Myungdong district 3, dangerous redevelopment demolition resumes

The following is an unauthoritative personal translation of a news article appeared on “OhmyNews” Jul. 19, 2011 to provide readers with general overview of what’s going on in Myungdong district 3 redevelopment site, Seoul, South Korea. As such this post will be removed from the request of the original author of this article or “OhmyNews”. The original article (in Korean) can be located by the link at the bottom of this post.

Tenants got injured over surprise demolition in early morning.

“Jung-gu office or Seoul city should intervene.”

As the demolition work resumes in the Myungdong district 3, Jung-gu, Seoul from Jul. 18, the confrontation between tenants and demolition company reignites. Company carrying out the redevelopment project brought excavators and demolition contractors yesterday (Monday) around 5AM and pushed forward the demolition work for buildings near the protest site. In due course, some tenants and protesting citizens got injured.

Mr. Kim (false name, 31) who had been taken to the emergency room and diagnosed as damaged ankle ligaments said “Hearing someone screaming in the morning, I rushed to the spot and saw female students stuck in the middle of a scuffle. Old men flopped down on the ground. I dashed forward but got jostled back right away. I felt like being lifted up and fell down. At that time I felt a twinge and got my ankle turned. I was just left there fell down on the ground but contractors were mocking me not to make fuss of nothing, spraying water on me .. Then, someone found me lying down there and brought me to the emergency room.”

There also was a testimony of sexual harassment. According to it, contractors took pictures of body parts of a woman protester and said “I will upload them to internet. Let’s share them with me.” The woman accused those contractors to Myungdong police station and it is investigating the incident.

In the morning of Jul. 19, other dangerous incidents took place. Even though tenants were sitting in front of their stores, they continued demolition job just above them. People protested against it. “What are you going to do if  some materials or stones fall down to someone’s head below?” but the job didn’t stop right away.

Even though the 2nd day of construction site was still dangerous, the construction superintendent who should be supervising the whole demolition work there was absent.

An unidentified man who introduced himself as the ‘construction superintendent’ claimed “Right now, we are peeling off the tin sheets from roofs, a preparation before removing asbestos. Why do we need another manager for the removal of asbestos? I can manage that.” He then continued “If there is a problem, accuse us. We all got permissions from Labor Office. If you get injured while sitting below, you can sue me.” Denying our requests to disclose his name and position, he simply identified himself as “a demolition contractor.”

To the contrary, tenants raised the danger of asbestos and the procedural problems during demolition.

“Everything stopped as they changed company in charge of demolition while removing asbestos last time. Then, there must be remaining asbestos, right? But they continue their work without any protective gears on. We actually talked to the Ministry of Labor about this but the demolishing company just keeps pushing everything ahead. They simply thinks ‘we can pay the penalty’. Also, since this is a sidewalk, they should put out some safety personnel there but they didn’t do that either. Not only we but also any one who walks by can get hurt here.”

Experiencing this, tenants’ mistrust and anxiety keep snowballing. One tenant blasted “The court ruled to have some time for mediation between tenants and company in charge until Aug. 15. The company even suggested to have talks three times a week. But, they unilaterally notified us that they would proceed to demolish a building next to this one last Sunday. They brought demolition men here aand trashed the doors of Cafe Mari and furnishings inside it last month. We are really worried because we cannot know what they do inside once they put out some fences around the building even though it is a building next to this. We are uneasy since we don’t know when they would mess up with this protest site too. Law, police, they are not on our side now.”

Then, who’s in charge of this area? A person who’s in charge of city management, Jung-gu office, said “Jung-gu office does not intervene when building owners and tenants dispute with each other. That is different from demolition. We licensed them for demolition. But construction superintendents are managed by Employment & Labor Office so talk to them.”

In fact, the Employment & Labor Office is located just within 2, 3 minutes walk from Myungdong district 3. The person in charge of Industry Security Department of Employment & Labor Office could not be reached. Over the phone, a staff first said “the person in charge is at the site now” and then changed his words “he’s on his way out.” During 9 ~ 11AM I was at the site, the superintendent who was said to ‘wear a safety helmet’ was not witnessed. I tried to get his contact information later but I got a reply that his contact information could not be disclosed.

Redevelopment Administration Reform Forum pointed out that Jung-gu office which has the administrative authority in this matter and even Seoul city itself should take the full responsibility before things grow worse.

“It’s been over two and half years since Yongsan disaster but still redevelopment projects everywhere keep pushing residents and merchants out to streets to maximize profits of a few developers contrary to their original purpose of residential environment improvement for residents and revitalization of city function.

To solve these problems and to secure the publicity of redevelopment projects, we need to establish accountable administration of government authority to prevent and settle disputes between tenants and project body. Also, we need to expand the construction of small units & rental houses to increase the rate of resettlement by original residents. Reasonable amount of compensation should be legislated so that tenants can resume their businesses somewhere else in case the project body needs to evict current tenants.

Last month, the dispute which had lasted more than a year over the restaurant Dooriban in front of Hongik University was settled through the guarantee by the project body that it would provide another similar restaurant near by when the redevelopment is finished. The project body of Myungdong redevelopment and Jung-gu office should set up a practical emigration plan for shopping mall tenants consulting the example of Dooriban.”

  • Figure caption 1: Ankles of Mr. Kim diagnosed as damaged ankle ligaments. Doctor suspects possible torn ankle ligaments.
  • Figure caption 2: Demolition work continued even though tenants were sitting below.
  • Figure caption 3: Since early morning of Jul. 18, 5-60 demolition contractors rushed in to Myungdong district 3 site and confronted with citizens and students.
  • You can see the original article (in Korean) here: http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/View/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0001598549&CMPT_CD=T0001
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