Pyongyang’s construction boom

UPDATE (2009-10-12): Last September (2008), Barbara Demick at the LA Times became the first US journalist to report on Pyongyang’s housing boom.  Yonhap now provides some additional information on Pyongyang’s current housing ambitions:

The Chosun Sinbo, which usually conveys Pyongyang’s views, described the housing construction as an “unprecedented national project” and a “core project” in the country’s campaign looking to 2012.

The paper reported that the North was in the process of building 65,000 new houses in the city’s western district of Mangyeongdae, where Kim Il-sung’s birth home is located, 15,000 houses in central Pyongyang and 20,000 houses along the railroad spanning between the southern district of Ryokpo and Ryongsong district in the capital’s northern region.

Each home will be approximately 100 square meters in size, according to the report.

The North Korean capital, despite a strict control on the entry of people from rural areas, has reportedly been going through a major housing shortage. The paper said that the completion of the housing project will solve the problem plaguing the citizens of Pyongyang.

In the past, Pyongyang has built 50,000 new apartments each in the 1980s and the 1990s.

In 2001, North Korea sought to develop a satellite city of some 1 million households near the Mangyeongdae district, but failed due to the nation’s economic woes.

You can read additional DPRK real estate posts here.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
N. Korea building new housing districts in Pyongyang: report
Tony Chang

ORIGINAL POST (2008-9-27): Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick recently visited the DPRK (with the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) and noticed that Pyongyang is experienceing a bit of a construction boom:

Except for the monuments glorifying leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, hardly anything new has gone up in decades. By night, the city is so quiet you can hear a baby crying from far across the Taedong River, which cuts through the center of town.

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.

A modernistic silver-sided box of a conference center is already complete. Theaters and hotels are being renovated. Streets have been repaved and buildings repainted.

Even North Korea’s most notorious clunker, an unfinished 105-story hotel that looms vacant over the city, is under construction again after sitting idle for nearly two decades.

All are slated for completion by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The deadline appears to have taken on new urgency for the appearance-conscious North Koreans, who fret that their capital has become a laughingstock.

“We know we need to modernize. We want to make the city comfortable for the people who live here and for tourists,” said Choe Jong Hun, an official with the Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries.

North Korean officials insist that they’re funding the building spree on their own, in keeping with an underlying ideology that emphasizes self-reliance.

“If we rely on others, our dreams won’t be realized by 2012. It is all built with our own technology, our own material, our own labor, our own strength,” Choe said.

But analysts are skeptical of such claims, given the nation’s economy and the regime’s secretive nature and often deceptive pronouncements.

“This is a puzzle,” said Yoon Deok-ryong, a South Korean economist who recently visited Pyongyang. “The North Koreans are trying to show the outside world that they are not starving, that they are strong, but we know it is not true, so we wonder where the money is coming from.”

Ms. Demick also speculates on a political reason why Kim Jong il might be financing the construction (beyond the stated policy goal of achieving economic success by 2012):

Expatriate businesspeople in Pyongyang say Kim might also be investing some of his own stash with an eye toward maintaining the loyalty of his Workers’ Party cadres. Apartments under construction look to be aimed at the elite.

Read the full story here:
North Korea in the midst of a mysterious building boom
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick


5 Responses to “Pyongyang’s construction boom”

  1. Simon says:

    Interesting piece, there are certainly a fair amount of buildings going up or being beautified in Pyongyang right now, not sure if the apartments by the Pueblo could really be considered to be for the ‘elite’ though, they just look like all the other apartments in Pyongyang. One thing in the article is a nonsense though; Korean guides simply do not deny the very existence of the Ryugyong hotel, this is a falsehood originating in the ‘Idiots Guide to understanding North Korea’ I have found all Koreans perfectly happy to talk about it and also a variety of theories on what went on with it and when it would be finished and in what form, if anyone has been there and asked about it and heard a response simply denying the manifest reality of it being there I would be very surprised

  2. stngiam says:

    Actually, I was surprised by the amount of construction going on not just in Pyongyang but outside as well. Not monuments, either, but mundane stuff like apartments and buildings in the contryside as well. Certainly a lot of the tourist facilities are renovating and expanding. I’m beginning to suspect that the Americans believe their own propaganda too much.