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UARXXX10.1177/1078087416638449Urban Affairs ReviewJoo and Park

Urban Affairs Review
2017, Vol. 53(5) 843­–867
Overcoming Urban © The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
Growth Coalition: The
DOI: 10.1177/1078087416638449
Case of Culture-Led

Urban Revitalization in
Busan, South Korea

Yu-Min Joo1 and Se Hoon Park2

Facing both neoliberalism and the persisting legacies of developmentalism,
many South Korean cities continue to subscribe to strong growth-first
ideologies, despite their deindustrialization and aging populations. The
growth orientation in cities, however, is far from being limited to South
Korea. In fact, the recently emerging discourse on urban shrinkage, which
has been West-centric so far, is questioning the bias toward growth in cities,
and calling for a paradigm shift. This article brings together the literatures
on shrinking cities and urban politics to illustrate how an East Asian city,
transforming from a developmentalist to an entrepreneurial city, could seek
a development alternative to the one based on the neoliberal competition
for capital. Specifically, it examines the case of Totatoga, a culture-led
urban revitalization project in a declining, old commercial district of Busan.
It explains how a new kind of state–society collaboration opportunely
explored a development path other than growth.

shrinking cities, culture-led urban revitalization, urban politics, East Asia

1National University of Singapore, Singapore

2Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements, Republic of Korea

Corresponding Author:
Yu-Min Joo, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, 469C
Bukit Timah Rd., Singapore 259772, Singapore.
844 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

Globalization is leading to a new spatial consequence of increasing interur-
ban inequality between those cities that have successfully integrated into the
new global economic network and those that have not (Scott and Storper
2003). Urban scholars have focused on the former under the rubric of “global
cities” for some time, but the latter unplugged cities are also very much pres-
ent, manifesting shrinking population and economic downturn, as they fail to
find a niche in the global economy. Framing urban shrinkage as the other part
of the spatial manifestation of globalization, there has recently emerged a
literature on shrinking cities (e.g., Martinez-Fernandez et al. 2012; Pallagst,
Wiechmann, and Martinez-Fernandez 2014; Wiechmann and Pallagst 2012).
Against the neoliberalism that highlights the intercity competition to attract
global capital in urban development agendas, this literature argues that such
growth-dependent strategies do little to improve the urban conditions of the
shrinking cities, and hence calls for a paradigm shift. Understandably, much
of the shrinking city literature is based on the European and U.S. cities that
have undergone urban shrinkage for some time as their prior industries relo-
cated overseas without new capital moving in. Yet, in today’s intensifying
globalization, urban shrinkage is no longer an isolated problem for a few old
industrial cores. Due to highly mobile capital, cities elsewhere, including in
Asia, also increasingly need to grapple with the changing circumstances that
introduce urban shrinkage as a real and immediate challenge.
In fact, for many of the East Asian cities, as swiftly as they have developed
under the strong developmental states’ growth agendas compared with the
cities in the West, they appear to face equally fast-approaching urban shrink-
age, with their deindustrialization and unprecedented rate of aging popula-
tion. Yet most East Asian cities’ governments still adhere to lingering
developmentalist legacies, on one hand, and are quickly embracing the neo-
liberal ideologies highlighting the competitive market logic on the other.1 In
this article, referring to the city of Busan of South Korea (hereafter “Korea”)
as a case, we explore how an East Asian city could be shrewd in its urban
shrinkage, overcoming the growth orientation stemming not only from neo-
liberal urban policies but also from its legacy of developmentalism.
Specifically, we focus on a culture-led urban revitalization project,
Totatoga, which exhibits a different path of development that uses arts and
culture in a way that is not dominated by growth priorities under the state-
led political environment. Carefully planned by nonstate actors, and assisted
by collaborating local government since 2010, it has prioritized local cul-
tural activities and community engagement to bring life back into the old
downtown of Busan. It stands out from other local artist residency pro-
grams in Korea, where artists more often than not have chafed under rigid
Joo and Park 845

administrative control and procedures, achieving little in terms of local

development, let alone community benefits (Y.-H. Kim 2014). It also nota-
bly departs from conventional urban revitalization strategies under the
influence of the growth orientation, such as flagship types of cultural facili-
ties (Evans 2005), or cultural spaces that cater to real estate interests
(Markusen and Gadwa 2010). By explaining the governance structure of
the project and its other success factors, we explore one of the possible
ways by which shrinking East Asian cities could create an alternative devel-
opment model despite a strong developmentalist tradition and neoliberal
The remainder of this article is structured as follows. We first lay out the
literatures on shrinking cities and urban politics, exploring them as the key
framework; our research goal and methodology follow, connecting the theo-
retical discussions to our case. We then contextualize the case by introducing
Busan, including its recent structural changes and cultural policies. The sub-
sequent sections examine Totatoga in detail, and based on the case analysis,
we discuss how Totatoga is a progressive alternative model of urban revital-
ization, and why it was achievable. Finally, the article concludes by high-
lighting the implications of Totatoga for the shrinking cities and urban politics
literature, as it suggests a new kind of state–society collaboration in East Asia
amid the challenges of urban shrinkage.

