Archive for the ‘Real estate’ Category

Black market home prices falling

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

According to Radio Free Asia:

Houses in impoverished North Korea are fully owned by the government and trading on them is forbidden. But some dwellers “sell” their homes illegally with the approval of corrupt officials to cash in on the acute shortage of homes.

Sources in provinces along North Korea’s border with China told RFA’s Korean Service that the value of their home transactions had fallen by as high as 85 percent from last summer.

“Housing prices in Gilju-gun, North Hamgyong province, dropped to around U.S. $500 from what was U.S. $3,300 last summer,” a source from the province told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.

He said that in North Hamgyong’s Cheongjin city, the trading price for a two-bedroom home had plummeted to around U.S. $3,300 from U.S. $8,300 in the summer last year, and yet no buyers were showing any interest.

Another source from Yanggang said housing prices in his province had been similarly affected in the last several months.

“I was barely able to afford my house near the Yalu River [separating North Korea from China] at around U.S. $3,300 early last year,” he said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The trading price of my house, which was still U.S. $3,300 in August last year, has now dropped to about U.S. $990.”

The Yanggang source said the housing crash began in the fall in the capital Pyongyang and had led to widespread unease because the cause of the depreciation remained unknown.

He added that it was impossible to guess how far prices would drop.

Other sources said that the market crash had led to increased tension in the affected areas.

Read the full story here:
Housing Prices in North Korea Plunge on Black Market
RFA
2014-1-9

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Building the economy and construction projects emphasized once again

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-12-27

In an effort to restore the mood of economic development following the ‘terror politics’ created from the execution of Jang Song Thaek, North Korean state media is beginning to emphasize “construction of a powerful economy” and “improvement of people’s lives” once again.

Rodong Shinmun reported on December 19, 2013 that all fields reached their production plans for the year, describing (on page 3) exemplary cases of various party organizations that upheld the legacies of Kim Jong Il and “displayed best practices that actively contributed to improving people’s lives.”

In one article (“Advancement in Science and Technology Is the Lifeline of Constructing a Powerful Economy and Improving People’s Lives”) the importance of science and technology was emphasized. It claimed, “breakthrough in science and technology is the best way to achieve a miracle and innovation in production while protecting the dignity of the nation in the era of knowledge economy.”

Korean Central Television, Korean Central Broadcasting, and Pyongyang Broadcasting encouraged its people to realize “new miracle, new record” in the production fields emphasizing the goals of the Kim Jong Un regime, “construction of economic powerhouse,” and “construction of civilized socialist nation.”

In addition, the military was presented with modern fishing boats. Kim Jong Un’s gift to the military may be interpreted as a display of interest in improving the welfare of soldiers. Kim Jong Un was reported to have made an on-site inspection at the “8.25 Fishery” military unit and expressed interest in the welfare of the soldiers.

Kim Jong Un is also continuing to commend “best citizens” as he delivered letters of appreciation to recognize those that displayed exceptional performance at the construction sites of Sepho Tableland and the residential complex for Kim Il Sung University (KISU) faculty members.

In the Kim Jong Un era, state media is continuing to emphasize the achievements in the construction sectors, calling these times a “new heyday of juche construction.” It listed last year’s construction achievements: completion of Changjon Street, People’s Theatre, Pyongyang Children’s Department Store, Rungra People’s Pleasure Park, People’s Outdoor Skating Rink, Pyongyang Folk Park, and Ryugyong Health Complex.

In addition, it boasted that Munsu Water Park was “miraculously” completed in only nine months. Other achievements were listed: War Memorial, Mirim Riding Club, Ryugyong Dental Hospital, Okryu Children’s Hospital, Unha Scientists Street, and KISU faculty apartment complex.

North Korea is propagating these achievements, heralding the Kim Jong Un era as the “glory days of construction” to promote his accomplishments and consolidate his power base.

During his own period of succession, Kim Jong Il sought the support of the masses by emphasizing construction of Changgwang and Munsu Streets and landmarks such as Juche Tower, Kaeson Mun (Gate of Triumphant Return), and Pyongyang Maternity Hospital.

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Evaluation of Kim Jong Un’s first two years: The rise in construction of sports and entertainment facilities and exports to China

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-10-16

The first chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, took office two years ago. Since then, construction of sports and entertainment facilities are reported to have increased considerably. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s Pyongyang Folk Park (September 2012), Taesongsan General Hospital (March 2013), and Haedanghwa Service Complex (April 2013) were recently completed. Since the launch of the Kim Jong Un regime, the Masik Pass Ski Resort and other similar sports facilities have been undertaken and are nearing completion.

