in question.

The battle of the Super towers

It’s always said that a guy who has a big skyscraper has a big … investment portfolio. South Korea is a country where all men aspire to have big … investment portfolios. In the last few years, every town, village and post office box has announced it’s plans to build the tallest building in the neighbourhood, town, province, or galaxy. It’s gotten rather confusing, but I’m going to try and sort through the hype and look at some of the future giants that will make the skylines of Korea more unique. People might try to point out the lack of supertall buildings currently in Korea, but one must remember that the Burj Dubai is being built by none other than Samsung construction.

samsung tower g

Samsung Tower Palace, Dogok-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Currently the tallest building in Korea is the beautifully named “Samsung Tower Palace building G”. The logic behind these towers sprouting up in almost every neighbourhood in Seoul is simple. Land is too expensive, but everybody wants 45 pyeong to themselves. (Don’t ask me what a pyeong is, I couldn’t tel l you even if I wanted to since the word became outlawed last year).

Seoul doesn’t have a Manhattan skyline, which is probably why it has avoided being destroyed by aliens. But, hoping to attract foreign and possibly alien visitors, Seoul is branching UP. Yongsan, currently the home to a US army base that (in theory) will be closing, and an ugly railway yard is going to change, and like all change in South Korea, it’s going to be drastic. Seoul’s office vacancy rate is currently hovering around 1%, which has driven prices up by as much as 25% this year. The Korean government is trying to attract foreign companies to the city, but with spiraling costs, it seems unlikely without new office towers being built.

The Proposed Yongsan Tower by Samsung

The Proposed Yongsan Tower by Samsung

Proposed Hyundai Mir Tower for the same site

Proposed Hyundai Mir Tower for the same site

The planned Yongsan Landmark building

The planned Yongsan Landmark building

“In Seoul, the planned 151-story Yongsan Landmark Building, at 2,046 feet, will tower over all the city’s existing structures, and even some nearby mountain peaks. “Seoul is the capital, so it must have the tallest building,” said Han Bong-seok, an executive at Korea Railroad, the national railway company, who heads the project to build the tower on the site of an old train yard. “This is for the pride of Seoul.” “(NYtimes, May 2007)

lotte world tower seoul

Proposed Lotte World Tower Seoul by Skidmore Owings & Merrill

seoul international buis center

International Buisness Center

Also on the South side of Seoul there are other monsters planned, the Sangnam International Business Center which will (possibly) become the center of Sangnam Digital Media city. This one will be 580m and 130 stories tall. The other is Lotte World Tower Seoul, which would be 555 meters. Lotte World is already the world’s largest indoor amusement park, but construction has not started on either of these projects.

But, as Seoul might be the largest city in the country, it isn’t the only major city looking to change it’s skyline. Both Incheon and Busan and rebuilding their cities, and their images. In Incheon they are currently building some massive apartments that will become part of Songdo International city. Korean’s love placing “International” into titles, even if it has little or no meaning at the time. Songdo is being built in the former industrial south end of Korea’s western port city.

This is another 151 story monster that
will become the heart of a new waterfront development. There is also a new bridge under construction that will link Incheon city to the slightly ironic Incheon airport, which, though in Incheon’s metropolitian boundaries, must be accessed by driving into and then out of Seoul. Incheon, facing towards China, is dreaming of being the heart of growth and investment as the 21st century looks to China, just as the 20th looked to America.

The third city to be planning towers is Busan. Currently there are two towers being planned or constructed in the city. Busan is one of the busiest port cities in the world, and as such, has a much seedier and grittier image than either Seoul or Incheon. Most of Busan’s recent development has been centered around Haeundae beach and Gwangali bridge. Haeundae new town is the home to many of the tallest buildings outside of Seoul, and is seeing even more development planned in the future. In the south end of Busan is the old city center, Nampodong, which has missed most of the recent additions to the city. Nampodong has a rundown air, and is in serious need of urban and transportation revitalization.

