Most neighborhoods going through redevelopment that I find are through word of mouth or social media. The usual soon-to-be-demolished areas I explore are in unfamiliar areas of the Seoul metropolitan region, places I rarely go to or have never spent a considerable amount of time. Even after demo crews have torn down the buildings, construction companies flattened and smoothed out the earth, I hardly ever come back. I don’t have a prior connection or relationship with the place; rarely is it worth establishing one after the fact. I go back to former redevelopments only when I happen to be in the area. While I see the final days in the life of a neighborhood, and it can be disconcerting, it must be painful and traumatic for former residents to have hired goons threaten and harass you to leave your home on the cheap.
I do grow fond of redevelopments throughout my time documenting the area; it’s just that the connection is severed once the place is gone. Maybe I will come back if it’s another section of a larger redevelopment zone; then, I will be back to begin the process once again. As mentioned above, the sight of sleek, unaffordable highrise apartments in place of home can be jarring for a former resident. I have the outsider advantage of putting the neighborhood out of my mind.
Today I share a neighborhood that I have a personal connection with. This post marks the first time I explored an area where I used to reside. I was charmed by the tight, narrow alleyways. The symmetrical housing grids piqued my curiosity back when I lived and worked here in 2017. The neighborhood provided a backdrop for my foray into photography, and I shot many of my early photos walking through as I went to catch a bus or subway.
The memories and emotions flood back as I look through these old photos. I enjoyed living and walking around the neighborhood. I bonded with this place; I started making time-lapse videos from outside my apartment window, which you can view above. Were there signs that “progress” was coming? Of course! A new Lotte Mart had just opened in early 2017. Workers demolished a sizable Hyundai service center while I lived there. After living in urban Korea for a while, you realize that it’s not a question if older-looking buildings will be razed, but when. I was already exploring a massive redevelopment in Yeongdeungpo at the time. In the back of my mind, my neighborhood was on its last legs.
Fast forward four years, and I find myself making the eventual return thanks to some pictures seen on Instagram. While the scene is not surprising, it still strikes a nerve, and familiarity takes over, and I remember this area filled with life. As I walk through the alleyways overgrown with weeds, I try to recall if I ever walked them while on my way to work. It’s a futile thought exercise, but I savor the nostalgia as if hearing a forgotten favorite song out of the blue.
I always feel safe and free from bothering when I’m in a narrow alleyway, and I can walk around and explore without feeling the need to look over my shoulders constantly. The layout of the average house here was the same; a small kitchen space in front of the door, a minimal-sized living room/bedroom, and a small storage space . Each owner found creative solutions to maximize natural light and took advantage of the high ceiling for storage space. The houses had been unoccupied for some time; one place had a mushroom growing from the door frame.
While being too immersed to get a comprehensive view from a nearby skyscraper, I got into some of the taller abandoned buildings around the area to get a broader view of the neighborhood. Demo workers have already demolished one section of the neighborhood. The search for a good picture of the triangled-shaped roof (see down below) is what took up most of my attention. I love that detail; the former owners must have been needing extra storage space. Let’s take a look at redevelopment as a whole.
This post would not be complete without pictures of orphaned art, photography and bujeok. Here is what I found during my first two visits.
The familiar faces of street-dwelling Bodhidharma twins greeted my wife and me before we ventured into a vacated apartment complex. Even when I lived in the area, it amazed me that these three two-story brick apartment buildings have held on. I remember the old steel pole swing set reincarnated as a laundry drying rack on my way home. In the first picture down below, you can see my old apartment in the background. The apartment complex started as a business hotel, but at some point, morphed into housing.
While the architecture of this old neighborhood is repetitive and frankly dull, the good memories of this place motivate me to visit more often until the very end. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug for the psyche.; it’s a treat for the mind of an explorer when they can’t find anything in their search.