In addition, the People’s Theatre (April 2012), Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground (opened in July 2012), Sunrise Restaurant (September 2012), and Unification Street Center (September 2012) have been recently renovated. In addition, the Mirim Riding Club, Pyongyang Gymnasium, Munsu Wading Pool, Aprok (Yalu) River Amusement park, Karma Hotel, and New Day Hotel and other hotels around Pyongyang are currently under renovation and repair. Entertainment and sports facilities around other major cities are being constructed as well. Furthermore, after the successful launch of Kwangmyongsong 3-2 last December, North Korea has begun to construct major residential complexes for scientists, granting them preferential housing in Unha scientist residence, Kim Il Sung University educator residence, and Pyongsong residence. Other large-scale housing projects are also reported to be under development.

In the wake of major celebrations in North Korea — such as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and 60-year anniversary of the “Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War” — a large memorial was erected and existing facilities were repaired. Specifically, the Korean People’s Army Exhibition of Arms and Equipment, Kumsusan Memorial Palace, War Victory Monument, and the Cemetery of the Fallen Fighters of the KPA were refurbished.

Unlike the large-scale construction of sports and entertainment facilities, new constructions of harbors, roads, power plants and other social overhead capital (SOC) is reported to be in decline.

Last August, North Korea’s trade with China has shown an 8 percent increase in exports and 6 percent decrease in imports, following a similar trend from last year. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s current trade volume with China is reported to be 4 billion USD (1.89 billion USD in exports and 2.2 billion USD in imports).

North Korea’s most popular export items are mineral resources such anthracite, coal, and iron ore. In the case of clothing products — which are mostly consigned processing — there has been an increase of 42 percent (200 million USD) against the previous year. Major categories of imports from China are crude oil, food, and fertilizers. Compared to the previous year, food imports have declined 57 percent (17.4 million tons), and fertilizer and crude oil imports are also showing gradual reduction at 27 percent (18.3 million tons) and 6 percent (34.6 million tons), respectively.

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Pyongyang seeking to build 100,000 housing units [on hold]

Monday, July 1st, 2013

UPDATE 6 (2013-7-1): The Daily NK reports the effort to construct 100,000 homes in Pyongyang has come to a complete halt. According to the article:

A troubled prestige project to build 100,000 new homes in Pyongyang has been brought to a complete halt under the rule of Kim Jong Eun, and buildings in some areas have fallen into a state of disrepair.

A source from the North Korean capital revealed to Daily NK on July 1st, “The 100,000 homes project has been at a complete halt since Kim Jong Eun took power, and on the outskirts of the city some buildings are half-built and collapsing into a state of disrepair.”

“In this area, people were evacuated in October 2009 so that the construction could commence,” the source went on. “But in many areas those buildings that were begun at that time are still not above the first floor.”

Homes planned as part of the project, which, according to state propaganda, was to form part of celebrations for North Korea’s becoming a “strong and prosperous state” by the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth in April 2012, were expected to feature in propaganda vis-a-vis Kim Jong Eun’s greatness.

However, the project has been plagued by electricity and material shortages from the beginning, sources say, and ultimately could not be completed. In some areas, the construction that did go ahead was poorly done and buildings have subsequently collapsed, which has caused deaths.

The source commented, “From Kim Jong Eun’s perspective the project was promoted so that he could say he was improving the people’s lives. But there were no raw materials and no power, and this caused poor construction; so ultimately it has just been abandoned.”

The North Korean authorities are only genuinely concerned about projects that offer short-term opportunities for public propagation of results, such as water parks and exercise facilities in downtown Pyongyang, the source went on to claim.

Meanwhile, the direct suffering caused by the failed project is falling primarily on those who were moved out of their homes in order for construction to start back in 2009. “In a number of cases, the Party ordered families to move out and live with others temporarily, and here we are, four years on, with multiple families living under one roof,” the source said, adding that the indignity of this is being compounded by mobilization orders calling on people without homes of their own to take part in downtown beautification and cleaning schemes.

I have have posted quite a bit of material on construction in Pyongyang in recent years.  Here are some of the more relevant articles:

1. Mansudae Area Renovation No. 1

2. Mansudae Area Renovation No. 2 

3. Kumgang Street

Read the full story here:
100,000 Homes Project Stopped Dead
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2013-7-1

UPDATE 5 (2011-11-03): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) reports on the status of Pyongyang’s residential construction effort.

North Korea Pushing Forward with the Project of Constructing 100,000 Housing Units in Pyongyang

In order to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s centennial birthday next year on April 15, 2012, the plan to build 100,000 private homes in Pyongyang is quickly underway. North Korea has announced its intension to upgrade Pyongyang into a city with over 100,000 homes. Pyongyang’s district of Mansudae is to build over one thousand units of high-rise apartments (77 stories), theaters, parks and other recreational facilities.

The KCNA reported on October 11, “For the next Day of the Sun, Pyongyang will be completely transformed.” The news added, “The construction of private homes has been in progress for five months and is at 70 percent completion. Mansudae District is rapidly changing with skyscrapers and high-rise apartments appearing throughout the city. Construction of theaters and service facilities are also in development.”

