Leave Korea for a few months and come back, and Seoul is unrecogniseable. The urban renewal process in this city is swift, anti-nostalgic, and unstoppable. The struggle behind all this was brought to light on 20 January 2009, a police raid on rooftop where evictees were protesting resulted in a fire leading to five civilian deaths and one police death. Since then, urban renewal has become a national issue as people slowly take notice of the places being destroyed around them and the lives being destroyed along with them. One such place is right up the street from Hongdae Station, just a few meters out exit 4.
Originally a triangular-shaped collection of buildings, now only three remain: a police station, an old empty hanok, and a three-storey building, the front door of which is always wide open. That’s Dooriban, a small restaurant and the last remaining opponent to the renewal plan. The other floors were vacated, so Dooriban has taken over their spaces, converting the third floor into a live music venue. Ever since February, they’ve had weekly Friday shows, Monday street concerts, and Tuesday documentary screenings.
Dooriban originally opened in 2005. The next year, Mapo District Office authorised a redevelopment plan for the area, and building owners started selling to developers. In 2007 the new landowners began telling tenants they had to leave. According to Jo Yakgol, a frequent face at Dooriban, they told tenants to negotiate, and if they resist they will end up with less money.
According to a strange law, the area being redeveloped is too small to be properly protected by law, so the developers do not have the responsibility to properly compensate the monthly rent payers. According to Jo, the developers claimed they were nice people, and they were willing to pay tenants when it wasn’t necessary. The owner of Dooriban, Ahn Jongnyeo was reportedly offered a 3-million won compensation deal, not even enough to relocate the business, Worse hit was the owner of a Latin dance academy, who eventually moved away without receiving a single penny ( http://www.uer.ca/...l.asp?picid=240034 ).
The tenants of the area started a committee to oppose the deal they were getting. The lawsuit lasted two years, during which time most tenants gave up their claims, until only Dooriban was left.
The situation worsened on Christmas Eve 20009, when a team of 30 hired goons started destroying Dooriban. They dragged customers outside, along with Ahn’s husband Yoo Cherim, a part-time worker, and the cook. Then, as Jo describes it, “Stuff got broken.” Right after everyone was pulled out, the goons set up metal fences around the building, blocking them from getting back in.
According to Ahn, this was a “death sentence.” She had invested everything in this business.
She came back on Christmas Day at night and cut off the metal wires that support the metal fences and opened the main gate, and began a sit-in.
“It was a critical period when they cracked open the metal fences and started the sit-in,” says Jo.
Meanwhile, Jo, who related most of this story to me, was busy with his own problems. He had lived in Yongsan and become part of the protest there, during which time he heard about the struggle at Dooriban. When he left, he joined the Dooriban protest, including a one-week sit-in at Mapo District Office.
The demands of Dooriban’s owner are simple. Their livelihood was violated, and they need relocation money so they can contine to work.
But they’re not looking for a fight. “Peaceful negotiation is the only way,” says Jo. “We kinda succeeded in making this Dooriban struggle a big issue. They can’t solve this problem violently by sending thugs or beating the shit out of people.”
Banners hang on the outside of the Dooriban building, decrying GS Construction, with the idea that if anything happens people will point their fingers at GS Construction. “If you have victims, their commercial name gets tarnished.”
Although GS is behind the redevelopment plan, the current situation is being handled by Namjeon DNC, which Jo describes as a “phantom company,” created to take the bad publicity in place of GS. GS won’t step in until the land is cleared, and Namjeon DNC will disappear. They have no employees, no phone number, and no address.
“If you dig down deeper it gets really dirty,” says Jo. He says that Namjeon borrowed 86 billion won from Nonghyup Bank, due back this year, and if they don’t pay it back, GS will.
And Dooriban will live to see 2011. Following the disastrous Yongsan eviction in January, a law has been enacted to prevent forceful evictions during the winter season. As winter legally started on 4 December, it is hopeful Dooriban will be safe for the foreseeable future, despite the efforts of GS and Namjeon DNC.
“They tried many times this year, they made many threats,” says Jo. They cut off electricity and water, and the owner of Dooriban installed solar panels on the roof that provide power for the whole building (although a gas generator is for concerts).
“The Dooriban people were lucky,” Jo says. A variety of artists, musicians, novelists, and poets joined the struggle in solidarity. Every day and night, people visit Dooriban, bringing their own food and drink since the kitchen is no longer open.
Now that Dooriban has gotten so much attention, their situation is more stable. “If we see more people coming to this place, it’s going to make it hard for land owners to send thugs here,” explains Jo. “Participation is crucial. We know [the developers] know how many people come here every day.”
If you’re in a band, you can contact Dongmin or Daham of Murmur’s Loom about playing a show at Dooriban. If you’re an individual, they need a lot of supplies to last the winter due to the lack of heating, including blankets and food. “We need everything to survive here,” says Jo.
Namjeon DNC was unavailable for comment.