Documenting the Spatial Practices of Global Migration

‘Korea Way’, the Center of New York City’s Korea Town

Category : FIELD TRIP 09/28/2011

It’s been slightly less than a month for me to live in New York City. Just flying in from Seoul, South Korea, it is interesting to see what Korean immigrants have brought with them to the city. I will simple say that imported urban streetscape from South Korea can be witnessed at West 32nd Street at the core of NYC’s K-Town, a one block strip between Broadway and 5th Avenue. Here are some interesting aspects which I would like to mention about the ‘Korea Way’.

1. Cluster of Entertainment, Pleasure, Dinning & Various Services for Koreans

Not only for permanent immigrants but also for temporary visitors from Korea, Korea Way is where Koreans can find basic services from dining, shopping consumer goods & grocery, various beauty related stuff and entertainment. It is a one stop destination for Korean immigrants to take care of such need and desire, to get comfortable as if at home.

Korea Way Street Image

2. 24 Hour Services

Although the 24/7 service is not a new concept in NYC, it is one of the few places where you can find cuisines other than fast food or American dinners to operate for 24 hours. If you are craving for Korean, Japanese or even Vietnamese foods after mid-night drop by at Korea Way. The restaurants at Korea Way are not solely occupied by Koreans but the customers after mid-night tend to represent a higher percentage of Korean population. Some of the 24 hour spas and beauty salons are known to be used by Broadway performers after the late night shows.

Various 24 Hour Services

3. Use of Buildings

I am not sure if this is true but comparing with other parts of Manhattan (Soho, Chinatown, 5th Ave. etc), buildings in Korea Way is highly utilizing the floors for various services. The typical type of space program goes like this. Restaurant, bakery and various services (including grocery, consumer goods etc) are located on the ground level. And beauty salon, spas, karaoke (singing rooms), bars and other entertainment related services goes on the upper levels, in some cases it goes up to the 6th floor. This sort of mixture of services in buildings is common in South Korea, whereas it is hard to see independently owned shops to form this sort of natural composition in other parts of NYC.

Bars, Singing Room (Karaoke), Spa, Hair Salon etc”]

4. Change in Physical Appearance

One other unique aspect of Korea Way is the physical similarity to Korean cities. This is probably related to the use of buildings in terms of programming mentioned above. Signage boards of various services create a different physical appearance to the buildings and overall to the streetscape. Signage boards covering up the building is highly criticized in Korea these days for disrupting the image of a city. Regardless of the debate happening in Korea, the Korean immigrants seem to apply the signage methods which their accustomed to and transforming the buildings into a big signage board.

Various Signage Boards

Signage Boards taking over the Buildings

5. Introducing Korean Franchises to New Yorkers

South Korea is rapidly transforming its economic structure from manufacturing base to service oriented. South Korea’s pop culture is very popular among other Asian countries and this is referred as the ‘Korean Wave’. Starting from the entertainment business (music, drama, movies) now various Korean franchises are opening their branches all over Asia. Some famous franchises in Korea Way including Red Mango, Paris Baguette, Kyochon Chicken and others are using Korea Way as a gateway to the US (in a bigger picture North America) market.

Korean Franchises

The street name ‘Korea Way’ didn’t feel like a proper name at first glance, because generally areas of certain ethnic groups in a city tends to go with such names like ‘town’ or ‘little’. However after thinking about the urban aspects mentioned above the street name Korea Way seem to clarify as 1) simply meaning a street, 2) representing the way of Korean life and urban streetscape. In respect of the second meaning Korea Way is contributing to Manhattan’s great diversity.


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