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Urban Regeneration

  • The Rebirth of a City: Changsin-Sungin Area Rejuvenation Project

  • Urban Regeneration SMG 3461
    • A major hub of Korea’s garment industry and part of the local network of clothing production, distribution, and sales
    • Changsin-dong, surrounded by Seoul City Wall, is a place in Seoul that is full of cultural and historical energy.
    • The area began to attract more tourists after it was featured in numerous Korean films and TV dramas.
    • Residents and experts share their opinions on renewal and diverse communities engage in activities.

    As new structures are constantly being renovated or demolished these days, there have been many arguments regarding the necessity of preserving the past.

    As a place that still contains the joy, sorrow, and sweat of its residents’ lives, Changsin-dong, located in Jongno-gu, is proof of the value in preserving the past. Once the site of countless clothing factories and a strategic center of the Korean garment industry, this neighborhood is infused with the lives of our ancestors. Changsin-dong is a repository of stories that have accumulated throughout Korea’s history.

    Historical and Cultural Background of Changsin-dong

    Since the Goryeo Dynasty, Changsin-dong has been a place where commoners worked hard to make a living. Its current name was derived from two of the previous names for this area, “Inchangbang” and “Sungsinbang,” leading it to be called “Changsin” and “Sungin.”

    During the Japanese colonial period, Gwangjang Market in the nearby Dongdaemun area grew to become a large-scale dry goods market. And after Korea’s liberation from Japan and the Korean War, refugees from all over the nation flocked to this area and built a shantytown, making it their home.

    Changsin-dong Today

    After the Korean War, Changsin-dong was flooded with refugees, who leaped at the chance to work at garment factories to earn a living. In the 1970s, garment factories that had been concentrated in Pyeonghwa Market, near Cheonggyecheon Stream, were relocated to Changsin-dong, leading this area to become a major hub of garment manufacturing in Seoul and, thereby, gaining a solid foothold in the fashion industry of nearby Dongdaemun. At one time, the number of clothing factories here, both small and large, amounted to over 3,000. Even now, many people in Changsin-dong earn a living working in such factories.

    As the center of a production, distribution, and retail network in the clothing industry, Dongdaemun has certainly benefitted from the existence of Changsin-dong. As such, a cooperative system has been established between the two. When merchants in Dongdaemun finish their designs, they send them over to Changsin-dong for immediate production, allowing experts in the industry to create a finished product in only one day based on the speed and skills of the professional workers in Changsin-dong.

    These days, a steady stream of motorcycles loaded with fabrics whiz along the twisted alleys that run up and down the hill on a daily basis. The clothing industry workers here now have between 20 and 30 years of experience, and many are now about to turn 60. They spent the prime of their lives making clothes in Changsin-dong. However, they are always proud to see the final products of their efforts—that is, clothes “Made in Changsin-dong.”

    Motorcycles are used to transport clothing and materials here because they are the most effective means of traversing the narrow, twisting alleys of Changsin-dong, a neighborhood that has a lot more alleys than other places in Seoul. As a result, the streets are filled with the sound of motorcycles, loaded with fabrics or sewing machines, roaming the neighborhood. However, that sound, once so prominent, is now gradually disappearing.

    Changsin-dong was once full of young people working as apprentices, but now there are none to be found. This is just one of the signs that the garment industry here is beginning to fall into decline.

    Rescuing and Renewing Changsin-dong

    We could not sit idly by and watch a major industry collapse. Therefore, in step with the changes of our times, an urban renewal project was launched to transform Changsin-dong into a specialized district. Seoul Metropolitan Government selected Changsin-dong, located in Jongno-gu, as the third subject of its balanced development project.

    Changsin-dong still preserves much of Korea’s history, culture, and natural environment. Anyangam Hermitage, Cheongnyongsa Temple, Gwangjang Market, and Sinjin Market near Naksan Park, as well as the section of Seoul City Wall surrounding the neighborhood, are all promoting the cultural and historical vitality of Changsin-dong.

    In particular, as the alleys and buildings on the steep hills of the neighborhood have changed little over the years, they have become popular filming locations for movies and television dramas. Owing to the recent surge in popularity of Korean entertainment content overseas (Korean Wave), the scenes of Changsin-dong in the film Architecture 101 and the drama Secret Garden are now attracting tourists to the area from all over the world.

    In the past, people believed that the best way to revitalize the local economy was to tear down old buildings and build new ones. In particular, that approach was seen as an effective way of improving the youth unemployment situation. However, we now have to realize that every single building we take down is a cultural asset that has value in both the present and the future and is an important part of the history of our country. However, instead of merely maintaining the condition of such buildings, we must pursue urban renewal that involves maintaining and repairing the buildings in line with the development of our society.

    Even today, meetings and discussions are being held with residents and experts from public organizations about the renewal of the Changsin-Sungin area. In the past, the role of public organizations was to supervise and direct such meetings, but now they must support and fund the renewal project. Public organizations must actively facilitate and support urban renewal projects, and citizens must work together to revitalize the city.

    Urban renewal policies aim to allow people to continue living in their communities and ensure that income is generated and distributed evenly to the people. Communities of volunteers created by residents and exchanges and collaborations with public organizations will transform Seoul into a more culturally vibrant and financially prosperous city.

    Maintaining the foundation upon which people can make a living, breathing life and vitality back into the city’s neighborhoods, and strengthening sustainable urban renewal are the main goals that we hope to achieve. The entire process of urban renewal, from planning to implementation, is carried out based on the participation of residents. This kind of regionally-centered renewal, which respects the unique characteristics of the area, is currently underway here in the Changsin-Sungin area.