Overcoming Cities’ Growth Paradigm

Urban Growth Questioned
Understanding of the political economy behind urban development in the last
half-century has been dominated by the idea of pro-growth coalitions, with
concepts and theories first developed in the United States, then tested widely
in other countries. Referred to as “growth machines” (Logan and Molotch
1987), where the place-based urban elites form growth coalitions to increase
land rents, or as “entrepreneurial cities” (Harvey 1989), where local govern-
ments transform from being “managerial” to “entrepreneurial,” cities have
been accustomed to planning for growth, assuming its continuation. Under
the “new urban politics” (Cox 1995), local governments “marketize” their
cities with the promotion of commercial megaprojects, gentrification, and
private consumption, in the hopes of capturing capital and building their
competitiveness (Hackworth 2007). In particular, inner-city areas, with the
collapse of the manufacturing industry, are frequently chosen for “presti-
gious” projects with strong property interests mainly for the rich and business
elites, while excluding local residents (Marcuse and van Kempen 2000;
Swyngedouw, Moulaert, and Rodriguez 2002).
846 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

Although there have been some criticisms that saw the limits of the pro-
growth coalitions as the main interpretation of urban development dynamics,
especially when examining the Western European cities that showed more
restrictive urban growth policies (e.g., Fainstein 2001; Harding 1994), the
growth paradigm today seems to be getting an even stronger hold on cities
across the globe amid intensifying neoliberal globalization (Swyngedouw,
Moulaert, and Rodriguez 2002). The neoliberal ideologies, which emphasize
competition and predominantly evaluate cities as the engines of growth
through a market-oriented lens, have led to the rising roles of the private sec-
tor in urban policies (MacLeod and Jones 2011). In fact, it has been argued
that there are now fewer options in policy agendas for cities, as the corporate
interests dominate local development decisions under the justification (or the
necessity) of having to compete amid globalization (Brenner and Theodore
2002; Dryzek 1996; Peck 1998). Cities are manifesting “growth obsession”
and consider the inability to constantly showcase a growing population and
economy as failure (Leo and Brown 2000). Hence, it is not a surprise that
even the shrinking cities continue to be planned as if they were growing
(Sousa and Pinho 2015). Against this trend, the literature on shrinking cities
has begun to question the existing growth-centered planning paradigm.
The shrinking cities discourse underscores that presupposing growth and
hoping to rekindle it via the traditional growth-oriented planning strategies
are not likely to bring successful and sustainable solutions because of the
changed economic and population structures (Sousa and Pinho 2015). A dif-
ferent development logic for shrinking cities is needed (Großmann et al.
2013)—one that embraces both growth and shrinkage as concurrent urban
phenomena (Wiechmann and Pallagst 2012). Instead of growth being a value-
free ultimate goal, this new movement argues for “smart shrinking,” which is
about prioritizing to improve the quality of life to achieve smaller but “bet-
ter” places (Hollander 2011; Popper and Popper 2002). The idea is to adopt a
positive outlook on urban shrinkage and consider new advantages to be found
for local policy making, proactively seeking alternative development paths2
and overcoming the growth coalitions.
This paradigm shift, however, is not easy to put into practice. Shrinkage
has been considered as a “stigma,” and its discussion has been shunned in the
local planning and political arena (Beauregard 2003; Reckien and Martinez-
Fernandez 2011). Wiechmann and Pallagst (2012) noted how, even though
many U.S. cities have for years employed various approaches to revitalize
their declining urban inner cores, no active discourse of shrinking cities has
arisen. Considering that East Asian cities have experienced astonishing rates
of growth until recently (and are still surrounded by the celebration of it), one
can imagine that their local governments would be even more hesitant to
Joo and Park 847

raise the issue of planning for shrinkage, despite their recent transformations
marked by declining population and deindustrialization.

The Politics of Urban Development in East Asia

In the last half-century, East Asian cities grew under developmental regimes
that not only thrived on but also legitimized their existence on the basis of
state-led economic development and prosperity as the means for national sur-
vival (Castells 1992). Economic growth was the foremost goal, and cities
were instrumental in achieving economic aims, supporting the state-led
industrialization. Urban policy was thus focused on the construction of urban
infrastructure to support economic production and growth, rather than on the
welfare of the urban population, guided by comprehensive planning at the
national level (B.-G. Park, Hill, and Saito 2012).
To these developmentalist cities, the growth-first ideology is far from
being new, and “the place marketing typical of neoliberalism is not
entirely inconsistent with a developmental ideology that prioritizes market-
conforming methods to spur economic growth” (B.-G. Park, Hill, and Saito
2012, p. 22). What has changed for the East Asian cities, as neoliberalism
has begun to locate and intermix with developmentalism, is the rescaling of
the growth-oriented interventionist state from national to local, the increased
presence of corporate interests, and the intensified commodification of
spaces (B.-G. Park, Hill, and Saito 2012), but all of these continue consoli-
dating the growth priority. Moving from one growth-first ideology to
another, local governments end up attacking urban shrinkage with aggres-
sive growth strategies—such as holding mega-events or building special
economic zones, convention centers, mega-malls, and skyscrapers—an
outcome that is not very different from that of the pro-growth coalitions in
the Western societies.
While the overall growth priorities are similar, there exist some deviations
in the pro-growth coalitions and the institutional conditions of the East Asian
countries. For example, in both Taiwan and Korea, the role of local political
leaders in the coalition is noted to be much more dominant, compared with
local businesses and land-based elites. With the mayor taking a pivotal posi-
tion in the coalition, the other “partners” resemble more closely a client under
a patron–client network (Bae and Sellers 2007; C.-M. Park 2000; Tang 2003).
Similarly, Chinese cities are found to increasingly manifest entrepreneurial
governance that is dictated by the strong local government and mayor, whose
political ascendancy is linked to their cities’ growth indicators (Wu 2002; Xu
and Yeh 2005). In short, despite the transition, the legacies of statism persist
in East Asia.
848 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

