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Title 6/19 IFES International Conference on “Urban North Korea: Changes and Exchanges”
Date 2019.05.29
Type [Event]

Urban North Korea: Changes and Exchanges

  • Date: 2019.06.19
  • Venue: Jungsan Hall, IFES, Seoul, Korea
  • Organizer: IFES, Friedrich Naumann Foundation For Freedom
Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s urban landscapes are undergoing substantial facelifts. Visually, the transformation is tremendous. In Pyongyang, nearly every year grand projects seem to surface—such as the Mansudae apartment complex, Mirae Scientist Street, the Sci-Tech Complex, and Ryomyong Street. Urban upgrades have not been confined to the capital city alone. Massive construction projects at Samjiyon and Wonsan are ongoing, reshaping those cityscapes, with concrete yet to be poured to put in motion the extensive modernization envisioned for Sinuiju. While less grand, other cities have also seen new constructions and renovations to public infrastructure, especially in the areas of residential housing, recreation spaces, and leisure facilities. Some observers attribute these improvements as a symbol of the young leader’s new economic approach and openness. While it is too early to judge if Kim is a reformer, economic and urban development is ostensibly if not tangibly linked to his reign.
Notwithstanding the top-down projects by the state to prove itself as a modern nation, other urban transformations exist in part influenced by different agents of change such as the emergent yet hard to define entrepreneurial nouveau riche middle class. A shadow real estate market is developing. Access to leisure facilities is expanding. Markets and transportation are becoming increasingly important. The urban fabric of cities is beginning to sport a new look. Classic soviet planning paradigms no longer seem the fashion as today’s blueprints lean somewhat more toward efficiency. In all this renewal, North Korea is showing an increasing openness to new ideas in fields such as architecture and urban development. What can we make of these changes? What do they reveal? What implications do they have for wider economic and societal transformations? And does the urban sphere offer opportunities for international engagement with the country?
In light of the developments, the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) of Kyungnam University and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) are hosting an international conference on Urban North Korea: Changes and Exchanges. Through presentations and panel discussions with invited experts, we will seek to illuminate and evaluate the transformations, analyze their implications, and discuss encouraging directions for North Koreans and international civil society including South Korea to engage in peaceful, permissible, and mutually beneficial cooperative exchanges, which in some cases are already actively taking place.
We cordially invite your participation at what we hope will be an informative, meaningful, and productive conference.