Amidst heightened political tensions, city life in the hermit kingdom goes on.

As President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un trade personal barbs and threats of annihilation (and Trump prepares to visit the Korean peninsula in November), South Koreans are famously greeting the potential of war with a shrug. The same seems to be the case across the 38th parallel in North Korea.

In September, NK News, an independent media organization with staff in Seoul and Washington, D.C., sent a photographer into the country to see how heightened tension is impacting daily life in Pyongyang and smaller cities. While the world wonders if Kim will fulfill a threat to test a nuclear bomb over the Pacific Ocean and  President Trump undermines his own Secretary of State’s diplomatic efforts, life in North Korea appears to be going on as before—which is to say slowly, amidst crumbling infrastructure and urban development that barely hints at the 21st century. The photos, shared exclusively with CityLab, also reveal fresh anti-American propaganda and closed gas stations, likely caused by fuel shortages and tightening international sanctions.

(NK News)

Pyongyang began to introduce bike lanes throughout the city in 2015, by designating lanes for cyclists on sidewalks shared with pedestrians. Like so many things in North Korea, the work of painting the street markings is done by hand.

(NK News)

Cyclists and pedestrians share a street empty of four-wheel traffic in Kaesong City in the south of North Korea. Away from Pyongyang, the number of cyclists increases and the number of cars declines. The elite ride electric bicycles imported from China or Japan that cost as much as $600.

(NK News)

Residents of a building outside Kaesong in the southern part of North Korea hang solar panels outside their window, to help weather sporadic power outages. North Korea’s energy infrastructure has been in decline since the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union limited supplies of fuel.

(NK News)

Schoolgirls wearing Communist Party Young Pioneer scarves study on the Pyongyang metro. The subway system is buried more than 350 feet below the ground and doubles as a nuclear bunker.

(NK News)

Pyongyang’s famous “traffic ladies”direct traffic using an orange beacon. Traffic lights were introduced to the city in 2009, but these uniformed young women are still on the job.  

(NK News)

Three young soldier-laborers stand on the uncompleted balcony of a new apartment in Pyongyang. Construction in North Korea is often shoddy, relying on antiquated building techniques and poorly reinforced concrete.

(NK News)

A playground on the east coast of North Korea includes slides, swingsets (with missing swings), and a rocket, plus a cartoon battle mural. Militant narratives and anti-American propaganda are a strong part of North Korean education.

(NK News)

A pickup truck serves as transportation for soldiers, workers, and children on their way to Hamhung, North Korea’s second-largest city. In the absence of official public transportation options, entrepreneurs are meeting the demand.

(NK News)

A boy plays a shooting game in a gaming room in Wonsan, a port city on the Sea of Japan. First-person shooter games are popular in North Korea, including the anti-American game “Hunting Yankee.”

This story was adapted from a post by NK News, which is published by Korea Risk Group, the leading provider of risk analysis, news, information and data surrounding North Korea.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. New homes under construction in St. George, Utah, in 2013
    Environment

    America's Fastest-Growing Urban Area Has a Water Problem

    As St. George, Utah grows, it will have to cut down on its high water consumption or pay handsomely for it—or both.

  2. An apartment building in Sacramento, California.
    Equity

    The American Housing Crisis Might Be Our Next Big Political Issue

    Several new advocacy groups have sprung up to push for better housing policies at the state and national level. Their first job: Communicating how significant the problem really is.

  3. Equity

    The Deal That Might Just Break Georgia Into Pieces

    This would be the de-gentrification of the city of Stockbridge, with its wealthy areas carved away for a new city while remaining residents pick up the substantial tab left behind.

  4. Life

    Where Americans Are Moving for Work

    Most of the top cities are the usual suspects—but there’s something odd happening in Silicon Valley.

  5. A bus stop in the Estonian town of Värska
    Transportation

    Estonia Will Roll Out Free Public Transit Nationwide

    Meet the new world leader in fare-free living.