In addition to the mayor-centered growth coalition, the recent decentral-

ization reforms of the previously highly centralized and authoritarian devel-
opmental states in East Asia have led to the persistent power of the national
government, especially in regard to the control over fiscal resources. As local
budgets become heavily reliant on central government transfers, local gov-
ernments increasingly show a lack of financial discipline. Without much con-
cern for producing a better-balanced budget, local politicians often end up
pursuing reckless urban investment decisions for personal political objectives
(C.-M. Park 2000; Xu and Yeh 2005).
Yet, at the same time, emerging from the developmental state’s economic
growth has been the rise of civil society (with the expansion of a highly edu-
cated urban middle class), which has become increasingly vocal in urban
affairs. Bae and Sellers (2007) and Tang (2003) both highlighted this newly
rising urban middle class in East Asia as the key actors capable of expressing
concerns for irresponsible growth, bringing antigrowth politics into the pic-
ture. The fact that it is the political mayors who predominate in the growth
coalitions also allows for the urban middle class (as powerful constituents) to
have significant influence on urban governance. What seems to be taking
place is “the enlargement of democratic spaces to create alternative develop-
ment paths” (Douglass 1998, p. 109).
Under the circumstances, urban shrinkage could provide the very specific
physical spaces in which an alternative development can occur, as it leaves
pockets of visibly declining areas that are neglected by developers and pri-
vate corporations, and thereby invites the sectors of the society outside the
growth coalition to take action to lead instead. The latter’s role in this case of
urban shrinkage is not solely to restrict (or fight against) growth, but to find
a different kind of urban development path. In other words, by tapping into
this unexploited resource of the civil society in urban governance (Hospers
2013), shrinking cities might have an opportunity to implement development
projects that are much more sensitive to the local public aims, rather than
corporate interests.

Research Goal and Methodology

Based on the discussion presented thus far, on one hand, the urban growth
coalition seems to remain strong, dictating how urban spaces are developed,
even when shrinking conditions demand a different paradigm, according to
the literature. This would be more likely for the cities in East Asia, where the
growth-first orientation has been prevailing, with urban shrinkage only now
beginning to unfold as a new challenge. On the other hand, actors other than
the growth coalitions might emerge to play a more significant role, seizing
Joo and Park 849

opportunities in declining urban centers, especially given East Asia’s rela-

tively recent rise of civil society. The goal of this research is exploratory in
that it seeks to shed light on whether and, if so, how an alternative model
might work in an East Asian city, surrounded by the growth-first paradigm
and increasingly facing a new challenge of urban shrinkage. In particular,
given the long-standing coalition between strong governments and capitalists
that has largely transformed cities under the economic growth aims in East
Asia, why and how could governments and the local society collaborate dif-
ferently to cope with cities’ shrinking areas?
For this purpose, we have chosen the single case study of Totatoga—a
culture-led revitalization project. Totatoga is important for our discussion
because it allows an examination of what is possible as an alternative
response to urban shrinkage in an East Asian context. It is an exception to
the generally assumed promotion of growth agendas and strong government
interventions in East Asian cities; it signifies the possibility of pursuing cul-
ture-led revitalization that is more bottom-up and noncapital-driven, as
sometimes illustrated by selected cases in European or U.S. cities that have
particularly low levels of real estate pressures (Markusen and Gadwa 2010;
Sacco and Blessi 2009; Stern and Seifert 1998). In fact, culture-led urban
strategies have become a globally popular trend in the cities undergoing
economic restructuring, but more often than not, as a new type of urban
entrepreneurialism, reinforcing growth politics (Miles and Paddison 2005;
see also Daniels, Ho, and Hutton 2012 for Asian examples). They have been
criticized for questionable outcomes, especially for the local community
under the looming threat of gentrification (Smith 1996; Zukin 1982; Zukin
and Braslow 2011). Totatoga not only avoided such pitfalls but also had an
influence on the recent transition in Busan’s cultural policy, as will be illus-
trated in the next section, thereby suggesting a possible paradigm shift that
is argued for by the literature.
For an in-depth examination of the governance arrangement and workings
of Totatoga, with an actor-centered and contextually grounded approach, we
did document analysis, made site visits, and conducted a survey and a total of
15 open-ended, in-depth interviews ranging from one to two hours each.
Fieldwork was conducted in two phases: one in May 2011 and the other in
December 2013 as a follow-up to observe any updates in the second round of
Totatoga. The interviewees were the five key actors from the Busan City Hall
and the Totatoga Management Center (“TMC”)3; seven participating artists
from varying art genres, who provided detailed stories of their motivations
for joining Totatoga and their interactions with other Totatoga artists and the
local community; and three local residents, including a landowner.4 In addi-
tion to the interviews with artists, a survey was conducted in 2011, to which
850 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

40 (out of 49) artists responded.5 We cross-checked the narratives of inter-

viewees coming from different points of view, and also triangulated with
newspapers, secondary literature, the survey results, and our impressions
from the site visits. Through the detailed study and analysis of the case, we
seek to understand the development processes and outcomes of an alternative
model in the shrinking parts of what are otherwise widely assumed to be
growth-driven metropolises in East Asia.

