I have been coming to realize that I live in Sim City. For those who may not know, Sim City is a computer game where you pretend to be a city planner/administrator, which requires you to keep your residents happy by providing appropriately designed neighborhoods, with stores, public services, parks, etc.
Ilsan-gu has a lot of the characteristics that Sim City cities tend to have: it's very regular, highly planned, architecturally bland, yet full of activities and busy ant-like residents. I went on a long walk yesterday north to the "old" part of Ilsan, near the railroad station, and the contrast is notable. Most of Ilsan, especially in the areas around where I live and work, is a highly predictable grid of blocks (if not entirely square). Each block is about half a kilometer on a side - much larger than a typical city block. It is penetrated by a maze of access roads
and pedestrian pathways lined with lovely trees and public art and small plazas and playgrounds. Each block has a litter of high-rise apartment buildings, a la Le Corbusier, and if they were broken down and crime-ridden they'd resemble the public housing projects built in so many US cities or the banlieux of Paris - but they don't, because socio-economically, they're upper-middle class. More like super-high-density gated communities.
Along the major avenues are high rise commercial spaces, lined with massive quantities of neon signs and brightly colored billboards and signs. Each block has a school, all look exactly the same - like Sim City. Every 4th block has a post office. Every 10th block has a police station, fire station, etc. The grid is somewhat crooked, and there are hills poking through here and there, destroying the regularity. And different areas have different feels to them: my neighborhood, Ilsandong-gu, is more manhattany, with little greenery and lots of malls and commercial buildings, while the area around the school to the north and west is more like a university campus, long pedestrian paths through park-like areas, with identical-looking towering apartments. But the Sim City effect is eerie.
Yesterday, I crossed the railroad tracks into old Ilsan-dong. It was so different. The streets stop being straight. The sidewalks disappear. Much older, one-storey houses (often with parts converted into small businesses) line the streets, and parking patterns dissolve into chaos. It's not necessarily poorer, I don't think, but the less prosperous aspects are more visible - the broken washing machine sitting out on the sidewalk, the plastic tarpulin forming part of someone's roof.
It was grey and drizzling and quite beautiful.