Field Project: Exploring Koreatown

free essayStrong influence of the Korean culture has shaped a unique landscape of Koreatown. During my trip there, I could witness the influence of this culture over the neighborhood, see how all its aspects, such as architecture, social, and demographic situation, even smells, interacted and turned it into what it is today: a diverse and multicultural community.


The population density in Koreatown amounts to 42,611 persons per square mile. The neighborhood bears its name for a reason since up to 22% of the population is foreign-born Korean citizens who have immigrated to the USA. It also has an average income of $30,558 per household, which is low for both the city and country on average (“Koreatown”).

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I started my observation from the wide Wilshire Avenue. I went to do my observation on Monday, May 23 around 4:15 PM. First, I decided to explore the main street of Koreantown. Once out of subway, I turned to Wilshire Avenue and walked along a busy road towards the temple that I had noticed on the map prior to my trip. I stopped in front of the white squat building that looked very gracious. It seemed like something alien in comparison to the rest of the urban architecture of the neighborhood.

As I walked along Wilshire Avenue, outdoor advertisement did not look tasteless and buildings swinging up in the sky made an impression of a well-groomed neighborhood. At the corner of Wilshire, I also saw a building with a marvelous mural art on it and several other buildings with the wall art of a smaller scale. However, sometimes, it also turned into quite obscene graffiti drawings that did not possess any great artistic value. This was the first trait that negated the neatness I had seen just several minutes ago. This area was quite noisy because of heavy traffic.

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Moving out of the central area of Koreatown, I went to Normandie Avenue. There, taller buildings gave way to the squat and narrow apartment buildings, many parts of which were decorated in the Oriental style. The amount of outdoor advertisement, if there was an office building, was giddying. Many people in Koreatown used public transportation, so I could see crowds of people at bus stops continuously.

The quality of roads here was still decent, with only some flaws, whereas some courtyards had big cracks and holes in the asphalt. When I ended up in front of a mall with many stores and restaurants, which was located at the intersection of Normandie Avenue and W 6th Street, I saw that at least 70% of businesses advertised themselves uniquely in Korean. Thus, I decided to sit inside one of the restaurants with Korean fusion food and to observe people for some time.

In the restaurant, I stationed myself to look at the interaction between the staff. The conversation I witnessed was in Korean. It was happening between a server dressed in the traditional Korean clothes and a cook. I was not able to hear much of what they were saying, and it would be no use because I do not speak this language. Therefore, it was interesting to observe since I had to read facial expressions rather than distinguish the words of two people. The server seemed not to make direct eye contact, but the conversation seemed friendly overall. In the restaurant, it smelled of spices, ginger and, surprisingly enough, coffee. The place was extremely crowded at around 5:30 PM. There were many people of Asian descent, most of them acted like friends with the staff and each other. I could see that interactions between the people were quite friendly, even though conversations were conducted in Korean.

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Analysis, Interpretation, and Reflection on Koreatown’s landscape

There are some issues associated with high population density in the area. Upon coming out of the subway, I could already see the proof of that: people crowded right in front of escalators regardless of the fact that it was not even a rush hour. Koreatown must struggle quite significantly with the maintenance of the roads, which could explain its worsening quality. 124 thousand people live on 2.7 square miles here, with the houses looking crowded and stuffy (“Koreatown”).

Outdoor advertisement was another problem that spoiled the look of the neighborhood: the doors of commercial facilities were crowded with ads in Korean. This is what Korean cities are thought to be as the attention of a potential client is fought for with the most colorful advertisement. However, most ads looked unprofessional and they were bleached by the sun. I believe this aspect should be regulated to make the neighborhood more attractive.

Public transport is important in the area. If people used more cars, it would result in a daily traffic jam disaster. Therefore, this was a positive aspect of culture of this particular area; besides, some people had no other choice of transportation due to their low income.

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I was able to observe some friendly social peculiarities in the restaurant. Korean culture is highly hierarchical (Schwartz 65). Therefore, the conversation looked like the older cook ordering the server to do something, even though it did not have to be the case necessarily. In the end, he seemed to be amiable with her. This was the case with all other Asian people I saw talking in the neighborhood. Usually, conversations happened between two people at a time, and they kept talking while waiting for a bus or eating takeaway food in the streets.

What I had found to be outstanding was that Korean citizens moving to the USA contributed so much to the culture by bringing along their exceptional architectural traditions. The temple I saw on Wilshire Avenue was a confirmation of that. It also had certain symbolism since it organically fit into the landscape regardless of being different, just like a person of every ethnicity fits in Koreatown.

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I have to admit that Koreatown has impressed me in a positive way. Perhaps, the neighborhood does not manage its issues very well as high population density is evident sometimes and one can see its downsides. Such things as outdoor advertisement should also be somehow unified as they make some areas look neglected and sloppy. However, I believe that Koreatown possesses an ample cultural and architectural value because of its incredible buildings and the preservation or even conservation of the unique Korean culture.

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