How many of these towers will be constructed is anyone’s guess. Koreans are famous for talking big, but then, they are also famous for doing things that seemed impossible. Posco, Samsung, and Hyundai were all but dreams 40 years ago, and now each stands amongst the giants of the world. It is easy, as a foreigner, to dismiss Korea as just a small Asian country, but it is a small Asian country with big dreams. I wouldn’t be surprised if ALL of these towers were completed.

From the furthest corners of the Urban Jungle

Bangojin downtown

When people argue about high density urban landscapes, they generally look to Asia, where population density is staggering by western standards. Where a Canadian might consider 1000 people per square kilometer crowded, in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, or South Korea, 100 apartment towers per square kilometer is more like it.

I’m writing from Ulsan, a little known, less talked about city in South Korea. Located 56 kilometers north of Busan, but standing alone as almost an urban island. It is a city undergoing massive construction and reconstruction, where new satellites seem to pop up over night, where apartment buildings truly grow like weeds.  Over the course of my next few posts I’m going to try and describe, both in words and pictures, the development of a country which has taken place in half a life time. Known locally as “the miracle on the Han river”, Korea has grown from the ruins of civil war to a prosperous, if not somewhat mysterious global power.

If the American Dream ™ is a family of 2.1 kids, 2.1 volvos and 2.1 golden retrievers living together in a split level house with a white picket fence, then the Korea Dream ™ is to live in the newest, biggest, most expensive apartment tower in the city, with 1.2 kids, 2.1 Hyundais, and 1.2 shitzus. Luxury apartment towers are springing up in downtown cores across the nation. In my city alone there are 18 complexes under development or recently completed that are 30 stories or more.

South Korea, which is approximately the same size as Ireland, holds a population of 50 million. Ireland has a population of 4.5 million. Ireland is a relatively flat country, South Korea is 70% mountains, which are not inhabited. The only logical choice for urban development is to go up, not out. In this series of posts, I’m going to try and document the benefits and problems of urban development, Korean style.

Parking at the Department Store, Asian Style

A Walmart Store Containing its own Parking! OMG!

A Walmart Store Containing its own Parking! OMG!

It has often been bemoaned by Cyclists, New Urbanists, Pedestrianists, and anyone else who isn’t in love with cars that parking lots and the sheer amount of space devoted to storing our vehicles when we are not using them is a huge detriment to our cities. Take a look at a map of most major downtown cores and you will see plenty of big grey dead zones that people create to take advantage of the need for suburbanites to find parking for their cars when they are working their 9-5.

While I was in Korea, I came across the largest Wal-Mart that I had ever seen in my life.  I actually spotted it one morning when I stumbled out of a friends apartment on my way to a ‘school staff picnic’ without having sobered up. As I stood on the side of the Ulsan River Road, I looked to my left and spotted the thing towering over the surrounding neighborhood like a monument to American capitalist imperialism.* I was flabbergasted and stunned by the size of the thing–a six story Wal-Mart? Seriously?

What I discovered days later when I actually went to said Wal-Mart as part of my search for sour cream, was that the Wal-Mart store was only levels 1 to B2 while levels 2-6 were actually parking. Can you imagine a big box store that is pedestrian friendly at street level and doesn’t have acres of parking in front of it? Well it would look a little like the photos you see here. Ever since I lived in Asia, I have felt that it is very important to have enough parking spaces for the number of tenants you have. Have you ever seen a parking lot where cars are parked 3 deep and left in neutral so that people can move them around when they need to get their own car out in the morning? I have also appreciated the made-in-Asia solutions to deal with storing cars in limited space. (Click here for an NYC adaptation) These park aids stacked on top of the stores that they service are not only space saving and pedestrian friendly, you don’t even have to worry about that long run across the parking lot when it rains.

emart altered

While this style of parking came about in Asia due to sheer limitations on space (let’s face it when you have 43 million people in a country like Korea that is roughly the size of Nova Scotia you can’t really afford to take up huge amounts of space for cars), but that doesn’t mean that their solution couldn’t also be our solution.

* Wal-Mart has since pulled out of Korea, mostly because they didn’t understand the way a country like Korea shops. Well-to-do Koreans go to department stores, low income Koreans go to street markets, and well-to-do Korean housewives know exactly what every thing – not just the top 200 things that Wal-Mart undercuts on – should cost.