A participatory cultural transformation project
The Gamcheon Culture Village Project is an urban regeneration initiative designed to reinvigorate an impoverished and decaying hillside community at risk of becoming a slum. Residents, artists, and the local government cooperated to develop a system of democratic governance by using arts and culture as the key tool in the redevelopment process. The project resulted in an improved quality of life for residents, a resurgent local economy and job creation. Approximately 8,000 residents saw their living conditions improve, while 200 people found jobs after the project which re-energized the district.
This project was shortlisted for the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2018 in the following category: Deserving city.
Gamcheon, a shanty town built by Korean War refugees in the 1950s is known for its steep streets and twisting alleys. Most of the houses are small, less than 33m² wide and are made from wood, rocks and corrugated iron, with residents sharing public restrooms built during the war period.
As the town kept sprawling outward, and in the absence of city planning or a sewer system, odors began to pervade the entire town. Without adequate water supply facilities, residents had to depend upon public wells.
While surrounding villages continued to develop, Gamcheon’s population, around 30,000 in the 1980s, stopped growing and by 2010 was 8,000. As younger people left the village and the number of residents moving in dropped, the rate of senior citizens rose to 26%. Empty houses were left unattended and the district slowly began to turn into a ghetto. As a result, the population in the area was increasingly composed of the socially vulnerable, poor and marginalized classes.
In the Governments complex deficiency indicator survey, which looked into residents’ housing, income, education, safety, and living conditions, Gamcheon’s deficiency score was the second highest out of a total of 205 villages examined in Busan. Inspired by the UN’s SDGs, the Gamcheon Culture Village Project was initiated to create a sustainable city and organize a community for residents.
- sanitary living environment,
- sustainable consumption and production,
- decent jobs and economic development,
- quality education.
The Gamcheon Culture Village Project sought a paradigm shift from redevelopment and reconstruction to ‘preservation and revitalization’ to ensure the effectiveness of the regeneration project.
In the beginning, environmental improvement policies were carried out in order to improve basic public infrastructure; instalment of septic tanks, separate sewers, and the maintenance of old retaining walls and alleys. Also built were a public bathing house, public washing facilities, a village management office, and residential convenience facilities, in addition to free shuttle services. The village turned itself into a tourism destination by hosting a variety of cultural events, such as a village environmental design competition, gallery exhibition, and alley festival, as well as installation art. New jobs were created as souvenir shops opened. Cafés, restaurants, interactive activities, tour programs and tour guide service led to the reinvigoration of the local economy through sustainable consumption and production. A village school, urban regeneration academy, and cultural programs were developed to boost community activities. Quality educational programs ensure residents are capable of sustaining independent development in the community.
The projects governance system involves residents, artists, and the city government, unlike top-down, government-led practices. The village community consists of 120 residents living in the Gamcheon Culture Village, making and executing project proposals. A creative city task force team leads the project and is comprised of 17 officials responsible for handling administrative affairs. Some 40 local artists, village activity planners, and professors support the project by contributing their expertise.
From 2009, when the project first commenced to 2017, a total of USD 9,400,000, (annual average of USD 975,000) had been expended. USD 6,580,000 was allocated for extensive construction undertakings, i.e. construction of a sewage system, natural gas pipelines, and communal septic tanks. USD 2,350,000 was spent to construct convenience amenities, including a community bathhouse, and a village laundromat. The remaining USD 470,000 was given to public art projects. Additional funds were secured from the central government, participation in many competitions hosted by metropolitan governments, as well as from the budget of Saha-gu, and a community fund. Four renowned architects and seventeen local artists contributed their skills to take the artistic landscape of the village to the next level. By cooperating with welfare centers, senior’s clubs, police stations, fire stations, and other public institutions in the district, both human and technical resources were obtained.
Local artists donated their talents to the community in return for access to free spaces for exhibitions and creative work. Revenue generated from commercial projects in the community was reinvested into the village for the development of the community and welfare for residents.
