Finding Inspiration From Seoul For Cincinnati’s Public Staircases

ArtWorks has become well-known for its mural program. Over the past eight years, the program has created 90 murals that have added to the vibrancy of 36 city neighborhoods.

This year, however, ArtWorks started to branch out a bit more. In addition to 10 mural projects, they also installed more than 50 public art pieces throughout the city. Some were poetic, while others charming. Regardless of the project, they have always worked to actively engage young people in the city with the artist community.

The program’s impact on the visual appearance of the city cannot be overlooked. Public spaces have been dressed up and walls have been decorated in truly Cincinnati fashion. When considering one of Cincinnati’s most defining features – its hillsides – another opportunity seems to be sitting in waiting for future ArtWorks programs.

Over the years The Hillside Trust has worked to promote and preserve the city’s hillsides and the view sheds that they offer. At the same time, many of the city’s public staircases, which long served as a critical component of the sidewalk network, have fallen into disrepair. In many cases, due to either lack of maintenance or neighborhood distrust, public staircases have been closed off altogether.

This should not be the case.

One potential way to address this would be to focus an ArtWorks program on the city’s public staircases. Artists could be engaged to come up with creative mural designs for the stairs themselves, or perhaps suggest other installations. These could then be complimented by lighting installations that would not on

ly add an artistic touch after dusk, but also make the corridors safer for their users and the neighborhoods around them.

Seoul’s Ihwa neighborhood has done exactly this.

Set on the side of a steep hill leading to Seoul’s historic fortification wall, the neighborhood has seen many of its staircases painted, along with surrounding building walls, to create a truly unique environment. A variety of art installations were also undertaken in order to create an even more dynamic experience.

Today visitors flock to the area to view the murals and experience the other installations some 60 artists created in 2006 as part of Naksan Project. Due to this influx of people, small cafes, galleries and restaurants are now prevalent throughout the neighborhood.

While Cincinnati’s hillsides and surrounding neighborhoods present a different challenge than what exists in Ihwa, there are equal, yet different, opportunities that also exist.

Right now Cincinnati’s hillsides and their public staircases are mostly viewed as barriers and have been constrained to afterthoughts in the city’s public psyche. ArtWorks has changed the way we viewed vacant walls and barren streetscapes. Here’s hoping they can work similar magic on the city’s long-forgotten staircases.

Episode #18: Immigrant-Friendly City

On the 18th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we’re joined by Alfonso Cornejo, President of the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber, and Kristin Hoffman, and Immigration/Administration Lawyer with Hammond Law Group. We discuss city council’s recent motion to declare Cincinnati an “immigrant-friendly” city.

Mr. Cornejo explains how the Midwest is “stuck in the past” when it comes to immigration matters, and how city council’s motion helps improve the the city’s image. Ms. Hoffman describes some of the challenges immigrants face while trying to become citizens of the United States, and how new “path to citizenship” reforms could improve our nation’s economy. We also discuss the need to attract highly-skilled immigrants and retain international students after they graduate from the region’s top universities.

Which cities did the biggest music hits come from in 2012?

South Korea’s PSY took the world by storm in 2012 with his smash hit single “Gangnam Style.” His song, however, was an anomaly for Asian cities with regards to internationally pop song hits, with the vast majority originating from artists in North America and Western Europe. More from The Atlantic:

In this evolving international soundscape, just how global is the popular music Americans listen to? Where are its major locational epicenters? To get at this, UCLA urban planning doctoral candidate Patrick Adler took a look at the geography of two lists of the year’s best music: Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks and Billboard’s Hot 100 Songs.

Adler used geographic data from Twitter, SoundCloud, AllMusic, and Pitchfork to assign a location to the metro area where the artist behind each track currently resides. He gave preference to the locations identified by the artists themselves. The list is based on where artists currently live and work, not where they originally hail from. This can sometimes penalize non-U.S. locations.

South Korea: Initial Impressions

After spending just over two weeks in Seoul I often feel just as ignorant to the Korean culture as when I arrived, when in fact that could not be further from the truth. I stepped off the plane in Incheon 17 days ago, got on the bus to Seoul, and then proceeded to immediately get lost in Insadong trying to find my hotel on a Saturday night. Since that time I have been able to meet all kinds of new people, try new foods, experience different cultural norms, and dive into a 50 hour work week.

The food has been one of the best things so far. I have tried just about everything under the sun, but I could not begin to tell you what it all is by name. The kimchi is terrific, and served with everything, and the Korean Barbecue is expectedly superb. I have been taking particular interest in the many street food vendors where I am living in Insadong. Meat on a stick, check. Octopus desert treats, check. Spicy rice cakes, check.

The drink has also been an experience too. Feel free to order a beer when in Korea, but do not expect much. The Korean beers, Cass and Hite, are about as good as any generically mass-produced American beer and it is about all they offer. But when you have Soju and Makkoli to choose from, I do not see why you would care. Soju is often the drink of choice for most as they go out. Think of it like a smooth Vodka, but one that keeps flowing as your night continues over various small Korean plates of food. Makkoli on the other hand is made from fermented rice and is casually known as Korean wine. I can tell you wine it is not…especially the trendy fusion Makkoli you will find throughout Seoul. I tried a pineapple fusion Makkoli which was quite good.

What strikes you first about Korea is its people and their attention to detail. The airport is spotless, transit run precisely on-time, streets are kept clean, and almost anything will be done to make sure you are kept happy as a guest. The key here is to be open and try to at least something about the Korean culture and language. At this point I know about a dozen words and when I use them I am greeted by a very positive response from locals who do not expect me to know even the slightest bit of language or culture.

This attention to detail extends to fashion. Now maybe this is because I am located in the heart of a major cosmopolitan city, but both the men and women are fabulously dressed. Heels and designer dresses are standard for women, while men of all ages are almost always seen in tailored suits and designer shoes. Do not go out the least bit wrinkled or think that your non-polished dress shoes are ok because you will stand out, and not in a good way.

The city has been overwhelmingly large. Skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, and a seemingly never-ending urban landscape greets visitors. Seoul is an overpowering city at times. Not only are the buildings tall, but the streets are wide, traffic constantly congested, streets jam packed with people, and a constant buzz exist in almost all parts of the city that I have visited. But what is most interesting is a similar shift toward creating a more livable city. New parks have been developed along the Hahn River and a reclaimed stream through Insadong turned into a recreational trail are two of the more striking features.

On the personal front I have enjoyed several encounters with Asian-style karaoke, was interviewed on KBS News, stumbled upon a Makkoli tasting festival near my hotel, had an Ajuma intentionally run into me with her shopping cart at the store, and have been in too many mind blowingly new situations to count.

This has been fairly long so far, but I hope to do a weekly summary like this going forward until I return to the U.S. in mid-December. Enjoy some of the photographs I have taken thus far throughout Insandong and from a trip I made to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) last weekend. The week ahead should be quite interesting as my new Korean friends are planning something interesting for my birthday this Friday (and probably Saturday).