Is Ulsan the next Detroit?

In a recent class wih a group of adult students we discussed an article about Detroit which depicted the rise and fall of the city. I was expecting a discussion about the global financial crisis and other economical issues, and therefore I was shocked when they claimed that Ulsan was set to be the next Detroit.

 Hyundai Motors, Ulsan plant.

For anyone who is unaware of Ulsan, I will give you a brief introduction. It has been dubbed the ‘industrial armpit of Korea’, because it houses Hyundai Motors (the worlds largest car assembly), Hyundai Heavy Industry (the largest shipyard) and SK Energy (the second largest oil refinery). Ulsan is currently the second richest city in South Korea, and therefore the second most expensive city to live in.

Detroit car assembly line.

Evidently, there are a few similarities between modern Ulsan and Detroit in the early 20th century. In recent years there has been several strikes in the industrial sector as employees have attempted to get pay rises. The big companies have struck back, and steadily more and more work has been shipped abroad to countries with lower wages. People who live near to the industrial centre have claimed that the neighbourhood has gradually been getting quieter; a few years ago it would be lively at clocking out time, but now many of the restaurants and bars are quiet. There are tales of empty office blocks, and rent has dropped significantly in the past five years.

The affinity of the two cities becomes unnerving the more you look at it. Obviously, a multitude of cities go through financial difficulties, and with the current popularity of gentrification has put a positive spin on economic collapse. Even Detroit – the biggest American city to go bankrupt – is currently undergoing a transformation as money is siphoned back into the city. However, it is still massively concerning to consider how Koreans would handle the financial ruin of city like Ulsan after spending so many years growing and becoming stronger.


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