What American City Planners Could Learn From South Korea

Kassandra Potter is a student at the University of Colorado – Boulder and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is interning abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea

With three years of studying architecture, urban design and landscape architecture under my belt, I have built up an attention to detail when it comes to how cities are built. It is an understatement to say that Seoul and the United States are built differently. They really are not even comparable. While American cities start with a city center and scale out to smaller buildings with more residences and suburbs, so far from what I have seen, Seoul starts with city and ends with city, with all different types of architecture, big and small, in between.

The first sight stepping outside of Seoul station.

Though I have only been in this massive city for 1 week, there have been a few things that I’ve noticed. In Seoul, there is no space that is not used up for a specific reason. No matter what district you visit, the space is used very carefully. In popular shopping districts like MyeongDong or Itaewon, there are tons of shops on one block with multiple stories for either a continuation of the store or for a different business above it.

Or in Yeouido, a business district, the buildings stand tall with a bit more space in between them for walking around, and there is a massive, beautiful park in the middle of the district where you can walk or rent a two-person bike to see a traditional Korean forest, ponds, pavilions and more.

Yeouido’s beautiful architectural styles juxtapose with native plants located in Yeouido Park, one of the largest parks in Seoul.

Hongdae is where all of the young locals like to hang out due to the amount of clubs, street performances and food on every corner. This type of variety is something that you don’t see in America.

A quieter street off of the bustling walkways of Hongdae.

For my internship, I work in Pangyo, “techno valley” as it’s called. Pangyo is where all the IT people come to work on programming, computer engineering, or like me, graphic design. Walking through Pangyo during lunch, it is easy to recognize where you are because the crowd is mostly young people fresh out of university. Pangyo is lively with unique and creative architecture with many green roofs and spaces where people can go for a break from their busy work schedules.

Another example of the architectural ingenuity found in Pangyo, the southern part of Seoul.
The view from the top of the Startup Campus, my workplace, in Seoul.

Due to the fact that most people in Seoul commute to work via bus or subway or a combination of the two, most people do not own or use cars to get to and from work. This really cuts down on the use of gas which is something that is desperately needed in America.

So far Seoul has some of the most beautiful and creative architecture and city planning that is perfect for its high population and busy atmosphere. Big cities like New York and L.A. could really use Seoul as an example to improve the flow of the city and how cities are used.


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