Considering the programming of the 2010 World Design Capital (WDC) Conference and the work of the Hope Institute, one trend is clear: South Koreans are thinking more and more about place rather than design.

During a recent visit to the South Korean capital, PPS Founder and President Fred Kent addressed attendees of the WDC conference with a speech about bringing multi-use destinations to communities.  Fred stressed the importance of a place-centered approach to cities instead of a design-centric approach.  Other speakers, such as the Mayor of Seoul, centered their discussions around the concept of “social and caring design” – responding to the needs of cities and their inhabitants as opposed to just focusing on aesthetic.  To PPS, the WDC conference represents a significant change from the typically top-down design practices.

Over 400 people attended the WDC Conference.

During this trip to Seoul, both Fred and PPS Senior Vice President Kathy Madden formalized a strategic partnership with Won soon Park and the Hope Institute, a civic research NGO.  This partnership is another very promising development for the growth of Placemaking in South Korea, and it will be critical in spreading the movement through a number of joint initiatives, such as conducting research, holding training sessions, and translating and distributing educational materials.

Even before these two landmark events, PPS Vice President Cynthia Nikitin worked extensively in South Korea, leading Placemaking workshops throughout the country.  According to Cynthia, “key components of Placemaking, like the Power of 10 and triangulation, resonate in South Korean culture because of their emphasis on interconnectedness and sustainability.”

A street becomes a marketplace in Korea

While Placemaking appears to be gaining traction in the design realm, it is also catching on in academia, especially among students who are attracted to its bottom-up approach.  In July 2010, Yunjung Yun, a South Korean doctoral candidate, joined the PPS team as an intern.  She is currently writing a dissertation on urban public spaces.  Her work at PPS led to a published interview with Cynthia in National Territory, a reputable South Korean planning journal.  Yun hopes to get the word out about Placemaking when she returns to Seoul in 2011 to complete her studies.

All of this begs the question, what’s next for South Korea on the global Placemaking stage? Although the WDC Conference and the partnership with the Hope Institute signify a changing design culture, South Korea still faces a number of immediate, practical challenges.  Kathy mentioned some improvements she would like to see in the capital, such as a better balance of pedestrians and vehicles in city center, historic sites interspersed with newer developments, and more market-type activities.

Unlike the market above, this plaza in Seoul is just a corridor for pedestrians rather than a place where people sit and congregate.

Despite these shortcomings, the Placemaking movement is bound to grow more and more as young South Koreans set a new precedent and PPS increases its involvement in the country.