Saturday, 4 August 2012

The idea of security

The thing which continues to amaze me in Incheon is the amount of security measures taken by homeowners. Especially in more recently developed areas 'cctv' signs are all over the place. People also state 'safety' as an argument to move into newly developed, high rise and gated apartments. Personally, I feel very, very safe here on the streets, no matter what street, no matter which hour, no matter if I have an expensive camera clearly visible around my neck, no matter if there is cctv or not. Upon inquiry people tell me that there's actually a lot of crime in South Korea, and that especially kidnappings happen vey often. After some quick Google searches nothing much turns up about a higher-than-average kidnapping rate in South Korea. Most of the articles on kidnapping returned by Google are about incidents where North Korea had kidnapped South Koreans. The one crime which seemingly does stand out in South Korea is sexual harassment against teens. The problem is probably bigger than the numbers show since most women who fall victim to sexual harassment do not report this to the police, being afraid not to be taken seriously.

Walking around Incheon mostly at night, I'm very unsure what to make of all the cameras, security company signs and other safety-related things in public space. I'm aware of the fact that I'm both a tourist which makes me blind for certain 'under-the-skin' social tentions, and a man which makes it almost impossible for me to judge anything related to sexual harassment. Nevertheless Incheon feels nothing like Rio de Janeiro for instance, where the threat of violence is tangible as soon as you take a wrong turn. Although I do not want to scrutinize the feelings regarding safety and security of the South Korean people, I'm find myself wonder if it could be that 'safety' is mostly a marketing concept for developers and city planners?

The photo at the top of this post was taken at the foot of Incheon Subong park. The houses with the blue and red roofs are traditional style Korean houses, in this case probably inhabited by well-off people. In the back you see a new district with high rise apartment blocks, inhabited by the (higher) middle class. Both areas are guarded by cctv and sometimes even by gates and guards. In between you see a poorer part of the city with cheap mid rise apartments, unguarded and most likely without cctv. Both the new high rise and the traditional low rise are some kind of capsules where life is monitored, while the cheap mid rise is an unmonitored, mysterious area which holds some kind of promise of possibilities. In the photograph the mid rise section is the only place where the future is open and uncertain. Security - even if it's just a commercial concept - comes at the price of predictability and boredom.

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