Facing Mansudae is [East] Pyongyang [area], another area in Pyongyang under enhancement and has secured over 17,400 square meters of land for multi-purpose service facilities and 9,660 square meters for a public outdoor ice rink. The KCNA elaborated, “The multi-purpose facilities encompass bathhouses, beauty salons, and other latest facilities of convenience. In the public outdoor ice rink, circular ice rink, bleachers and cultural recreational facilities will be built to provide necessary environment for people to enjoy various ice sports.”

Rungrado Recreation Ground is also reported to be rejuvenated with a variety of amusement rides and multipurpose water park. The water park will be equipped with wave pools, waterslides, and health pools.

In addition, Pyongyang is focusing on gardening and exterior beautification projects for private homes and public buildings, including installation of colorful tiles and paints as well as bright neon signs in the streets.

“The Development Project of 100,000 Housing Units in Pyongyang” went into effect since 2009 but talks of reducing the project to 20,000 homes surfaced when it was faced with funding difficulties. However, the original plan of building 100,000 homes has not faltered and appears to be in full swing.

Early this year on January 3, a public rally was held at the Kim Il Sung Square with over 100,000 people present. At that time, the homebuilding project of Pyongyang was announced in which “Pyongyang City will be equipped to enter the era of strong and prosperous nation in all sectors.”

In July 2008, the General Bureau of Capital Construction began a large-scale redevelopment project. Completed a year later on September 2009, 600 old homes mostly built in the 1960s were demolished and in their place an apartment complex with over 800 homes went up. This project received undivided attention from Kim Jong Il, Chang Sung-Thaek, administrative director of the Worker’s Party of Korea, among many other top officials of North Korea.

For North Korea, “The Development Project of 100,000 Housing Units in Pyongyang” has become a symbol of building a strong and prosperous nation.

Additional information:
1. Previous posts on the DPRK’s “2012 Kangsong Taeguk” policies can be found here.

2. Previous posts on “Construction” can be found here.

3. The Pyongyang’s university students are (mostly) involved in construction projects.

4. See photos of the construction by Ray Cunningham here.

UPDATE 4 (2011-7-23): Housing unit construction revised down?


Pictured above (Goole Earth): New housing construction in Rakrang-guyok

For several years, the DPRK has been touting that it will build 100,000 new housing units by 2012. See here, here, and here for background.

This week, many South Korean news outlets reported that the DPRK had significantly downsized that number.  According to Yonhap:

North Korea has dramatically cut its goal of building 100,000 houses by next year, a government source said Monday, amid the North being economically squeezed by the international community for its nuclear and missile programs for years.

After the North started the project in Pyongyang in 2009, as part of its plans to achieve a strong and prosperous country by 2012, the North cut the number of planned houses by 75 percent to 25,000. The year 2012 marks the centennial of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s late founder.

The North, however, is continuing to repair a towering bronze statue of Kim and renovate around the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where his embalmed body lies, the source said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

Kim is the father of current leader, Kim Jong-il. The Kims are the subject of a massive personality cult that pervades almost every aspect of North Korean society.

Still, the North has embarked on a project to demolish buildings and facilities in central Pyongyang to make room for high-rise apartments, a theater and a park for senior officials.

The North has begun interior work on one of its landmarks, the 105-story Ryukyong Hotel, which stood unfinished in downtown Pyongyang for nearly 20 years due to a lack of capital.

In 2008, the North resumed construction of the skyscraper, but it appears unlikely for the project to be completed next year. It is believed, however, that the North will finish some floors for use.

The last time that KCTV mentioned the 100,000 housing unit goal was on May 26, 2011…nearly a month ago.  I will keep up to see if it is ever mentioned again.  I would not hold my breath waiting for a lower number to be announced, however.

Using satellite imagery of Pyongyang, I can see appx 200 residential buildings under construction.  They are mostly concentrated in Hyongjesan-guyok.  On average, each of these buildings would have to contain 500 housing units to reach 100,000.  This is not possible given the dimensions of the buildings we can see. Additionally, most of these facilities are a long way from being completed.  With a goal of 25,000, that would mean new buildings on average would only need to contain 125 units…a much more reasonable number.

In terms of residential construction, the government now seems to be focusing its efforts primarily on completing the second phase of the Mansudae Street renovations in time for Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday. See here and here.

The prestigious units (visited by Kim Jong-il) that have been completed are all in Pyongyang’s Central District: Near the Potong Gate (Google Maps), Near Haebang Hill (Google Maps), and behind the Central Market (Google Maps).  I should point out, however, that these are not the only buildings to be completed.  Other less-prestigious buildings have been completed and occupied.  Also, many villages (ri, 리) outside the capital are being upgraded and provided new facilities.  I am not sure what the procedure is for deciding which villages receive new homes, but it can’t be random.  Being located next to a major highway seems to be an important variable (keeping up appearances).  I am also unsure what the DPRK does with all of the displaced residents. Are they going somewhere else to live with their families?  Are they living in temporary shelters?

The Daily NK and Choson Ilbo also covered this story.

