According to reports by defectors from North Korea and information gleaned from the limits imposed by "revolutionary tourism," urban life in P'yongyang probably resembles that in other East Asian cities, such as Seoul or Tokyo, in that living space is extremely limited. Little remains of traditional, however; architecture with its modern-style, high-rise buildings, P'yongyang appears to lack lively neighborhoods, as well as the local festivals and bustling market life of other Asian cities. Spacious highways span the metropolis, but seem devoid of traffic except for military vehicles. Unlike the residents of Tokyo and Seoul, however, residents of P'yongyang have access to expansive parks and green spaces.
Beginning in the 1980s, several high-rise apartment complexes were built in P'yongyang, some of them reaching forty stories. The Kwangbok New Town, opened in 1989 as housing for representatives to the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students, has been described as accommodating 25,000 families of the KWP elite. A sympathetic Japanese visitor reports that units are 110 square meters in area, with a kitchen-dining room and three or four additional rooms. Maintenance fees (not rent) for the housing of manual workers and office workers constitute 0.3 percent of their monthly income; utilities, including heating, cost about 3 percent of monthly income. Heating in rural areas during the frigid winters seems to be supplied primarily by charcoal briquettes.
Although urban standards of living--at least in P'yongyang-- appear to be better than rural standards of living, observers note that city shops have limited supplies of necessities. Visitors to the capital during the celebration of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday (and as well at other times), however, have toured department stores full of goods. One widely repeated rumor suggests that crowds of local residents are paid by the day to throng department stores but that virtually the only goods actually on sale for them are soap and special consignments of notebooks. Otherwise, access to most department stores in P'yongyang is limited to KWP members and foreigners.
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