sabato 25 giugno 2016

Song-do, the global city without soul


Song-do - roughly two and a half hours metro trip from Seul, South Korea - is a city built out of nothing, on 6.5 square kilometers reclaimed from the sea, by a human hand that alters boundaries and morphologies. It would eventually host  250,000 people, and is rapidly becoming a trendy location to the extent that various soap opera stars moved in what they would like to see as the Beverly Hills of the East. 
As it stands now, however, the city is composed of   almost empty futuristic buildings,  a few bikers rambling along its wide avenues,  construction sites active around the clock. Canals filled with merchant vessels in the background. Walking  among these high-rise buildings made of steel and crystal, semi-deserted roads waiting to be filled with cars, is like living in a Truman Show of neo-liberalism with no limit. 
Once upon a time, it was in  Incheon that the UN troops landed, General MacArthur at command, in a bold move that determined the final outcome of the Korean war. Hence this is a symbolic place, and something more than that, an event celebrated with a bronze plaque placed in the middle of Central Park, that sanctifies the commitment to continue the “mission of freedom and prosperity” for the Korean people. A bronze statue of the general stays as a reminder of what remains of the landing site, the Memory Park just around the corner of the Incheon International Airport. 
Not incidentally, Song-do is being built within one of the four South Korean Free Economic Zones, the IFEZ, (Incheon Free Economic Zone), that altogether extend on a 290 square kilometers surface most of which reclaimed from the sea, an investment worth 41 billion USD.   A sort of “city-state” where investors enjoy all sort of exemptions from tax breaks and beyond. A plastic and virtual performance of new frontier neo-liberalism, the reification of daily reality, of nature transformed in a consumption commodity, the impossible equation between a Green New Deal and growth, fake stones and trees transplanted on flat sand, battered by gusts of wind, icy cold in winter, steaming hot in summertime. Song-do evokes an altered state of sovereignty, or maybe a state of exception, of those masterly  described by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. 
The “G” Building hosts the IFEZ government – there is also an ambassador for international relations – and the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund, the financial entity in charge of supporting the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreements. When you enter the ground an LDC screen showing Stock Exchange indexes welcomes the visitor at the ground floor. Another liquid crystal display in the elevator shows a graph and reminds the user of  the daily walk suggested to stay fit.
Pavements are almost all covered with tartan for the pleasure of bikers and runners, still too few for a city that aims at becoming a model city. The real contradiction that strikes the eye is the attempt to add   a layer of green and clean technologies on  hard core liberalism.  Song-do is today considered and boasted as the show-case of “green economy”, built at the cost of the  displacement of a delicate ecosystem where as many as 11 species of migratory birds, among which the “Platalea Minor” used to live, a site of major importance for the Ramsar convention. What remains of "Platalea Minor" in the Song-do center is a tree sculputre with some bird-looking wooden artifacts.

Supergreen "zero emission" powerplants turn sea tides into energy, destroying fragile coastal habitats.  Paradoxically, the world’s biggest tidal wave powerplant, the Siwha Tidal Powerplant has been registered by the Clean Development Mechanism , set up to reduce emissions and generate carbon credits.  “A conflict of  greens: Green Development versus Habitat Preservation-the case of Incheon, South Korea” this is the  eloquent title of an article that pointed to the contradiction between green capitalism and ecology. What sort of ecological conversion is possible in an artificial place, where rights are subject to the rule of market and finance? A place that pretends to be a laboratory of a Green New Deal, antiseptic and without soul? 
There is a theory, not corroborated by scientific evidence, according to which a new city acquires its  “soul” in the space of two generations, around 70 years to be precise. In the next 70 years Song-do will be replaced by more futuristic projects, already displayed in the IFEZ museum. And then   70 more years will be needed to give a new “soul” to the city. In the meantime a huge casino is being built, near the airport, a sort of shopping mall with landing strips, at the cost of  1 billion USD, for the leisure of Chinese billionaires in their quest for fortune and risk. 
I found myself in a similar condition, in Doha, Qatar. The radical transformation of the urban space there is fueled by gas and oil revenues, and the manpower of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in semi-slavery conditions. Just like in Song-Do also in Doha land was gained to the sea, an artificial peninsula turned into the showcase of eminent archistars, from Jean Nouvel to Norman Foster, an artificial Venice made of plastic in the middle of a thematic shopping mall.  An endless stream of construction sites punctuates the landscape, the  playground of real estate speculation for bored and wealthy Qataris that  is turning the Emirate into a pole of research and scientific research for the whole region, and offer access to campuses and research centers to Asian affluent youth.
Apparently, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was very impressed by Qatar, not coincidentally the sheiks are buying much of the city of Quito after having taken over a slice of London and even Milan. He was impressed by what can be defined as “post-oil” society, that invests in knowledge, and after Doha he got fond of Incheon as the opportunity to boost the “change in the productive matrix -  el cambio de la matiz productiva”.  Hence, a new city was born in the middle of the Ecuadorean Andes, Yachay is its name, a sort of Silicon Valley of knowledge and biotech, designed by skillful Korean experts.  As in Doha, and Song-Do, Yachay aims at attracting   and professors from the best universities. 
It’ll be those urban extraterritorial spaces, such as IFEZ and many more, developed “in vitro”, suspended in space and time, black holes where exemption from labor legislation and tax breaks are the rule,  that will represent the new frontier of wildcat liberalism, fueled by the exploitation of resources elsewhere in the world. The fact of the matter is that Song-do is currently one of those “extraterritorial” spaces, akin to the Export Processing Zones  that together with tax heavens draw a parallel geography of power, a cobweb of parallel governance, away from public scrutiny, that envisages no anomaly or alternative. An example among others of those “zones”, skilfully described by Keller Easterly in his 2014 essay titled. “Extrastatecraft: the power of infrastructure space, ” where powers and sovereignty are redefined between state and market. 
The Korean model is exported throughout the world, not only in Ecuador, but also in Honduras, where Korean capitals are behind the creation of so-called “charter cities”, autonomous and independent state-cities, ruled by the laws of market and profit.
So, Song-do designed by  planning firm, Kohn Pedersen Fix, is a city that can be reproduced anywhere in the world, with its Central Park, its World Trade Center, its canals that evoke a futuristic Venice, a technopark and a biocomplex.  Electronic closets in hotels offer various options to guests, from automatized enema to butt massages at varying temperature. Supermarkets sell cosmetics produced with the genetic manipulation of stem cells, to whiten the skin and nurture  the illusion of eternal youth.

1 commento:

helen magata ha detto...

The but massage does not only come with various temperatures but with various pressures as wel! and you should visit the bags that you cannot otuch with bare hands lest the seller yells at you. They also sell them second-hand (used) bags at insanely high price (1500 USD). O by the way, we bought some of those cream that promise eternal youth- well, they did work on my ego but not sure about our face. :)