UPDATE 3 (2011 -7-5): Several days ago, Yonhap reported that the DPRK had quietly reduced its goal of building 100,000 housing units by 2012. So of the 200+ buildings that are currently under construction, which projects are priorities? Mansudae Part II for sure (see here and here).  But what else? There are many construction sites that were launched well before the second renovation of the Mansudae area was begun, and the deadline for completion is rapidly approaching.

Well North Korea recently broadcast a propaganda television show touting Pyongyang’s housing construction (along with quite a lot of singing).  I was able to match up this North Korean television footage with satellite imagery of Pyongyang construction sites to help answer this question.  Given the amount of propaganda being used to promote these particular developments, I would say the following three are also 2012 priorities:

Ryongsong-guyok, Chonggye-dong (룡성구역, 청계동)

Click on images for larger versions.  See in Google Maps here.

Hyongjesan-guyok, Sopho-2 Dong (형제산구역, 서포2동)

Click on images for larger versions.  See in Google Maps here.

Rakrang-guyok, Tongsan-dong (락랑구역, 동산동)

Click on images for larger versions.  See in Google Maps here.

The DPRK also recently hosted an architecture expo in Pyongyang. I have uploaded a video of the event to YouTube, and you can watch it here. I was able to match up some of the projects (though not all) with current satellite imagery. Aside from the renovation of the Ryugyong Hotel, there is no publicly available satellite imagery showing that these projects have been launched.

Hyoksin Area (혁신)

Ryugyong Area (류경)

Additional Informaiton

1. So Marcus Noland was right.  They want tall buildings.

2. For several years now I have been tracking construction in Pyongyang.  See hereherehere, herehereherehere, and here.

UPDATE 2(2010-7-28): According to the Daily NK the construction has come to a halt:

The construction of 100,000 homes in Pyongyang has been put on hold due to a lack of cement. According to a Daily NK source, the project is around 40 percent complete.

The year’s aim is to finish 35,000 households out of the total 100,000 planned for construction. Work is due for completion by 2012.

The North Korean authorities had planned to construct 20,000 houses along the railroad from the Ryongseong-district via Seopo in the Hyeongjesan-district to the Ryeokpo-district and 25,000 houses in the center of the city. The schedule for laying the foundations has been set for September this year with plastering and interior works running until the end of the year.

The frame work of the houses, expected to finish by September, have been suspended due to lack of cement and other materials. A source commented that, “It was planned that general construction of frame works would finish in September but exterior construction has been halted due to a lack of materials.”

The North’s authorities have attempted to supply materials through the Sangwon Cement Complex, the Chollima Steel Mill Complex and other factories across the country. Annual production of cement in North Korea amounts to 6.4 million tons, approximately 12 percent of South Korea’s. However this is not enough to fuel general construction of key facilities such as social infrastructure and military facilities.

Large scale power plant constructions such as the Heecheon Power Plant combined with the building of 100,000 houses in Pyongyang have meant the shortage of cement is particularly acute.

Last year the North established the Pyongkeon Development Investment Group, attracting 320 million dollars of foreign capital. According to the plan submitted by the Group, 300,000 tons of cement are needed for foundation work in March alone.

Chosun Shinbo, the publication of the Chongryon (General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan), reported the construction of 35,000 houses was started in September last year. Since then, old houses in the districts have been torn down and neighborhoods rezoned. In March, the foundations of the houses were laid and the exterior frame work was built but construction has made little progress throughout June due to low cement levels.

The 100,000 household construction project in Pyongyang has been led by Jang Sung Taek, Director of the Ministry of Administration of the Workers’ Party, later appointed as the Vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission earlier this year at the Supreme People’s Assembly.

A source reported that, “Jang Sung Taek ordered foreign currency earning organizations to procure cement and that even selling coal should be considered.”

North Korea launched the state project to construct 100,000 houses in Pyongyang as a symbol of completion of the strong and prosperous state as part of a three-year campaign. Additionally, this project has been advertised as an achievement of the successor, Kim Jong Eun. If the plan fails then it will be a blow to the succession. If construction is suspended completely in advance of the Delegates’ Conference, happening in September, the image of Kim Jong Eun could be damaged.

UPDATE 1 (2010-5-2): Pyongyang’s 2012 renovations

Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times correspondent and author of the very interesting and enjoyable Nothing to Envy, was the first western journalist to write about Pyongyang’s construction boom and the DPRK’s goal of achieving a strong and prosperous nation  by the time of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday in 2012.  The article is a bit dated, but I thought it would be fun to go back and point out all of the construction projects she mentioned in Pyongyang (plus a few more).

Below are some blurbs from Demick’s article supplemented with satellite imagery:

Blurb 1: “Yet these days, high-rise apartments in shades of pink are taking shape near the Pueblo, the American spy ship captured in 1968 and still anchored in the river. A tangle of construction cranes juts into the skyline near Pothong Gate, a re-creation of the old city wall. About 100,000 units are to be built over the next four years.”