An Introduction to Busan—Its Urban Shrinkage

and Cultural Policy
The problem of urban shrinkage for a late industrializer, such as Korea, is
more relevant than one might think. Speedily industrializing and urbanizing
under the growth-first ideology, Korea not only transformed its predomi-
nantly agricultural economy to a heavily industrialized one but also had its
urbanization rate dramatically increased from a mere 28% in 1960, to 74% in
1990, to over 90% today. Pursuing Export-Oriented Industrialization, selected
villages and farmlands, with the best industrial locations in the southeastern
coastal areas, were transformed into industrial cities in a relatively short time
(Chon 1992). As their rapid urbanization has been closely tied to the industri-
alization, their deindustrialization could easily lead to ruthless de-urbaniza-
tion, unless successful industrial restructuring takes place. But most of the
economic restructuring toward high-technology and knowledge-intensive
industries and advanced producer services took place in the Seoul Metropolitan
Area (SMA) (H. M. Kim and Han 2012). Today, the SMA includes nearly
half of the total national population as well as Gross Regional Domestic
Product (GRDP) (see Figure 1), far exceeding “the rest” of Korea (including
Korea’s second metropolitan city—Busan6).
Located at the tip of Korea’s southeastern coast, Busan is a major port city.
It is the key metropolitan city of the southeastern industrial core, but the city
failed to develop significant service functions compared with Seoul, or to
join in the industrial restructuring. Its major economic takeoff took place
during and after the Korean War (1950s–1960s), when its population and
labor-intensive industries (such as textiles, footwear, and wig making)
boomed with the war refugees flocking to the city. While the chaebol7 branch
plants of the capital-intensive industries (such as automobiles, ships, and pet-
rochemicals) located in other new industrial cities near Busan in the 1970s,
Busan’s economy continued to rely mostly on the labor-intensive small- to
medium-sized industrial firms. Consequently, since the 1990s, the city has
been experiencing rapid deindustrialization.
Figure 1.  Population and GRDP (Seoul, six metropolitan cities, and nine provinces), year 2014.
Source. Data from Korea National Statistics Office.

Note. Data were not yet available for the newly developed Sejong City. GRDP = Gross Regional Domestic Product.
852 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

Busan did emerge as one of the world’s major container ports. It was the
third largest port (in terms of container throughput) after Hong Kong and
Singapore in 2002, although it was pushed back to fifth in 2003 by the rapidly
growing Chinese ports of Shanghai and Shenzhen (Organization for Economic
Co-operation and Development [OECD] 2009). The port activities alone,
however, have not been enough to buoy the local economy. Failing to attain
a strong presence in the national and global economy, Busan has not been
designated as a global city in the United Nations (UN) or other statistical
sources (Richardson and Bae 2014). In fact, Busan has been continuing to
lose population (on average 40,000 per year) to the neighboring cities and to
the SMA (S.-H. Park et al. 2012). Not only has the population been decreas-
ing since the mid-1990s, but the city also currently has the largest elderly
population in Korea (Seo, Cho, and Skelton 2015).
Amid the economic and social stagnation, the local government has been
devising strategies for postindustrial transformation, with a vision to turn
Busan into a maritime city8 and an Asian gateway. Culture became important
in its postindustrial strategies, especially with Busan’s successful hosting of
Korea’s first international film festival in 1996. Since then, the idea of making
Busan a cultural city has begun to take shape. In 2004, Busan was designated
as the Cine Culture City; and among the seven major projects identified in the
Dynamic Busan 2020 Road Map (2005), “Cultural City Project” was one.
Busan’s cultural policies closely resemble growth-oriented policies, and
its first comprehensive plan (Busan Cultural Vision 2020), developed in
2007, focused on making huge and ambitious investments in cultural infra-
structures, aspiring to put the city “on the map” in the global urban hierarchy.
Some examples of attempted projects include a Guggenheim museum, an art
center, a national library, the national ocean museum, and the Busan Art
Biennale Space. Without having communicated with the central government
first, the art center and the national library could not take place; and lacking
a budget, the Guggenheim museum was unfeasible from the beginning (Cha
2014). Currently, the main issue being discussed is an opera house develop-
ment plan (benchmarking Sydney’s opera house), hoping to trigger success-
ful waterfront redevelopment as the city is relocating one of its old main ports
(Cha 2014).
Busan’s pursuit of international attention-grabbing projects is understand-
able under the mayor-centered pro-growth coalition in Korea. While the
industrial restructuring is highly difficult, the popularly elected mayor is
seeking to showcase his efforts to keep Busan’s image of economic growth
and prosperity as the second metropolitan city of Korea, and to continue to
attract private capital to the city. However, such a prescription of megaproj-
ects and international events, alongside its low fiscal independence rate of
Joo and Park 853

56.4% and budget constraints, resulted in government inducing further

investments into Busan’s newly expanding areas “that have easy access to
private investment, rather than on the old downtown areas which suffer from
lack of investment and are thus desperately in need of government support”
(Seo, Cho, and Skelton 2015, p. 33). Consequently, old downtown areas man-
ifest worsening shrinkage symptoms of high building vacancy rates, schools
closing down, and an increasingly aged population9 (S.-H. Park et al. 2012).
The problem of declining inner cities, in fact, began to surface in Korea’s
deindustrializing cities in the 2000s, leading to the national government tak-
ing an interest in large-scale urban regeneration projects. Following the
national trend, Busan recently launched a massive redevelopment project—
the Sanbok Road Renaissance (2011–2020)—as part of its key policy agenda,
with a budget of about US$150 billion. Seeking to revitalize local communi-
ties of densely populated shantytowns in the hilly areas of the city, the project
centered on physical, livelihood, and cultural regeneration goals. It signals
how Busan’s cultural policy is beginning to engage with major urban regen-
eration goals, aside from the growth-biased projects. A further sign of transi-
tion came in 2013, when Busan published its latest comprehensive plan titled
Happy and Shared Cultural City through Enhancing Soft Power. The Soft
Power initiatives10 put emphasis on “community-oriented cultural practices
[as] the forefront of mainstream cultural policies in Busan”; and on such a
policy shift, according to a city official, the “Totatoga project had an influ-
ence” (interview, December 5, 2013).
Hence, Totatoga (which was launched in 2010) is important as a notable
precursor to the new signs of a paradigm shift in Busan’s cultural policy,
away from the neoliberal growth dominance. It also deserves attention for
how local artists and a supportive government successfully collaborated to
bring transformation to a shrinking downtown area centered on cultural (over
economic and physical growth) intentions, outside the citywide cultural

