Finding New Opportunities in Shrinking Cities: Local Citizens, Artists, and the State in Urban Revitalization Projects

Monday, July 14, 2014: 6:45 PM
Room: 311+312
Distributed Paper
Yu Min JOO , National University of Singapore, Singapore
South Korea is one of many countries now facing the problem of inter-urban inequality. While Seoul and the capital region have nearly 50% of the national population, many other cities, which developed as the country rapidly industrialized during the latter half of the 20th century, are quickly losing their industries to newly emerging economies, such as China and Southeast Asian countries. In short, a number of Korean cities, once noted for their speedy urban transformation and growth, now face reversed difficult challenges of shrinkage. A good example is Busan, which had been the center of the southeastern industrial core, but is now struggling, with a shrinking economy and population. This paper examines two urban revitalization projects that took place in Busan’s dilapidated old downtown and its biggest slum neighborhood. Unlike typical urban development projects of a developmentalist city, dependent on state-driven top-down approaches with a goal of supporting private capital accumulation, these two projects set themselves apart by relying on the active participation of local residents and artists to bring bottom-up changes that are strongly connected to the local history and social life. Through the two cases, I explore how the changed circumstances necessitated scaling back the roles of the state and capital, and permitted newly emergent civic actors to take much greater roles in the development projects, leading to unexpectedly successful outcomes. Additionally, the paper points out how the visible decline provided an opportunity to change the mindset of the society, which had been rather firmly embedded in development-oriented ideologies, and to seek alternative possibilities amid the shrinkage. Perhaps, with the arrival of more socially aware and inclusive development approaches and goals, shrinking cities may find new opportunities to build more resilient and livable cities.