I have already blogged about the new housing near the Potong Gate (see here).  Here is the housing near the Pueblo (click on images for larger versions):

pueblo-housing-4-6-2005.JPG  pueblo-housing-11-12-2006.JPG  pueblo-housing-1-28-2009.JPG

The dates of the pictures are 4/6/2005, 11/12/2006, 1/28/2009). The original Los Angeles Times story had a picture of the completed building but that does not appear to have been archived.  Kernbeisser got a photo of the building under construction.

Blurb 2: “But South Korean companies and individuals have mostly ignored the political chill. Among the biggest players here are a unit of the Hyundai conglomerate, which operates the resort where the shooting occurred, and companies affiliated with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, which also runs a car assembly plant in North Korea [Pyonghwa Motors]. The church last year completed work on what it calls the World Peace Center, behind the Potonggang Hotel, also owned by church affiliates.”

You can see a satellite image of Pyonghwa Motors plant near Nampo here.

Here is an image of the Potonggang Hotel.

Here is the World Peace Center.

Blurb 3: A Chinese company, meanwhile, is renovating the No. 1 Department Store in the heart of downtown.

Here is an image of Department Store No. 1.

Blurb 4: The Taedonggang Hotel, where Soviet dignitaries stayed in the 1960s and which burned down in 2002, is being restored as a five-star hotel. The Pyongyang Grand Theater, which stages revolutionary operas, is under renovation. The oldest and most elegant of the city’s movie theaters, the Taedongmun Cinema, was restored over the summer and used for screenings at the Pyongyang International Film Festival, which opened here last week.

Here are satellite images of the Taedonggang Hotel reconstruction:

taedong-hotel-8-6-2005.JPG taedong-hotel-11-12-2006.JPG taedong-hotel-12-26-2006.JPGtaedong-hotel-1-28-2009.JPG

Kernbeisser offers a great visual contrast between the hotel’s past and future. Click the links for images.

Here is an image of the Pyongyang Grand Theater under renovation.

Of course these places only scratch the surface of construction work in the DPRK in the last few years. I started to make a list of construction and refurbishment projects, but it got very long very fast.  Since I have other things to do on this lovely Sunday afternoon you will have to wait for me to get around to it at a later date.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-10-20): According to KCNA:

General Secretary Kim Jong Il went round newly-built apartment houses in Mansudae Street.

Saying that the newly-built apartment houses of new styles in the street are the most modern ones which fully reflect the plan and intention of the Party to provide the people with the best living conditions, he added that those apartment houses in the street serve as a model and standard for building dwelling houses to be used by all the people in a great prosperous and powerful nation.

He said that it is necessary to build in Pyongyang modern flats for 100,000 families, houses similar to those apartment houses standing in Mansudae Street, in a matter of a few years as an immediate task.

He expressed great expectation and conviction that all builders of the capital city would create new “Pyongyang Speed” in the era of Songun in the construction of the capital city and usher in “an era of prosperity of Pyongyang” in the new century just as the people created the world-startling “Pyongyang Speed” in the 1950s by building a flat for a family in just 14 minutes true to the Party’s policy of prefabricated construction after the war and as the people in the 1970s and the 1980s opened up “an era of prosperity of Pyongyang” by building many modern streets and great monumental edifices in a matter of 15 years and thus demonstrate once again to the whole world the revolutionary spirit of the service persons and people of the DPRK, successors to the great history and tradition.

 

The goal of constructing 100,000 flats has been repeated in KCNA since then: December 5, 2009, January 22, 2010, February 6, 2010, March 18, 2010.  In KCNA they have been careful not to declare a specific deadline for completion, but (thanks to a reader) in the monthly magazine Korea they have set Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday in 2012 as the date.

I have blogged about and mapped the construction on Mansudae Street.  You can see the inside and outside of these buildings here.

So where will all these flats be located, and what does the construction look like? Below I have posted a GeoEye satellite image from Google Earth which highlights the residential construction areas (in yellow).

 

100-thousand-housing-overview-thumb.jpg

Click image for larger version

So it looks like the majority of the residential construction will be located in Hyongjiesan-kuyok (형제산 구역) in the north and Rakrang-kuyok (락랑 구역) in the south.

According to the June 7, 2010 DPRK evening news, it looks like soldiers are involved in the construction.  No surprise there.  It is unclear how many are involved.  Based on the image below I will let the “professionsals” determine which brigades are involved in the work:

 

construction-worker-2010-6-7.jpg

According to the same evening news broadcast, it looks like the workers have reached the second floor of at least one of these construciton areas.

As with the post-explosion reconstruction of Ryongchon (see images here),  the North Korean government is tearing down traditional, single-family houses and building “modern” high-rises in their place.  At this point the status of the former residents is unclear. Have they been moved into temporary housing (assuming they will get new flats once they are completed) or have they been permanently relocated to make room for the 100,000 lucky families?  (This method of residential development reminds me of Ceauşescu’s Romania.)

