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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Red Light Districts of Korea (NSFW!), Part XI: Cheongnyangni 588, Seoul Dongdaemun-gu





DAT Hand.
Extract from Yonhap News - September 23rd 2014: Red-light neighborhood in Seoul dreams of gentrification by Kim Eun-jung (김은정)

Behind the glitzy Lotte Department Store and Cheongnyangni Station, narrow winding alleys lead to one of Seoul's last remaining red-light districts, the entrance to which is marked by an ominous sign banning minors. The district in the northeast of the capital is known as "Cheongnyangni 588," located at Jeonnong 2-dong 588-beonji, Seoul Dongdaemun-gu. It is where young women make themselves up under neon lights to attract passersby.

During its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood hosted over 1,000 sex workers. Then came the tough anti-prostitution law in 2004. More recently, the sex business has gone online and become more discreet, reducing the demand for brothels like those at Cheongnyangni. With several brothels closed even after dark when business should be at its peak, the first things to greet visitors are the flagging placards that read: "Welcome to the redevelopment of Cheongnyangni!"

The word "redevelopment" has been circulating among people of the area for more than a decade, but expectations are now higher than ever thanks to a plan that aims to transform the 43,207-square-meter site into a modern neighborhood with high-rise apartments, hotels and shopping malls by 2019.

Cheongnyangni was first included in a broad renovation plan in 1994, but it was only in 2010 that the proposal to remake the vast area encompassing Cheongnyangni 588, a Catholic hospital and adjacent neighborhoods received the go-ahead from the city government.

The proposal hit another snag when Catholic University of Korea St. Paul's Hospital filed a suit against Seoul Metropolitan Government, refusing to relocate. After a long drawn-out process, a revised plan that only includes Cheongnyangni 588 and Lotte's shopping complex was given the green light by the city government on Sept. 12.

With that hurdle cleared, developers and city officials are getting ready to appraise the values of the land and buildings and negotiate compensation for residents who will be forced to leave. Once compensation is agreed on, developers can tear down the area and go ahead with construction.

Officials at Seoul Dongdaemun-gu Office, which administers Cheongnyangni, expects the demolition process to begin in late 2015 or early 2016, citing time needed to compensate and relocate residents. City officials said they will cooperate with developers and residents to start the construction as soon as possible, stressing the overwhelming support from property owners for the project.

"Not only property owners in Cheongnyangni 588 but also nearby residents hope for the speedy development of the area to improve the living environment, which could pave the way for further renewal of other areas," said Park Yong-woo, head of the city management department at Seoul Dongdaemun-gu Office.

Real estate agents are hopeful that the project will turn the area into a trendy tourist attraction like Yongsan or Yeongdeungpo, which both underwent facelifts. They say there is much room for growth because Cheongnyangni Station has served as one of the transportation hubs for northern Seoul by connecting major bus, railway and subway lines. Right now, Cheongnyangni is where apartments co-exist with the red-light district and neighborhoods filled with dilapidated motels and street vendors who eke out a living by selling second-hand goods.

"Despite its potential, Cheongnyangni has remained largely underdeveloped compared to other major Seoul stations," said So Kwang-suk, a real estate agent near Cheongnyangni Station. "Once the project is completed as planned, it will transform this area into a new hub in northeastern Seoul."

Unlike in other areas designated for redevelopment that have seen long-time residents and tenants paid extra money for the right to operate businesses, city officials do not foresee fierce protest from land owners and residents in Cheongnyangni 588. For one, only a handful of people actually live in the area. The potential backlash could come from sex workers, but city officials and developers aren't too worried, considering that the sex business is waning and that the anti-prostitution law has weakened their legal rights.

"I don't expect severe conflict like Yongsan in the process of demolition. The brothel street used to be crowded, but the good old days are gone," Park said.

A sit-in to protest the Yongsan redevelopment plan ended tragically in January 2009 when six people, including a police officer, were killed during a raid to break up the demonstration started by shopowners disgruntled over a lack of compensation.

"As the (sex) businesses are no longer lucrative here, land owners don't see much benefit in staying here and paying property taxes," Yoo Jin-hyung, a city planning official at the Dongdaemun Ward Office, said. He expected the redevelopment to begin as early as next year. Despite the city's ambitious pledge, some residents are still skeptical that the construction will be finished in the next five years.

"Two decades have passed since this area has been designated as a redevelopment district but it remains the same today," a lottery vendor in his 60s at one corner of the district said. "As the city government has not even started the negotiation process over compensation, I'm just going to wait and see without much expectation."

Im Byung-eok, the chief of Cheongnyangni redevelopment committee who represents property owners, said he will find ways to compensate shop operators so as to proceed with construction without much delay.

"Sex workers have been here for the last decade, knowing that this area will be redeveloped at any time," Im said. "Although the rights of residents and shop operators may not be officially recognized, we will make utmost efforts to secure partial compensation needed for resettlement."

For some, even thinking of moving to another place was a source of headaches due to uncertainties over the new environment and business opportunities.

"If the government wants us to leave here, what else can we do? If the government offers enough compensation, I'll have to leave. But I'm not sure where else to go," a supermarket operator in the district said, asking not to be named.