Culture-Led Inner-City Revitalization: The Case of

the Totatoga Project in Busan11
Bringing Arts and Culture to the Ailing Downtown
Totatoga was not an original plan of the city government. In April 2009,
benchmarking other cities’ artist residency programs (referred to as “creative
villages”), the Busan government secured a small budget of about US$330,000
for a similar project. However, it faced difficulty finding publicly owned
space, with the district government suddenly changing its attitude toward the
854 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

city’s initial plan to locate the project in one of its buildings. Thereafter, the
project could not proceed because district governments were reluctant to let
go of their properties, expecting that once committed, it would be difficult to
get them back (Baek 2009). In the end, Busan managed to find two underused
public buildings, and spent a total of US$80,000 in renovation to support
three to four artists each. Having read a newspaper article about the govern-
ment’s failed attempt and the leftover US$250,000, a local cultural planner
(Cha, Jae-Keun) contacted the city government official, and developed a pro-
posal for Totatoga (Cha 2011). In our interview, he commented,

We had to think of a model that could produce outcomes within the limited
budget of US$250,000. The answer was rental spaces. But even for that, the
budget was still restrictive. Hence, we proposed a collaborative model
involving the government, property owners, and artists. Local building owners
were asked to lower their rents. Artists were asked to put some investments in
for necessary renovation, while their rents were subsidized by the government.
(Interview, May 4, 2011)

What was the failure of a government-led cultural policy became a new

outlet for a citizen-suggested project to take place, bringing flexible solu-
tions. In terms of location, Jung-gu (“central district”) was selected, because
of its cultural history as a place where a number of refugee artists had gath-
ered together during the Korean War. It also had been the heart of Busan,
before it began to lose its population and business activities in the 1990s,
especially with the relocation of the City Hall, which led to many of its low-
rise commercial buildings remaining vacant, giving the opportunity to launch
Totatoga. The plan was simple. It sought to provide local artists with work
studios by renting out vacant office spaces in Jung-gu, and in exchange, the
invited artists were required to engage in revitalization activities for the inner
city (interview with the TMC manager, May 4, 2011).
Totatoga started in early 2010 with 48 individual artists and 24 art groups
from diverse genres of art, ranging from visual arts, filmmaking, and tradi-
tional dance to writing. Their workspaces were scattered in the area within
walking distance, mostly on the second to fourth floors, following the rental
availability. The project is run, overall, by the TMC, a nonprofit organization,
with its operating expenses, such as the rent and personnel salaries, provided
by the local government. Instead of civil servants, four to five local cultural
planners and artists operate the Center. In the first year, Mr. Cha took the role
of the Center director, which he soon handed over, in 2011, to a Totatoga art-
ist, Kim Hee-Jin (a film director), strengthening the artist-led governance
structure. Its main roles include welcoming visitors, providing administrative
Joo and Park 855

support for various festivals, events, and programs, and selecting and sup-
porting Totatoga artists.
In its selection of the artists, TMC imposed specific criteria, with a goal of
having young and motivated local artists play pivotal roles in initiating, and
participating in, various activities such as local festivals, educational pro-
grams, street improvement projects, and so on. Totatoga depended on artists’
volunteerism, and its artists were not to settle for being the passive recipients
of government rent subsidies. They were required to show strong commit-
ment to engage with the local community (interview with the TMC manager,
May 4, 2011).
Because Totatoga was a citizen-suggested solution to the leftover
US$250,000, the local government did not have much expectation in regard
to what kinds of outcomes it would bring (interview with a city official, May
4, 2011). Also, compared with other similar projects, Totatoga’s budget was
negligible. For instance, the city of Incheon spent about US$40 to US$50
million to create its cultural village, and a number of Seoul’s district govern-
ments were planning to develop cultural villages with US$8 million budgets
on average (J.-G. Kim 2010). Yet a vibrant cultural scene, which many other
costly government-led projects failed to develop, began to emerge in Totatoga,
attracting interest from a number of local governments and cultural institu-
tions (J.-G. Kim 2012; H.-K. Kim 2013; Oh 2012). It also received interna-
tional visitors—for example, from Shanghai, Kyushu, Yokohama, and
Fukuoka (J.-G. Kim 2012). The Busan government, which only had a small
role in the project as a funder, was indeed surprised by the unexpected atten-
tion and interest from other localities and media, heralding Totatoga as a
cost-effective, alternative kind of urban revitalization strategy (interview
with a city official, December 5, 2013).
Totatoga was initially designed as a three-year program, and after the three
years, artists were expected to become financially independent and pay their
own rent. Yet, given the unexpected attention it received, the local govern-
ment decided to extend Totatoga (interview with a city official, December 5,
2013). The government halved the rent subsidy for the first-term artists, who
had to either reduce the size of their spaces or pay half of the rent, and invited
more artists. With a total of 55 individual artists and 15 art groups, the second
round of Totatoga started in 2013.

