Housing renovations in Pyongyang have received plenty of attention in the DPRK’s official media, with the above KCNA photo a good example. However, a large-scale redevelopment in Chongjin, the distant capital of North Hamgyong province, has received no official coverage in North Korean media.
Ironically, the only news outlet to have reported on the drastic changes to downtown Chongjin has so far been the Daily NK, which published rumors of mismanagement and political cronyism at the project in August of 2012.
With satellite imagery recently made available on Google Earth we can now confirm that a large scale residential complex is in fact underway in Chongjin’s Pohang District – and has been for well over 18 months.
Here is a 2006 satellite image of Chongjin (before):
A February 14, 2012 satellite image of Chongjin shows that construction is underway:
Because the above picture was taken at such an early stage of construction it is difficult to say what exactly the plan for the area is. But we can add context to the imagery with this anonymous tourist picture taken of an architectural model of the development area:
Though this model should be understood as a conceptual tool, not a blueprint, it clearly shows the construction of a widened green boulevard extending south from the Kim Il Sung statue towards the East Sea.
On the northern end, the boulevard is flanked by new high-rise apartments, a theater, and a health complex.
On the southern end, the Chongjin Youth Park has been expanded west–occupying land that is now utilized by the Chongjin Steelworks Enterprise, with a large, circular fountain installed.
Before dismissing this merely as a plan, it is worth noting that newly available satellite imagery of the construction site confirms many of these details – even at this early stage of construction.
On the north end of the development zone, we can see that many residencies have been cleared, and the foundations are being laid for approximately ten buildings. Seven of them appear to be apartment buildings approximately 55 m (60.56 yds) x 21.01 (22.98yds).
The pattern of these new residential apartment blocks matches the pattern of new high-rises in the conceptual model.
In the southern-half of the development area, it appears that the Chongjin Steelworks is being disassembled along its eastern border and the land is being flattened. This is consistent with the architect model which shows a park and new pond in this area. The northern section of the Chongjin Youth Park has also been leveled to presumably make way for a new theater.
North Korea’s fetish for “catch-up” modern housing is nothing new. Older North Koreans have lived through many modernization drives that have sought to raise the standard of living for some targeted group. Though these buildings appear more “modern” from the outside, the actual process of construction has not changed in decades. Most work is done using manual labor by drafted work teams (non-specialists).
At the time of writing it is unclear where the additional electricity and other utilities required to support these homes will come from.
1. See coverage in the Daily NK on this construction project here.
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