4-10-2009-py-housing-thumb.jpg

12-20-2009-py-housing-thumb.jpg

Click images for larger versions.  Top: April, 10, 2009  Bottom: December 20, 2009

Looking at the urban geography of the area I get the feeling that Jane Jacobs would be very disappointed.

 

hyongjiesanhousing-2009-thumb.jpg

Click image for larger version (rotated 90 degrees  –  so “north” is on the right, “south” on the left)

It seems like the new residents of the northern part of Hyongjiesan will be de facto residents of Sopho even though the railway line makes them separately distinct neighborhoods.  Sopho offers the closest train station and market. Residents at the southern end of the Hyongjiesan housing project will need to use a smaller market near the Sopyong Train Repair Factory (See satellite image here) and the West Pyongyang Railway Station.  Although the railway line defines the eastern border of Hyongjiesan District as of today there are only two places where commuters may cross over the tracks—at the West Pyognyang and Sopho Railway Stations. The distance between these two railway crossings is 3 miles (4.82 kilometers).

As of now, it appears there is little industry and few schools this far out of the city, so it is probable that most of the residents will be commuting into town.  However, none of the new housing is metro accessible.  Sopho receives bus service and the West Pyongyang Station receives bus and tram service. However the bus from the West Pyongyang Station to the Sopho Station lies to the east of the new housing and is separated by three miles of railway.  Adding more bus stops between the two stations and providing more railway crossings from the east side to the west side of the tracks would be very helpful in reducing the amount of walking residents would need to take. Somehow, I do not think that will happen.

As for the buses, with only one line to service 100,000 families look for them to be crowded.  It is possible that a commuter rail-line could easily transport workers to the center of town (like in Hamhung), but that might be wishful thinking at this point.

And finally, although the 100,000 families that do end up living in these homes will theoretically enjoy newer, higher-quality housing, their movements in and out of the buildings can be more easily monitored by inminban (인민반) than those in the single-family homes. In the traditional single-family homes there are multiple avenues to enter and leave the neighborhood, but when everyone uses the same door to enter and leave, residents’ activities can be more easily monitored.

So why not build more high-rises in the center of town where people actually work? These kinds of planning snafus are reflected in most socialist cities and are (unfortunately) predictable. To learn more about the urban economics of planned cities, I recommend not just  Jane Jacobs but also “The Urban Dimension of the North Korean Economy: A Speculative Analysis” by Bertrand Renaud.  Read his full chapter here.  Lots of good stuff from them.

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North Korea passes city beautification law

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-5-23

It has been confirmed that North Korea has passed a ‘City Beautification Law’ and that it is moving ahead in earnest with environmental beautification projects.

On May 9, 2013 the mouthpiece of North Korea’s cabinet, the Minju Chosun, introduced the city beautification legislation in its ‘Regulations Explained’ section. This is the first time city beautification has been mentioned in one of North Korea’s major publications. The Ministry of Unification claimed that “it has not yet been confirmed” whether this law has been enacted. The City Beatification Law was not included in the Complete Collection of North Korean Statutes which was published in October 2012. As such, one can infer that the City Beautification Law was enacted in the last few months.

According to Minju Chosun, the City Beautification Law is a five page document consisting of 42 clauses. The law’s purpose is “to contribute to providing a culturally sanitary living environment to the North Korean people by setting up strict institutions and establishing order in the following areas: the city cleaning industry, the beautification of buildings and facilities, and city planning.” The City Beautification Law sets regulations that provide for the participation of the North Korean people in the business of city beautification. It also establishes city beautification sectors for management by civic organizations, government agencies, and enterprises.

The legislation includes content which calls on North Koreans to strengthen cooperation and international exchanges in terms of city beautification. It also encourages scientific industry research for the sake of city beautification and the expansion of investment in the city beautification industry. Minju Chosun emphasized that city beautification is not something which can be taken on by only a few individual civic groups. Emphasizing that city beautification is a project which must be conducted on a national scale, the paper reported that, “it is a huge task which must be undertaken by all people across the country.”

Recent reports from major news centers in North Korea seem to confirm that North Korea is concentrating efforts in the city beautification business. In an April 3 article entitled “The Urban Planning Industry is a Noble Patriotic Industry,” Rodong Sinmun, the official paper of the Korean Workers’ Party, reported that “Continually, a great effort must be put into the innovation of the appearance of North Korea’s cities.” The paper suggested beautification techniques such as remodeling the facades of buildings, conserving fences, city planning, paving sidewalks with precast pavers, gardening and afforestation of areas around streams, and riverbank beautification.

On April 9, Pyongyang Broadcasting reported that Independence Road Park is being constructed in the Mangyongdae region as a relaxation area for workers and students. The park is projected to have facilities for volleyball, basketball, roller-skating, and mini-golf. At the end of last month, the Sweetbrier Center, a state of the art civic center, was opened on the bank of the Daedong River.

One is able to get a sense of North Korea’s plans for environmental beautification from Kim Jong Un’s recent statements and activities. While visiting the National Science Center Biological Building’s Turf Research Center, Kim emphasized the importance of cultivating grass: “Grass gives the ground a beautiful appearance by covering its exterior like silk. It plays an important role in protecting national land and in cultivating our living environment both culturally and in terms of sanitation.”