Against the Developmental Impulse

Despite taking place amid policy circles still dominated by developmental
sentiments, Totatoga did not seek to bring visible growth to the declining
district. Becoming detached from Korea’s strong developmentalist policy
856 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

tradition, it focused on nurturing and promoting the intangible cultural values

of the district—and its development—in an incremental way.
First, Totatoga tries to minimize physical changes, unlike many other con-
ventional urban cultural strategies employed for redevelopment. Being
keenly aware of the potential negative impacts of gentrification accompany-
ing arts and culture-led programs, Totatoga placed much emphasis on reviv-
ing the community spirit as its top priority, with an understanding that the
urban regeneration will eventually follow at some point. For this reason, the
project decided to use the existing old buildings’ upper floors without any
physical improvements, and encouraged artists to renovate the interiors to
their preferences (interview with the TMC manager, May 4, 2011). When
visitors come to the area, they will not notice anything particularly special in
terms of physical landscape, except for a few rather discreet Totatoga signs.
Second, Totatoga was able to overcome the landowners’ deep-rooted
developmental sentiments in the area. Although the central district was in
decline, the landowners of this historical center had strong pride in their
assets, and expected their property values to increase at some point, espe-
cially seeing new urban megaprojects shooting up in other parts of Busan
(interview with a landowner, May 3, 2011). This sentiment had been prevent-
ing the market rent from falling much, if at all (see Figure 2), despite their
inability to find tenants for many years. Hence, it was not necessarily an easy
decision for the landowners to lower their rents. In the circumstances, TMC
played a skillful role, inviting the landowners to participate as donors in the
meaningful project of revitalizing the old downtown. It also promised to
reflect market changes in future rents, if the project were to continue. Over
time, the landowners recognized the value of the project and signed the con-
tract for a rent lower than the market rate, and also exempted TMC from
deposit requirements, which was a significant contribution for Totatoga (J.-
G. Kim 2010; interview with a landowner, May 3, 2011).
Last, but not least, Totatoga seeks to revitalize the neighborhood’s public
spaces and to create a cultural scene, by developing substantive “software.”
Fostering communication between local artists and residents, it brings them
together to carry out vibrant cultural activities (J.-G. Kim 2012). Since 2010,
the community cultural program titled “Vitamin C” has been taking place
during lunchtime or after-work hours, where individual artists offer various
programs12 that any interested residents (including downtown shop owners,
seniors, and white-collar workers of the nearby financial institutions) can
register for free. In our interview (December 6, 2013), a photographer
explained that one of her most rewarding experiences as a Totatoga artist was
giving photography lessons to local senior residents. After the program, their
works were exhibited during the Totatoga festival and, collaborating with
Joo and Park 857

Figure 2.  The yearly growth rate of market land prices (years 2001−2010).
Source. Korea Land Information system;

another “Vitamin C” program that offered poetry lessons, were published as

a poetry book. Once a month, there is also a “Relay Cultural Chat,” where a
Totatoga artist discusses his or her work in a seminar freely attended by other
artists and residents. In addition to the various regularly held educational and
cultural programs, exhibitions, and annual festivals, there have been sponta-
neous projects led together by artists and residents. For example, there was a
street-level “Printing-1 Street Project” which, partnering with artists, local
residents, and shop owners, involved painting the walls of the old downtown
printing shops together, and street concerts to collect donations to refurbish a
small alley (Cha 2014). Since 2014, small shop owners in the area and a film
director have been jointly producing a number of short, “artsy” advertisement
films for the shops.13 These are just a couple of examples of many collabora-
tive projects that materialized impromptu in Totatoga. Appreciating Totatoga
as a “new model of local regeneration,” the Ministry of Culture, Sports and
Tourism awarded it the first prize of the “Local Cultural Brand of the Year
2015” (Lee 2015).
All in all, Totatoga commits to improving the quality of urban life. The
aim resonates well with the old downtown’s urban history, which was shared
by local residents, artists, and landowners. A number of our interviewees
indicated that they truly appreciated the district’s history as the cultural heart
of the city:
858 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

Figure 3.  Land price changes in Joongang-Dong locating Totatoga (years 2006–
Source. Busan Property Information;

I am very glad to be back here . . . When little, [we] used to come here to watch
movies, eat and drink, and simply have fun with friends. Since the colonial
period, this had been the heart of Busan, and where people’s memories lie. For
this reason, this is the perfect place for artists. I don’t really want to see this
place changing with new developments. (Interview with an artist, May 5, 2011)

The area today is slowly rebuilding its reputation as the arts and cultural
center of Busan. Cafés and small restaurants have newly opened, and new
independent artists have also started to move into the district on their own, to
enjoy the network of the artist community, injecting new vitality into the area
(H.-K. Kim 2013; interview with the TMC director, December 6, 2013).
Land prices of the area also show definite changes before and since Totatoga’s
beginning (see Figure 3), implying that the area is gradually shedding its
previous image of a shabby downtown and beginning to experience a renewed
sense of vitality. Mostly ranging between a 1% and 3% increase per year after
Totatoga, it does not yet indicate gentrification. Nevertheless, TMC is aware
of the possibility and is cautiously watching the new developments (inter-
view with the TMC director, December 6, 2013). In hopes of slowing down
the gentrification, some of the first-generation Totatoga artists purchased
their spaces recently, continuing to use them as their own workspaces or to
Joo and Park 859

open up a small café. The artists themselves are also asking the city govern-
ment to purchase the old Han Seong Baek building—one of the key historic
buildings in the district (interview with an artist, December 6, 2013). Totatoga
and its artists are keenly aware of how the development impulse pervades
Korean cities, and are trying to come up with some countermeasures.

