Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Visual Pollution

My KBS office resides in an area of the city zealously referred to as the "Manhattan" of Seoul. With a cluster of high-rise office buildings, the National Assembly headquarters, and a large city park, Yeouido island sits on the south side of the Han River and is the center of South Korean politics. Ironically, the name Yeouido translates to "useless". As one of Seoul's business districts, it has a very white-collar feel--suited professionals toying with cell phones and Blackberries, commuters racing across six lanes of traffic just in time for the light to change, and sidewalks and cafes saturated between noon and one o'clock. It's lively in its own right, but one thing my area of Yeouido is lacking is color. Aside from the large park in the center of the island that offers an abundance of colors in autumn and at least a little green in the spring and summer, the area is pretty boring, aesthetically. Travel beyond Yeouido's concrete and glass and you'll find parts of Seoul plastered with so much color you'd think a Skittles factory exploded nearby. Whenever I pass through these areas in a bus or taxi I feel like an awestruck country girl cruising the city for the first time. The flashing lights advertising bars and 24-hour saunas and huge, colorful advertisements seem to go on forever--up every building, down every alley, and reflecting off the windows of taxis buzzing by. The Seoul city government calls the excess of neon lights, signboards, and advertisements "visual pollution" and it's taking measures to ensure the mayhem doesn't spread. Starting this month, businesses in developing areas will only be allowed one sign of restricted proportions and flashing lights on signboards will be completely banned. In a March press conference, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said, "Many advertisements on Seoul streets have gone long beyond their informative function and become 'visual pollution,' which has posed a big obstacle to Seoul's revival as a city of high-quality design." Since the law is not retroactive, the areas already "polluted" probably won't see much change. While it's becoming difficult to photograph some of Seoul's historic landmarks without capturing tacky neon lights in the background, I must admit that the bright and colorful parts of the city are part of what makes Seoul, well, Seoul, to me. I learned to read Korean by testing myself on signboards I pass between home and work, and I can't deny the feeling of excitement and wonder I get from these bright, bustling neighborhoods in a place that couldn't be more different from small-town America. At the end of the day, I really am a country girl in a big, foreign city and its visual pollution is all part of the thrill. So as Seoul's increasingly Western-influenced government pushes the city to become recognized as a global hot spot of business and culture, I just hope they don't take too much of Korea away.

To the right and below, two sides of a building in my neighborhood.

This example is not an anomaly. Many buildings are completely covered in signs.

Hanging out in bright Hongdae

Some kindergarteners add a splash of color to Yeouido during a KBS tour last autumn

1 comment:

Marc said...

広告、in japanese "koukoku"
publicity plate or annunce