The project has turned the languishing village into a vibrant community with much improved living conditions. The substandard village infrastructure has been refurbished to give residents access to a cleaner and safer living environment. Residents have opportunities to enjoy cultural activities and benefit from a variety of cultural and educational programs.
The declining village has now turned into one of the most popular tourist destinations, attracting 2.05 million visitors every year. The local economy has been revitalized by tourism boom, laying the groundwork for residents to gain economic independence, with approximately 280 jobs created as a result.
Six project units comprised of 129 residents have been formed to carry out village development. The units generate a sales volume of USD 1.4 million, creating jobs for 30 residents.
The outcomes delivered through the project are making contributions to not just boosting the nation’s tourism industry, but also promoting a balanced regional growth initiative in Busan and beyond. With the hope that the outcomes of the project will last, Busan has laid the institutional foundation for its survival by setting up the Gamcheon Culture Village Special Zone and establishing district-level planning.
A university-run specialized agency assessed the status of change in Gamcheon in different categories including: number of residents; reduction of empty houses; village community; number of active residents; number of jobs created; floating population (number of visitors); residents’ satisfaction with the project; and revitalization of regional businesses (sales volume from village shops). The outcomes of the assessment serve as standards to measure the project’s effectiveness, sustainability, and improvement tasks. The university uses the indicators as academic data for urban regeneration. Government agencies address the shortcomings of the project and come up with new policies based on the assessment results.
The Gamcheon Culture Village has become one of the most famous cultural brands in Korea and beyond, setting a new standard for urban regeneration initiatives. Global media outlets such as CNN, NBC, Le Monde and the BBC highlighted this project as a model of urban regeneration. The GCV has been recognized across the world as it won awards and recognition, including the ROK President’s Award at Korea Space Award Grand Prize at Asian Townscape Awards, Excellent City Award at International Association of Educating Cities, UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development Certification of Official Project, Dubai International Role Model Award, Stevie Awards Asia Pacific, and more.
Most residents of Gamcheon are from the low income, socially vulnerable class. It was natural that they were indifferent or sceptical about the project initially as they had little income to spend on sustaining their livelihood. As a measure to ensure residents’ participation, various programs were implemented, for example, participation-based public art projects, communal commercial businesses for job creation, a village regeneration project, urban school regeneration, village school, and more. Other amenities in the village contributed to garnering residents’ support for the project, included installation of a sewer system, urban gas pipeline, maintenance of decrepit walls, public bath house, remodelling of old houses, and free laundry service. To address old ordinances and regulations obstructing the implementing the project, the City of Busan cooperated with the central government and the National Assembly, revising rules and enacting new ordinances.
Most existing urban regeneration projects completely reshape a village’s physical environment, often getting rid of historical and environmental continuity that can lead to low rate of resident resettlement. Previous regeneration projects disproportionately tilt toward improving the physical environment but fail to bring about development in economic and social terms. As a result, they fall short of delivering lasting effects the community. Taking lessons from these previous projects, the Gamcheon Culture Village Project has undertaken to preserve the village’s environment and social history, and at the same time enhance economic and public infrastructure by engaging with residents from the beginning, ensuring satisfaction, effectiveness, and sustainability.
The Gamcheon Culture Village Project capitalized on the unique elements of the town and transformed it into a vibrant artistic and cultural village that attracts tourists all year round. The whole process engaged residents, which in turn led to the natural formation of a true residents’ community. Residents played a major role in reviving the town in a voluntary and independent manner.
Delegations from home and abroad continue to visit the village to benchmark the success of the city redevelopment project. The GCV has also hosted the UNESCO International Work Camp, sharing the outcomes of the project with delegations from different countries at the World Cities Summit, UNESCO Workshop, and International Association of Educating Cities.
Cities around the world can identify with the methodology of carrying out urban regeneration project customized for the unique conditions in their cities by benchmarking the GCV Project. In order to facilitate their benchmarking efforts, we provide presentation sessions in foreign languages to visiting delegations.
Gamcheon Culture Village's City Rejuvenation Project, Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation: http://www.guangzhouaward.org/award_d.aspx?CateId=289&newsid=1390