According to Kim’s statement, it can be assumed that the City Beautification Law’s enactment was driven by Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on building a “civilized socialist country.” The expansion of the task of city beatification from Pyongyang to other regions coincides with the slogan coined by the Kim regime: civilized socialist country. That the city beautification business is backed by legislation suggests it will not be a short term policy.

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On the DPRK’s thriving black market in real estate

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

According to Radio Free Asia:

Private ownership of homes is illegal in North Korea, but residents of Pyongyang who make frequent trips to China and residents of cities on the border between the two countries told RFA it is no longer strange to hear about “sales” of government properties between individuals.

According to a virtual housing market for North Korean civilians, the country’s most expensive homes are located in Sinuiju, with Hyesan city in northern Yanggang province next in cost and Pyongyang in third.

A single family home or large apartment in what is deemed a good location in Sinuiju can fetch around U.S. $30,000, while those in the suburbs of Pyongyang and other border cities are priced less.

While houses are being built everyday in Pyongyang to supply a growing demand, it is difficult to find new homes in other cities, leading to a rise in the cost of real estate, the sources said.

A resident of Hyesan told RFA that homes in cities like his, near the border with China, command the highest prices on the black market because they provide access to Chinese money and infrastructure.

“I can’t say all houses in Hyesan are expensive, but those which are good for the smuggling trade and receive a clear Chinese cell phone signal are really high priced,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Several houses by the riverside are even priced similarly to Chinese houses on the opposite side of the border in [Jilin province’s] Changbai city,” he said.

Sources told RFA that the North Korean government has canceled licenses several times in recent years, issuing statements which describe the practice of housing transactions as an “offence against the system of the North Korea.”

But attempts to stamp out the trend have repeatedly failed as those involved in the sales include untouchable high-ranking officials and because the practice is too far reaching.

Read the full story here:
Illegal Trade in North Korean Homes Flourishes
Radio Free Asia
2013-5-7

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DPRK reportedly launches plan to reduce private plots

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities are apparently proposing to reduce the size of hillside plots farmed privately from thirty pyeong down to ten (1 square meter is equal to 0.3025 pyeong), while all remaining acreage is meant to be handed over to existing cooperative farms.

A source from Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on the 29th, “A cadre from the county Party Committee just told a packed meeting of the Union of Democratic Women that ‘the policy is that from this year all private plots of land are to be limited to ten pyeong, and the other twenty will be taken away and assigned to cooperative farms. That which is in the mountains will be used for planting trees’.”

The source continued, “We must also pay fifty won per pyeong in order to farm the ten pyeong that is allowed, and there will be severe penalties for transgressors,” before reiterating a common refrain in conversation with North Korean civilians: “The rations only last for three to four months anyway, so people have to live off their plots of land. Taking away their land is the same as taking away their food.”

From a state policy perspective, the step appears designed to refocus energies on cooperative farming activities, in the hope that this will increase the productive capacity of the official farming sector in an effort to attain the sort of production levels required for the implementation of the June 28th Policy of farming reforms announced domestically in July 2012. However, it is thought unlikely that this will come about, and, conversely, the source predicted that the measure, if widely implemented, would have a detrimental effect on overall output and decrease the amounts of grain entering markets.

Partly this is because, while people are not technically meant to hold more than 30 pyeong of private land, in reality many are cultivating more even than this; in many cases, more even than their formal work unit is responsible for. This is because only by farming soybeans, cabbage, radish and other agricultural goods are many able to eek out a secure living.

Read the full story here:
Farmers in a Muddle over Private Land Order
Daily NK
Kim Kwang-jin
2013-1-30

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Hoeryong: New Chinese tourist destination

Monday, October 15th, 2012

 

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Two Google Earth satellite images of Hoeryong (L: 2002-4-27, R: 2008-12-25) which show the construction of residential apartments buildings as well as the town’s new main market.

Hoeryong is a town in North Hamgyong Province that lies across the Tumen (Tuman) River from China.  According to North Korean political narratives it is also the childhood home of Kim Jong-il’s mother, Kim Jong-suk.  It has been the the site of a large construction boom in the last five years, and now, according to the Daily NK, Chinese tourists are being brought in on very limited itineraries. According to the article:

The Hoiryeong source explained, “North Hamkyung Province ‘shock troops’ and military unit construction teams have been here for three years on Kim Jong Il’s orders for the construction, and now it is finished.” Local households were asked to contribute 12,000 North Korean Won each to the construction effort, he added.

Hoiryeong used to have few buildings with five floors, but now it has a considerable number of new four and five floor apartment buildings built around the center of the city, as well as a number of newly built commercial facilities. Buildings in the downtown core have also been spruced up with external lighting, a project that began last April.

