Filed under: economics, Korea, Travel | Tags: artificial islands, Incheon, Incheon free economic zone, Korea, New Songdo City, Songdo City, urban geography
I woke up too late today to venture out on my original plan which would have included a two hour subway ride each way. By the time I had gotten to my destination to take the pictures, I’m sure the sun would be on its way out. So I decided to take my local subway line, the Incheon line to the end. I knew the area was under heavy construction, and has been for several years, but I was not aware of the fact that it literally doesn’t really exist yet.
I was the only person to get off the last stop. There wasn’t a soul in the terminal, except for a young sleeping security guard. My shoes even squeaked on the floor it was so new, shiny, and unused. When I got to the top of the stairs of the subway terminal this is what I saw.
No sidewalk. No ubiquitous Paris Baguettes. Actually not a store, or, for that matter, a fully constructed building in site. It was a wondrous construction zone that lasts for miles. The only place I’ve been in Korea where I was the only one around. A few construction trucks flew by, and although I know I shouldn’t have been there, I couldn’t help wondering around and trying to get a few good shots. The Free Economic Zone of Incheon is going to be the world’s largest constructed community. A 10 year, estimated $40 Billion dollar project, it is a completely planned, completely wired, and eventually the hopeful center of some serious international commerce. I’ve heard that starting prices for apartments, that haven’t even been built yet, is $500,000. Even if I never come back to Korea to teach, seeing what happens to this area in ten years would be worth taking a trip.
This part of Incheon, as in literally the piles of dirt under my feet, didn’t exist a few years ago. Well, actually it existed as a landfill. Korea has been undergoing massive artificial island projects to expand. It is quite plain on the subway maps which parts of the city are artificial, and where the natural coast line is. The faint dotted lines are where future development is planned. Although Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Dubai and other places have been using this as a form of land reclamation for years, it still makes me wonder at the stability of it all, if say a major earthquake or tsunami were to hit the area. I’m also curious as to why artificial islands fall under the geographic term of reclamation, how can you REclaim something that never existed?
New Songdo city is not all that large. I managed to walk from the barely existent International Business subway stop to the Incheon University subway in probably a little over a half hour, and that was with meandering around construction zones and taking pictures. I was hoping there would be a little life around the University stop, but it was literally a subway stop poking out of a field of dirt. There was a shuttle bus to take students to the school, which I couldn’t see on the horizon and a student pointed vaguely in the distance to where it must be. I’m quite confused as to why the stop is named for the University, except that from the subway line, I guess it is the closest access point to the school. A shuttle stop and subway marker jutting up out of nothing.
In between is the Central Park subway stop. A completely planned, and what is clearly going to be quite lovely park in the middle of this constructed city. Complete with public art pieces already installed. The impression I get both from some brief research reading, and from walking around the area, is that this city is meant to be an entity in and of itself. It has plans for international schools (with tuitions of upwards of $25,000/year), tax incentives for international business, a banking industry with low interest loans (presumably to very large investors), and the makings of town that plans to exclude, and possibly outright dismiss the existence of people of lower economic class. It makes me wonder what kind of actual life or vibrancy this fabricated city is going to have. Can you plunk down a city where one never existed, move in a bunch of folks, and call it home? I guess I should ask someone from a gated community in Arizona. (jab.)
Here is a photo of a poster on a construction barrier that shows what the city is supposed to look like when it is finished. Very modern, very urban, and quite nice. Of course, this doesn’t show the trash, the cars, the exhaust, or an Ajashee clearing his throat and spitting it next to someone’s shoe.
On a whim I got off a couple stops later at Campus Town. Again, I was having faint dreams of college towns, but alas, I think it meant “campus of highrise apartments.” Again, although this area is much further along in development and people clearly live here, there was nothing in the way of restaurants, shops, or stores within close walking distance of the subway stop. Even the map inside the subway was barren except to show the location of three housing developments. It makes me wonder if with the popularity of the car, there isn’t a move toward separating residential and commercial space, which, in this city, would be an incredible shame.
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