Discussion: Totatoga as an Alternative Model

Totatoga revolves around people and their cultural activities, with an eye to
the revitalization of the central district of Busan. Instead of physical changes
or new economic activities, it prioritizes motivating local artists and residents
to create together and enjoy the everyday cultural scene. Because the activi-
ties take place in the previously empty streets or underused private buildings,
now turned into Totatoga artists’ workspaces, the project also has the signifi-
cance of rejuvenating and expanding public spaces. Totatoga, in other words,
is a strategy that aims to spark vibrant urban life and to build a viable com-
munity in the previously neglected old downtown, centered on public cultural
activities. Underscoring its uniqueness of being a people-centered initiative,
Cha referred to it as a “citizen regeneration” (interview, December 6, 2013;
Cha 2011).
This alternative approach to countering urban decline in the old downtown
was possible because Totatoga relied on local artists and residents, who came
to have a different local understanding and mind-set from the growth-ori-
ented urban elites and bureaucrats. They had a strong attachment to the
declining downtown and were able to value its cultural history, while capital
was quick to leave. This led them to find a creative way to address urban
decline, moving away from big investments and physical renovation, toward
enhancing intangible values of the locality. The new initiative came about
when Busan’s continued dependence on growth-oriented strategies amid a
different set of challenges of urban shrinkage was not effectively revitalizing
the inner city in decline.
In fact, neglected by the growth coalition, Jung-gu readily provided the
physical spaces where the new actors could come forth to develop and imple-
ment their urban project idea. It also showed how the actors perceived as
typical rentiers, such as local commercial property owners, were able to take
a different stance other than pushing for the intensified commodification of
land. Not only that, amid the policy trend that resembles a growth machine at
work, Totatoga indicated the possibility of the local government supporting a
project that does not coincide with its mainstream growth agenda. What
demands further attention here is how and why the government’s different
kind of support in Totatoga contributed to its positive outcome.
860 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

As an official city government project, Totatoga had more legitimacy,

which was useful (especially in the Korean context) when seeking collabora-
tions with the landowners and the local community in the initial stages. It also
provided a strong rationale for harnessing artists’ volunteerism to contribute
to the society, in return for their publicly paid workspaces. However, the local
government kept itself at arm’s length in the actual planning and implementa-
tion of the project. This supportive yet noninterventionist attitude was possi-
ble because Totatoga was initially suggested by a citizen, and was also far
from being a pet project of the government, alongside its other high-profile
cultural projects and events.
As a matter of fact, with the local artists leading the project, Totatoga was
free from bureaucratic or political pressures to deliver quick and visible
results. Given the scanty funds from the local government and limited atten-
tion from the media, the projects had to start “small and slow”—the two key
characteristics that Mr. Cha emphasized as the secret to the success of Totatoga
(interview, December 6, 2013). These two characteristics stand out as the very
opposite of the mega-scale urban developments and the policies (driven by the
strong state) focusing on fast achievements that have pervaded Korea.
What is particularly noteworthy is that even after Totatoga’s unexpected
initial success, the local government did not seek to expand its role. Because
its success has been built on the artists’ social network and community
engagement, the local government came to value the way the project has
been governed, and continues to remain a passive supporter. A local gov-
ernment official mentioned how the city government prefers the manage-
ment to be run by the experts in the society, due to the budget pressures as
well as the city’s lack of expertise with such cases as Totatoga (interview,
December 5, 2013). Starting from being centered around local artists who
put in place a different, more bottom-up type of governance structure, the
local government is beginning to realize that an alternative model is possi-
ble—and may even be more desirable—for their shrinking areas’ urban
revitalization projects. In fact, as mentioned earlier, in 2013 the local gov-
ernment announced its cultural plan—Happy and Shared Cultural City
through Enhancing Soft Power—indicating a new paradigm in its cultural
policy. Moving away from the previous cultural policies that were heavily
infrastructure development-focused, led by the strong bureaucracy, the new
plan’s main goals focused on local community-centered agendas, integrat-
ing culture into citizens’ daily lives and increasing government’s indirect
support with the authority transferred to the private sector. Included in the
plan is to expand artist residency programs that are each localized to par-
ticular shrinking areas within Busan, similar to Totatoga, and in 2013 alone,
four new projects have been launched.
Joo and Park 861

Therefore, instead of considering Totatoga as a mere exceptional case, we

argue that it suggests a potential for developing an alternative governance
model and strategy that can inspire a more progressive paradigm at the policy
level. At the same time though, Totatoga is a relatively young project of six
years, and given the likelihood of increasing gentrification pressure follow-
ing its success, it still remains to be seen whether and how its notable rela-
tionship between artists, landowners, and the local government will evolve.
But so far, the involved actors have shown strong will and interest to collab-
oratively pursue an alternative path to redevelopment, avoiding the all-too-
frequent projects aimed at stimulating economic growth under
market-dependent approaches. In short, Totatoga indicates how it is possible
for a culture-led revitalization project to be carefully planned to (1) build on
existing local actors and potentials, (2) motivate local engagement and enthu-
siasm, and (3) primarily target improving the locality by reviving its authen-
tic cultural energy. As its local artists open the doors of their studios, Totatoga
opens the way to a new kind of culture-led revitalization.

