Stuff Seoul’s city government is doing besides those women-only parking spaces

Another day, another giant duck. Image: Getty.

Back in May, news emerged that the city government in Seoul, capital of South Korea, had installed “women’s only” parking spaces. These spaces were reported to be longer and wider than standard spot, and were bordered by bubblegum-pink markings with a skirted stick figure in the middle. The internet, quite understandably, went nuts. Elle, for example, called it a “completely prejudiced project” and were particularly irate that a woman, the Assistant Mayor for family affairs Cho Eun-he, spearheaded the campaign.

Image: via Drive Spark.

Actually, though, it turns out they’ve been around since 2009 and were part of a £55m initiative to make the city more “women friendly”. The spaces were wider than the original spaces, but only by about 20cm. They’re also closer to shop doorways and better lit. Other lady-friendly tweaks made by the mayor’s office included installing lower handholds on public transport, 7000 new women’s toilets, and the introduction of spongy high-heel friendly pavement materials.

This isn’t the only eccentric scheme the city government has rolled out in the past few years  - the current mayor, Park Won-soon, has been responsible for some particularly odd initiatives.

Here are a few:

The giant sign-holding little girl


Image: Seoul City Government

The city government has recently launched this “Citizens Billboard” so Seoulites can have their messages beamed out from a board clutched by a smiling, 13m tall girl. In the image above, the board promises “We will listen to any sound, no matter how small it is”. Residents text the board with their thoughts on various topics – at the suggestion of the recently re-elcted mayor, Park Woon-son, the first topic was “If I were the Seoul mayor...”

The giant ear

Image: Seoul City Government

This piece of art, loosely (very loosely) based on the human ear, was installed outside the new Seoul City Hall for locals to air their grievances into. The statue, designed by artist Yang Soo-in, records their complaints and broadcasts them from speakers in the Citizens Affairs Bureau. These speakers then use motion sensors to judge how many people sit listening to the complaint, and for how long. Unpopular complaints “compost into music”, according to a diagram released by city hall (please, someone, show us how that’s done), while popular ones are repeated and, one hopes, acted on.

The giant duck

Starting this week, a giant duck has moored up in Seoul's harbour in order to "spread a message of healing and peace" to the city's residents. The 54-foot tall model is the work of Florentijn Hofman, a Dutch artist, and has permission to stay for just over a month. 



Seoul has double the population density of London, and resources and space are thin on the ground. Mayor Park Won-soon has responded by encouraging citizens to share commutes, flats, offices and, through apps Zipbob and Kiple, meals and childrens’ clothes. The city government introduced 736 shareable offices in the city and surrounding area that citizens can use as and when they want. The Sharing Bookshelf campaign encourages citizens to (yep, you guessed it) share books, and Sympathy under the Same Roof links up older people with spare rooms and young people in need of somewhere to stay.


These are individuals who have been nominated to “seek out Seoul’s many attractions and promote Seoul in colourful and interesting ways to the global community”. We don’t know what that means either. We just really like the name.


The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.

“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.