Last week, North Korean state media boasted that 10,000 new apartments were completed in Pyongyang, with a goal of 40,000 more new apartments. North Korean media praised the speed in which the apartments were constructed, including an 80-floor skyscraper.
In an effort to modernize his capital city’s skyline, Kim Jong Un has prioritized building shiny new residential towers in Pyongyang. The buildings look immaculate from the outside, but the inside is a different story. In most of the world, living in a penthouse with a nice view is set aside for the wealthy few, but in North Korea, it is set aside for the unfortunate few.
According to a story from Reuters, North Korean defectors and anonymous North Korean sources say that few people want to live on the top floors of North Korean towers. Residents on the top floors have to deal with electricity and elevators that often don’t work. Unreliable water supply and shoddy workmanship are also concerns among residents. Many residents have to live without running water or functional toilets.
“In North Korea, the poor live in penthouses rather than the rich, because lifts are often not working properly, and they cannot pump up water due to the low pressure,” said Jung Si-woo, a 31-year-old who defected to neighboring South Korea in 2017.
Si-woo believes that the new towers mostly benefit Kim Jong Un’s ego, rather than the residents. “It’s to show how much their construction skills have improved, rather than considering residents’ preferences,” he told Reuters.
The shiny new apartments that North Korean media just unveiled are open to the elite, including a well-known news anchor. However, apartment units for ordinary residents are not open yet, reports Lee Sang-Yong. He is the editor-in-chief of Daily NK, a South Korean-based news organization that reports on North Korea.
His sources reported that the apartments for regular people were not ready to live in. Water taps, for example, are installed but not working. Sang-Yong also reported that North Korea will have to invest in electricity, water supplies, and construction quality in order to make the apartments more liveable.
Most elevators in North Korean apartments work at just two separate times a day, usually during peak commuting hours in the mornings and nights, according to defector Jung Si-woo. “A friend who lived on the 28th floor of a 40-story block had never used the elevator because it was not working. Most elevators worked just twice a day, during peak commuting hours from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., and the same timing in the evening”, according to Si-woo.
Since many apartments at the top of highrises don’t have consistent access to water, residents often have to carry water up 40 or more stories to their homes.
Tyler graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2017 with a Bachelor's degree in Urban and Regional Studies. Currently based in Los Angeles, he works as a freelance content writer and copywriter for companies in real estate, property management, and similar industries. Tyler's main professional passion is writing about critical issues affecting big and small cities alike, including housing affordability, homelessness, inequality, and transportation. When he isn't working, he usually plans his next road trip or explores new neighborhoods and hiking trails.