Cities have long been predominantly viewed through an economic lens, as
“urban growth machines,” and, consequently, those who “made” cities dif-
fered from those who lived in them. Local citizens, more often than not, had
little power over urban development decisions, which were led by the state
and the corporate interests attempting to attract more people and capital,
hoping to make cities prominent as well as profitable. Such a growth orien-
tation has been argued against by the shrinking cities literature, which has
been emphasizing a need for a paradigm shift in urban policies. Despite the
general consensus for an alternative strategy, exactly how cities could pur-
sue such strategies has been underrepresented in the literature.
The Totatoga case explored in this article contributes to the shrinking
cities debate by explaining in detail the governance and operations of a suc-
cessful alternative strategy that emerged when the conventional growth-
driven strategies began to face limits, especially in an East Asian city
context well known for its strong growth-first ideologies. Moving beyond
criticizing the persisting growth orientation or calling for a different para-
digm, we have sought to portray an example of what is possible: a creative
solution to a shrinking downtown, focusing on improving the “use values”
over the “exchange values” of urban land, which had not been happening
with the prevailing public–private partnerships centered on furthering
urban growth. We argue that Totatoga, focusing on enhancing local cultural
assets and improving local residents’ urban experiences, unswayed by the
862 Urban Affairs Review 53(5)

growth agenda of wealth creation and land revaluation, highlights culture-

led urban revitalization as one promising potential strategy for tackling
urban shrinkage in an alternative way.
A final point: Totatoga indicates the possibility of building a more bottom-up
state–society collaboration around an urban project, outside the mainstream pol-
icy that is still dictated by the developmental legacies and neoliberalism pushing
for growth in Busan. It has shown the capability of the local government to
engage differently with the society, adopting a much more supportive role than
being interventionist. By being open to and cooperative with citizen-suggested
ideas, the local government ended up effectively providing the opportunity to
nurture artists’ volunteerism and motivation to try out an alternative revitalization
model. The capacity of local citizens also surpassed their often-depicted roles of
fighting against the growth coalitions in Asia; they demonstrated the potential to
be an important partner with government in pursuing a different vision for their
urban spaces. Whether (and if so, what kinds of) other varied state–society col-
laborations have been surfacing around urban projects in East Asian cities, amid
their slowing down of economic growth and impending challenges of urban
shrinkage, demands further examination. As Totatoga’s success has been condu-
cive to the shift in Busan’s cultural policy, urban projects with meaningful out-
comes that indicate departure from typical growth coalitions at work could
provide inspiration and stir enthusiasm for further policy changes down the road.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by the Lee
Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and a grant
(14AUDP-B077107-03) from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport,
Republic of Korea.

  1. See B.-G. Park, Hill, and Saito (2012) for studies on how neoliberalism is taking
hold in Asian cities with developmentalist traditions and histories.
  2. Hospers (2013) classified policies dealing with shrinkage into four categories:
(1) trivializing or turning a blind eye to shrinkage, (2) countering shrinkage with
growth strategies, (3) accepting shrinkage and seeking to manage its impacts,
and, finally, (4) utilizing shrinkage, which is about seeing the shrinking situation
as an opportunity.
Joo and Park 863

 3. The selection of interviewees from the local government and the Totatoga
Management Center was straightforward. We interviewed two local government
officials who were each in charge of the Totatoga project in 2011 and in 2013.
From the Totatoga Management Center, we interviewed the first center director
(Cha, Jae-Keun), a manager (in 2011), and the current center director.
  4. The selection of interviewees from artists and local residents was biased, as they
were introduced to us by the Totatoga Management Center. However, a survey
answered by the majority of artists, newspaper articles, and other secondary data
were used to cross-check the interview data.
  5. This survey was originally conducted by one of the authors for the purpose
of carrying out social network analysis of Totatoga. Our article also draws
on this data for further triangulation and to support our arguments in the case
 6. Korea has six “Metropolitan Cities” (Incheon, Busan, Daejeon, Gwangju,
Daegu, and Ulsan), and Seoul as the “Special City.” The “Seoul Metropolitan
Area” comprises the Seoul Special City, Incheon Metropolitan City, and the
Gyeonggi Province. The article refers to the Busan Metropolitan City as
 7. Chaebols are the large conglomerates that dominate Korea’s economy. Notable
examples include Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and SK
  8. For this goal, Busan seeks to strengthen the port functions, as well as to enhance
the city as a transportation infrastructure hub, and to promote maritime tourism,
technology, and industries (Seo, Cho, and Skelton 2015).
  9. The city’s old downtown area (comprising Jung-gu, Seo-gu, and Dong-gu) has
17% of its population aged over 65, while 11.3% is Busan’s average. The data
are based on the 2010 Census.
10. In their city profile of Busan, Seo, Cho, and Skelton (2015) analyzed Busan’s
current development strategies into the two main policies of the Asian Gateway
promotion and the Soft Power schemes.
11. Despite our triangulation of data from the interviews, a survey, the Totatoga offi-
cial home pages ( and, newspapers,
and other secondary materials in examining the case, in the text, we have cited
only the key sources.
12. The latest program titles offered for September to November 2015 are as fol-
lows: Recycling Art, Thinking Through Photography, A Modern Historical Look
at Busan’s Villages, Art Pieces Made by Me, and Introductory Guide to Local
Markets (
13. The videos are uploaded at, which is also actively
updated with many other examples of ongoing artists–residents collaborative
projects, educational and cultural programs, and festivals.

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Author Biographies
Yu-Min Joo is an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
National University of Singapore. She holds a PhD in urban and regional planning
from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She researches and publishes on urban
development and policy issues in Asia, particularly on the topics of urban governance,
shrinking cities, city branding, megaprojects, and mega-events.
Se Hoon Park is a research fellow at the Korea Research Institute for Human
Settlements, Republic of Korea. He studied urban studies and planning at Seoul
National University and University of Tokyo. While being involved in various
national government commissioned projects, he publishes academic papers and pol-
icy reports on urban regeneration, cultural city, and ethnic places in Korean cities.