SSK Institute of East Asian Urban Research


Open Cluster

Director: Baegyoon Park (Dept. of Geography Education)
Researchers: Dongwan Gimm (Kyungnam Univ.), Eunhye Kim (SNUAC), Hyunbang Shin (London School of Economics and Political Science),  Asato Saito (Yokohama Nat’l Univ.), Sanghun Lee (Hanshin Univ.), Seungook Lee(KAIST) Sehoon Chang (Dong-a Univ.), Sungchan Cho (Institute of Land and Liberty), Joohyung Ji (Kyungnam Univ.), Jinn-yuh Hsu (Nat’l Taiwan Univ.), Jim Glassman (Univ. of British Columbia), Laam Hae (York Univ.), Jintae Hwang (SNUAC)

− Focusing on the crises and transitions of East Asian (Korea, China, Japan) cities in the era of globalization
− Conducting comparative East Asia research pertaining to compressed urbanization (mega projects/new towns/
gentrification), spaces of exception (special zones), and risk-scapes (nuclear power plants)
− Illuminating the agendas of urban research and organizing international networks for researchers (Urban Policy Forum,
− Establishing a hub for East Asian urban research endowed with theoretical, empirical, and practical research capabilities
− Offering solutions and aspiring to the discovery of an alternative East Asian urbanism conducive to coexistence and sustainability

East Asian Urbanity: Seeking Coexistence and Sustainability

Research Topics
To provide a more concrete understanding of Cold War developmental urbanization, the SSK Research Project on East Asian Cities attempts to explain the urbanization of South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China in terms of three elements that define the character of East Asian urban­ization: compression, exceptionality, and risk.

First, compression, a key element of East Asian urbanization, refers to the spatio-temporal compression required by rapid industrialization. The project analyzes the means and outcomes of compression by looking at the mega-city projects each state has promoted. Second, the project examines exceptionality by focusing on “spaces of exception” constructed within the territories of East Asian states. The project pays particular attention to comparative studies of “special zones,” a prevail­ing phenomenon in East Asian countries. The project’s detailed research of special zones reveals the specific dynamics of exceptionality, given the differences in regulations, norms, and benefits in each zone. Lastly, the project focuses on risk by analyzing the appearance of a “riskscape” emerging in conjunction with the compressed urbanization process, and in particular, on the formation of a nuclear power generation riskscape.

Major Research Outcomes
To advance empirical understandings of East Asian developmental urbanization, the research group has been conducting on-site research in East Asian cities, along with in-depth interviews of urban research experts, city inhabitants, and social groups. In particular, with the aim of locating the developmental urbanization of South Korea in the framework of “the Making of Gangnam“ and “Following Gangnam,” the group has examined the ways the South Korean urban middleclass has been made and reproduced through conducting biographical interviews. In addition to this empirical research, the research group organized several academic colloquia in an effort to bring together scholars and experts to discuss compressed urbanization in East Asia, the formation of spaces of exception, and the emergence of riskscapes, as well as to build a network for future research.

Building on the existing international network formed by the project, the research group played a leading role in the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS) International Research Roundtable held at the Univ. of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, by organizing a work­shop entitled, “Geopolitical Economies Development and Democratiza­tion in East Asia.” During the 2015 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), the group led dialogues on “property-led urbanization” in the session on East Asian Urbanization, reaching an agreement among various international intellectuals on the need to expand the range of research topics, with the shared goal of further comprehending East Asian cities.

Throughout fall and winter of 2015, the group actively undertook several comparative joint research initiatives on urbanization in China, Taiwan, and South Korea with visiting scholars at the Asia Center, including Prof. Jinn-yuh Hsu of Nat’l Taiwan Univ. and Prof. Hyun Bang Shin of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). A mini-confer­ence followed in October, in which the group invited Hsu, Shin, and Prof. Asato Saito of Yokohama Nat’l Univ., Japan, to discuss “Gentrification in the Context of East Asian Developmental Urbanization.”

The project is reaching the next generation of scholars by providing abundant seminar and education opportunities. In January 2015, the group organized a seminar on “Mobile Urbanism” to study how the global diffusion of urban knowledge and discourses affects transnational urban policy transfer and the formation of global urban policy networks. In December, the group organized a four-day Winter School called, “Gen­trification: The Crisis of Developmental Cities, Analysis and Alternatives,” where theories of gentrification as well as alternatives were discussed.

In order to connect academic research with practical methods for solving actual urban problems, the research group brought numerous institutions and social groups together in an “Urban Policy Forum,” including The Seoul Institute, ChungNam Institute, SH Corporation, The Korean Association of Space and Environment Research, Korean Center for City and Environment Research, and Institute of Land and Liberty. The 1st Urban Policy Forum, held in December 2015, addressed the question: “Is Urban Renewal without Gentrification Possible?” drawing attention from the press as well as from the general public.

Future Challenges and Outlook
The SSK Research Project on East Asian Cities aims to establish itself as the “SSK East Asian Cities Research Center,” playing a central role in the research of East Asian cities. The Research Center will occupy a pivotal position as a hub of East Asian cities research, developing new urban theories based on East Asia’s experiences, and supported by empirical research methods such as in-depth interviews, surveys, GIS (Geographic Information Systems), and big data analysis. Based on its academic findings and working alongside the government, enterprises, and civil society, the research group will strive to be an alternative think-tank that offers practical solutions to East Asia’s urban problems.