There are a number of new restaurants in the area. One, ‘Hoiryeonggwan’, has been decorated in the style of Pyongyang’s famous ‘Okryugwan’, something that Kim Jong Il is said to have ordered in December 2010 when he visited the construction site. Elsewhere, restaurants serving spicy marinated beef, duck, dog and Chinese food have also opened their doors.

However, these restaurants only currently open on the weekend or when Chinese tour groups make an advanced reservation, according to the source, who revealed that local people regard the construction effort more as an attempt to generate tourist revenue than to make it a real ‘model city’, as the official propaganda claims.

“Chinese tourists come, then they visit the statue of Kim Jong Suk and the place where she grew up, and then they are taken to one or other of the restaurants,” the source said. “They drink and make merry then go, all without visiting any scenic spots; thus, the authorities make money.”

As with other tourist operations, it is possible that this small step will lead to a softening of restrictive tourism regulations and potentially the arrival of Western tourists.  But don’t hold your breath!  Chinese tourists have been visiting Sinuiju on a regular basis, but westerners are generally still prohibited from touring the city

Additional Information: 

1. On the opening of Hoeryong’s “Food Avenue”

2. Succession not popular in Hoeryong

Read the full story here:
Model City or Tourist Trap: Hoiryeong Sparkles
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2012-10-15

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Oh Kil-nam

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Whenever North Koreans make their way to the DC area I do my best to interview them on Google Earth to learn more about the land from which they came.

Last week, Dr. Oh Kil-nam (featured in the video above) was gracious enough to speak with me for a few minutes to tell me about his life in Pyongyang. Although many defectors are hesitant about the details of their lives being made public, Dr. Oh gave me permission to post the information here. Because he only spent a year in Pyongyang, and had never really looked at satellite imagery before, he did not have much to share. What he did say, however, I post below for historical purposes:

Dr. Oh lived on Changgwang Street in Central Pyongyang in the building just south of the Koryo Hotel:

Dr. Oh worked at a radio station that broadcast propaganda into South Korea. Although his English was rough, I believe he stated the radio station is now closed. We were unable to locate the specific building, but he told me it was in hungbu-dong, Moranbong-guyok (Pictured in red below):

(UPDATE) In an interview with Kim Song-min of Free Radio North Korea, I was told that the Korean Workers’ Party Operational Department (6th Div.) 314 /128 Liaison Office is also located in this area. This organization performs communication jamming, radio disturbance and monitoring, decodement of overseas information agencies, and hacking into leading countries’ government websites.

Finally Dr. Oh mentioned that his daughters attended the Tonghung People’s School.  He was not sure of the exact building, but since I already knew the names of most buildings in in Tonghung-dong (동흥동: just NW of the Koryo Hotel),  I am 99% sure this is the place:

Equipment storage or worker housing for the Koryo Hotel convention center (underway now) seems to have been constructed on the school’s front lawn sometime after May 27, 2011.

Here is a recent media story following Dr. Oh’s visit to DC.

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Kumgang Street/KKG Avenue Project in Pyongyang

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Aggressive construction and re-development projects have taken place on Pyongyang’s Mansudae Street over the last few years as part of the DPRK’s “Strong and Prosperous Nation (강성대국)” policies. See Mansudae renovation no. 1 here and Mansudae renovation no. 2 here.

Residential construction projects, however, have been limited neither to Mansudae Street (See here, here, here, here, hereherehere, here) nor to Pyongyang. In the interest of [my] time, I will offer only the most recent example: There are reports of an ambitions real-estate project in Chongjin, though satellite imagery in the area is too old to confirm the project or evaluate its size/scope.

However, a recent tourist photo taken in Pyongyang near the Tongil Market reveals yet another ambitious plan for residential development in Rakrang-guyok (락랑구역). It is unclear how long this project has been planned or if/why it appears to be on hold. Here is the photo of the billboard:

Click here to see a larger version of this photo on flickr.

According to the billboard, this project bears the name “Kumgang Street” in Korean (금강거리) and “KKG Avenue” in English. The operation appears to be run by 금강경제개발총회사 (The Kumgang Economic Development Corporation). A quick Google search for “금강경제개발총회사” yields pleanty of results, but all of them are in Korean–meaning it will be excruciatingly painful for me to do any research on this organization. If you can determine anything else about this project, please let me know.

From what I can tell, this effort is set to take place just north of the Tongil Market (conspicuously absent from the billboard, though enhanced with a wide avenue and bridge to Yanggak Island). Here is the approximate location as seen on Google Earth (I have added the position of the proposed Yanggak Bridge to make the comparison easier):

According to the billboard, the Mullet Soup Restaurant on the bank of the Taedong River will be part of the finished project.  The remainder of the land looks like it has been cleared and prepared for the development project, although historical imagery on Google Earth indicates that this land has been largely unused for decades. The image below dates from 2000-6-12:

 According to “The Skyscraper Center” the tallest building(s) in the new development will be 274m/899 feet.

I have been able to find out little more about this project. Again, if you can find additional information, please let me know.

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