Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nampo-dong and Gwangbok-dong Old downtown hip once again , Busan

Nampo-dong and Gwangbok-dong
Old downtown hip once again

Several historic city core areas that fell out of favor are regaining their luster and popularity

During the 1980s, in-the-know locals headed to Nampo-dong, Gwangbok-dong, Bupyeong-dong and Jagalchi, which were hubs of culture, commerce, politics and nightlife. Artists made a home for themselves in Gwangbok-dong. Nampo-dong was a big hit with the theater crowd and young people, so it’s no surprise that the Pusan International Film Festival has its roots in the area. Jagalchi was a hot spot among all ages, in large part because of its sprawling fish market.

                                      Jagalchi, sprawling fish market

These areas, however, fell out of favor starting in the late-1990s, and a few years later they were in a downright slump as other regions of the city ? most notably Haeundae, Yeonsan-dong and Seomyeon - grew in stature.

Stores in what was once the vibrant downtown core started to shutter their operations, and many mom-and-pop shops went down the tubes. Visitor numbers dried up, and the streets became much less crowded. In fact, Busan residents started calling the region “won dosim,” which means “former downtown.”

                         Nampo-dong, Gwangbok-dong  Old downtown

Today, however, the area is undergoing a type of revival, with some of the popular spots gaining new prominence. Nampo-dong, Gwangbok-dong, Bupyeong-dong and Jagalchi are now packed with people day and night during the week and especially on weekends, when it’s often so crowded that you can’t help but bump into a few people on the streets as you walk by. The retail scene is downright thriving, with stores recording huge sales increases and an uptick in visitor traffic.

The revival of the former downtown core is tied largely to efforts by the city and Jung District to help the region recover its lost fame. A variety of factors weigh into this, including the arrival of the Lotte Department Store’s Gwangbok branch, the start of direct KTX service between Busan and Seoul, and the completion of Geoga Bridge, which connects the city with Geoje.

A lot of intangible factors play into the equation as well. The Busan Jagalchi Festival - the largest fisheries event in Korea ? and the Busan Christmas Tree Festival have helped draw legions of tourists to the city from around the country. The latter event, which wrapped up this year on Jan. 17, attracted more than 5 million people during its 47-day run. Last year, when the festival was first held, about 3.8 million people visited, helping to revitalize the downtown area. The city, officials from Jung District and local businesses are helping to speed up the transformation.

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