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Enhancing access to public spaces : an evaluation of public libraries and the urban situation in Seoul

Seunghyun Kang's (MCP '12) thesis investigates the current situation of public space in the city of Seoul through public libraries. The public library has been one of the most Important civic spaces since the invention in the 19th century in the US or UK. While roles of public library are changing due to advances in digital technology, the physical and visible presence of public library spaces in the city remains significant in the privatized urban situation. In Seoul, the number of public libraries has significantly increased for the last 15 years due to the new policy for library construction in the entire country. Despite these attempts, however, I argue that the current urban context of the city prevent public libraries from functioning effectively as civic centers. Investigating the reciprocal relationship between architecture and the urban condition, the thesis confirms the discontinuous and impermeable urban form in Seoul that impedes the publicness of the existing public spaces. The urban morphology hinders people from freely navigating and accessing the existing public spaces. Two recent cases of incremental commercial development offer lessons for possible future revitalization strategies that could increase the publicness of the existing urban condition in Seoul without the need for radically painful and costly urban reform. Public spaces like the public library can be used as a strategy to improve the city's physical form and civic realm.