New book chapter on the fallacy of Songdo (Smart) City, South Korea

9780415745512Great to see the publication of my chapter “Envisioned by the state: Entrepreneurial urbanism and the making of Songdo City, South Korea” in this new edited volume Mega-urbanization in the Global South: Fast Cities and New Urban Utopias of the Postcolonial State, edited by . In: Ayona Datta and Abdul Shaban. I look forward to receiving its printed copy.

For viewing the Word version and its download, please click here.

Below is an excerpt from the chapter’s introduction:

So much has been said about Songdo City in recent years in both academic and practitioner circles. International media has also taken part to inflate the reputation of Songdo City, hailed initially as an eco-city, then as a ubiquitous city (or U-city) and now a smart city (Shwayri, 2013; Shin, Park and Sonn, forthcoming; Kim, 2010). The New York Times went even further to dub it “Korea’s High-Tech Utopia” (O’Connell, 2005). Sometimes its own promotional material puts all these together and simply refers to Songdo as an eco-friendly ubiquitous smart city (IFEZ Authority, 2007). Governments elsewhere see Songdo as a reference for their own mega-projects to create a brand new city from the scratch (see El Telégrafo, 2012 for example on the construction of Yachay City in Ecuador). However, Songdo has come to cater exclusively for the needs of domestic and global investors as well as the rich who have financial resources to grab upmarket real estate properties. It may indeed be an urban utopia, built on a reclaimed tabula rasa and promoted by the state, merging together technological innovation, fixed assets investment, real estate speculation and financialisation, for exclusive use of the rich and the powerful.




Publication of a journal special issue on Locating Gentrification in the Global East

USJ-53-3-2016I am delighted to see the publication of the following special issue on Locating Gentrification in the Global East from Urban Studies as Volume 53, Issue 3. You may find the table of contents and all the papers on this page: (also see below). The abstract for the guest editors’ introduction provides some key thoughts behind this special issue:
This special issue, a collection of papers presented and debated at an Urban Studies Foundation-funded workshop on Global Gentrification in London in 2012, attempts to problematise contemporary understandings of gentrification, which is all too often confined to the experiences of the so-called Global North, and sometimes too narrowly understood as classic gentrification. Instead of simply confirming the rise of gentrification in places outside of the usual suspects of North America and Western Europe, a more open-minded approach is advocated so as not to over-generalise distinctive urban processes under the label of gentrification, thus understanding gentrification as constitutive of diverse urban processes at work. This requires a careful attention to the complexity of property rights and tenure relations, and calls for a dialogue between gentrification and non-gentrification researchers to understand how gentrification communicates with other theories to capture the full dynamics of urban transformation. Papers in this special issue have made great strides towards these goals, namely theorising, distorting, mutating and bringing into question the concept of gentrification itself, as seen from the perspective of the Global East, a label that we have deliberately given in order to problematise the existing common practices of grouping all regions other than Western European and North American ones into the Global South.
This project has been a long and persistent endeavour, and it is the greatest pleasure for me, Loretta and Ernesto as guest editors to be able to see the project coming to fruition. All the contributions are empirically rich and theoretically insightful. It is the belief of the guest editors that this special issue would make a substantial contribution to the contemporary debates on gentrification and urbanisation as well as broader discussions in (comparative) urban studies and urban geography of Asia and the Global South.
The publication of this special issue coincides nicely with another book, Planetary Gentrification, which has just been released from Polity Press ( The book coauthored by the guest editors builds upon a wide range of contemporary literature on urban processes in both the Global South and North. What we learnt from the contributions to this special issue have greatly enriched our arguments in this book.

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New publication: “The developmental state, speculative urbanisation and the politics of displacement in gentrifying Seoul”

The paper that I’ve been working on for a while with another colleague Professor Soo-Hyun Kim (Sejong University; now the Director of the Seoul Institute) is out now, published by the Urban Studies journal as an online first version. This is part of the forthcoming special issue on Locating Gentrification in East Asia, co-edited by myself, Loretta Lees and Ernesto López-Morales. Its full bibliography details for citing are as follows:

Shin, H.B. and Kim, S-H. (2015) The developmental state, speculative urbanisation and the politics of displacement in gentrifying SeoulUrban Studies doi: 10.1177/0042098014565745

It adopts a broader definition of gentrification as an urban process of commodifying urban space that results in displacement of original inhabitants (hence not just owners but also users), and argues that contrary to the notion of gentrification travelling from the West to the East or from the global South to the global North, gentrification as a process of class-led socio-spatial restructuring is essentially an endogenous process that helps rewrite the landscape in Seoul to address the needs of speculative accumulation by the Korean developmental state. I attach its abstract below, with some of the images that are included in the paper.

What does gentrification mean under speculative urbanisation led by a strong developmental state? This paper analyses the contemporary history of Seoul’s urban redevelopment, arguing that new-build gentrification is an endogenous process embedded in Korea’s highly speculative urban development processes from the 1980s. Property owners, construction firms and local/central governments coalesce, facilitating the extraction of exchange value by closing the rent gap. Displacement of poorer owner-occupiers and tenants was requisite for the success of speculative accumulation. Furthermore, the paper also contends that Korea’s speculative urbanisation under the strong developmental (and later (neo-)liberalising) state has rendered popular resistance to displacement ineffective despite its initial success in securing state concessions. Examining the experience of Seoul in times of condensed industrialisation and speculative urbanisation helps inform the existing literature on gentrification by resorting to non-Western empirics.

Figure 2. Ogsu neighbourhood before and after redevelopment (project period: November 1984 - October 1990). Source: Photographs provided through the courtesy of The Seoul Institute.

Figure 2. Ogsu neighbourhood before and after redevelopment (project period: November 1984 – October 1990). Source: Photographs provided through the courtesy of The Seoul Institute.

Figure 4. Locations of areas designated for redevelopment in Seoul. Source: Map adopted from Bureau of Housing (2008) and adjusted

Figure 4. Locations of areas designated for redevelopment in Seoul. Source: Map adopted from Bureau of Housing (2008) and adjusted


Latest issue of the CITY journal, Volume 18, Issue 4-5 out now

ccit20.v018.i04-05.coverThe latest issue of the CITY journal is now available, and all the papers in this issue is free to download! I am pleased to find my own picture (depicting the two main slogans of Shanghai World Expo 2010) included as cover image of this issue.

In this issue, there are two special features, one on The Production of Shared Space in Northern Ireland and another on Crisis-scape: Athens and Beyond. The latter is a collection of papers originally presented at a conference with the same title, which took place in May 2014. My own paper Contesting Speculative Urbanisation and Strategising Discontents is also included in this special feature, along with Tom Slater’s passionate piece on Unravelling False Choice Urbanism. Also recommended are the pieces by Stavros Stavrides on Emerging Common Space as a Challenge to the City of Crisis, and by Nasser Abourahme who wrote his own reflection on the’s recent documentary Future Suspended.

  • Click here to watch the documentary Future Suspended. This made me think again what has happened in South Korea at the time of the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis. I should revisit the experience and produce my own account sometime…

The editorial piece by the journal’s editor-in-chief Bob Catterall, has wonderfully captured the essence of own paper, and made a perceptive connection with the key features covered in this issue. See here for the editorial piece, “Editorial: ‘City makes your life happier’?“. Continue reading