The Mormon church that has been under construction in my neighborhood is nearing completion – I've commented on it before, partly because I'd developed a kind of special feeling or affinity for the vacant lot (so rare in Ilsan) that had previously occupied the space for most of the years I've been here.
I guess the architecture is solidly Mormonesque – whatever that is, although I do believe there is, at least, an identifiable (post hoc) Mormon architectural style. What was more depressing was that half of the lot is given over to an at-grade parking lot.
Believe it or not, I've contemplated the cultural semiotics of Mormon parking lots before. This may be partly due to having grown up across the street from the local Mormon church, and thus for me, as a child, the concepts of expansive parking lots and Mormonism became deeply intertwined. For me, as a child, the Mormon church's parking lot was simply the parking lot. It became the archetype of an American sort of over-engineered, low density, space-wasting, parking-in-front approach to parking.
I had imagined that local Korean building codes would preclude the construction of such a parking lot for this church. Apparently, I was naive.
It's not that Koreans don't build low density parking lots. It's that in my experience, if Koreans build an at-grade, open space parking lot (as opposed to a high density parking structure), these constructions seem to be, inevitably, fairly contingent, strictly temporary affairs. If they have a vacant lot, by all means, slap down some asphalt, paint some lines, put up an attendant's booth, and charge money to park there. These can be found all over Ilsan, in fact, as well as the rest of Seoul. Perhaps that was partly why I was so surprised that the vacant lot where this new church has been built remained simply vacant for so long.
As I said, however, these low-density parking lots are not, normally, viewed as particularly major undertakings, and they lack any feeling of permanence. There are several in Ilsan that are not even properly paved – they're just gravel. I kind of intuit that the expectation is that eventually the lot will get built with something, with the inevitable multi-level parking structure integrated into the new building.
But these Mormons – they've created a parking lot in the boldest of North American, low density, highly engineered traditions. There are little rows of trees, there are elaborate curbs and bays, there is even the modern "permeable parking lot" concept whereby grass can grow between the gaps and water can drain down – thus preventing the loss of so much rainfall for the groundwater. These are all things that seem so utterly American to me, and quite alien to the way Koreans approach parking in my experience.
Not only that, there's a giant fence completely enclosing it. Most Korean parking lots are quite pedestrian-friendly – I cut across or through both open low-density lots and parking ramps all the time, as I walk from one place to another.
What does it mean that Mormon churches always have such substantial and, more interestingly, prominently visible parking lots? Partly, it's about the fact of being a wealthy but most definitely minority religion. Their churches thus have to draw from a widely dispersed community, where most members might be coming from quite some distance away. Thus, they all have cars and they all need a place to park. But it's also a kind of declaration of suburban American values. I can't say I'm scandalized, but a part of me had expected something different of Mormons in the Korean context. I gather I was mistaken.
Anyway, I hope they enjoy parking their cars.
[daily log: walking, 7km]