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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Seoul 2030 - a software update

Mayor OH Se-hoon unveiled the 'Seoul Vision 2030' he announced on his inaugural address last April*, an occasion to highlight differences with his 'predesuccessor' PARK Won-soon.

By picking the slogan 'Seoul, a fair city that runs again', ever the ambitious OH delivers two not so subliminal political messages:

  • I want to rally all citizens who want an end to the unfair system that's controlling local and national politics, and 
  • it's not just Seoul that's moving again: I'm running again, with 2027 in sight.

The goal remains the same as a few months before he left office: to lift the capital into the World's top 5 cities. The difference is that since then, under PARK, Seoul has lost its momentum and regressed from 10th in 2010 to 17th last year, which makes the task all the more daunting. To foot the KRW 48 tn bill (USD 41 bn), OH bets on a surge in real estate revenues as well as on undisclosed budget trade-offs. Not sure the equation stands, but Seoul must do something to stop the bleeding as its population shrinks and its businesses struggle.

This 'Seoul Vision 2030' is more about software than about hardware. Typically, it doesn't challenge the urban planning part of 'Seoul Master Plan 2030' laid out in 2015, with its triangle of international hubs (historic center / Yeouido-Yeungdeungpo / Gangnam) and its 7 metropolitan hubs (Yongsan, Sangam-DMC-Susaek, Cheongnyangni-Wangsimni, Jamsil, Magok, Gasan-Daerim, Changdong-Sanggye). Such macro projects are freight trains that can't be rerouted at will. OH can't even stop lighter projects such as the controversial Gwanghwamun Square revamping**; only pause to adjust and adapt in order to limit the negative impacts and to improve urban continuity.

But of course, this being Seoul, a lot of real estate remains on the menu. And hundreds of thousands of new dwellings will be added to the existing oversupply.

The bad news is that redevelopment is unleashed on a large scale, with significant deregulation and the removal of key constraints (F.A.R.), and that a lot of the few remaining Seoul villages could suffer.

"Old #Seoul neighborhoods potentially open for redevelopment jumps from 14 to 50% through #Seoul's new #urbanism guidelines... brace for the worst." (20210527 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/1397728062775513090)

Focusing around certain subway stations may help spare some of them, and result in Hapjeong-izing more neighborhoods (no mentions about new subway projects, but that could come, as usual, closer to next year's elections...):

"#Seoul confirms plan to 'revitalize' #subway station areas (250m radius around stations), starting with 13 pilot projects. Higher rise allowed, mixed uses residential / commercial / offices / services. Will #Hapjeong-style clusters multiply? I'd prefer more stations. #urbanism" (20210705 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/1411963191089721346)
On the upside (literally), new neighborhood parks are planned in proto-urban limbos around Seoul mountains. If done properly (that's a big if), it could paradoxically protect the mountains themselves by creating sanitized but green buffer leisure spaces in stead of unlimited, littered gateways that push unruly crowds deeper into the wild. Most visitors would enjoy a pleasant moment without needing to reach any further, leaving more space to wildlife and respectful mountain lovers.
"#Seoul creates new neighborhood parks in decrepit mountainous areas where development projects have failed for 20 years, starting this year in #Cheonwangsan (#Cheongwandong and #Hangdong, #Gurogu) and #Choasan (#Changdong, #Dobonggu and later #Wolgyedong, #Nowongu). #urbanism"
(@theSeoulVillage 20210910 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/1436132137258795017)

Seoul targets a 40% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050, but to achieve that, will it continue to outsource part of the dirty job to Gyeonggi-do (see "Seoul Power Play: One Less Nuclear Plant, One More Coal Plant")?

Obsessed with Seoul's business competitiveness, OH Se-hoon wants to seize a momentum and snatch as much of the Hong Kong exodus away from Singapore as possible, and to attract FDIs getting cautious about Korea's neighbors Japan (who wants to be the next Carlos GHOSN?) and China (hard-soft power supremacy challenged worldwide, investors wary of XI Jinping's authoritarian moves). Foreign media were already flocking in before South Korea's government pushed its own laws stiffling press freedom.  In that context, the creation of an agency modeled after Singapore's EDB makes perfect sense. How it articulates with existing entities (SBA etc) remains to be seen.

How Yeouido can turn into an international finance magnet without structural reforms at the national level also puzzles me.

Like during his first mandate, OH wants to boost international tourism, this time up to 20M visitors a year. He insists on culture which is of course essential, but that will take more than a 'Seoul Festa' and kpop events.

I'm more interested in how Seoul intends to nurture and boost the local startup ecosystem, deep and wide. Hosting 40 unicorns by 2030? that's mostly for the show. Building new clusters? as if there weren't enough already... I prefer the concept of mentoring programs for seniors: recent trends already show more 50-year+ executives joining previously almost exclusively young crews, but there's a need for a much broader-reaching, more inclusive approach. 

The 5 pillars of 'Seoul Vision 2030' are "fairness, coexistence, safety***, future sensitivity, global leadership", and 'future sensitivity' is a nice way of saying the whole population should be involved, innovation requires pedagogy and respect for everyone.

"Fairness", and "coexistence" are the most beautiful and difficult challenges. Seoul aims at equal opportunity, fostering women activity and youth employment, seniors access to lifelong learning programs, Seoul Learn online education platform for underprivileged students... Basic income will even be tested. Ending the gender war among younger generations should be added as a core Seoul Development Goal.

By the way, on Thursday, the 3rd SBAU (Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism) kicked off. An anticlimatic event in a most complex climate, but always the opportunity to connect a few new dots and to confront different visions of different cities:


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* The launch of a Seoul Vision 2030 Committee was the 5th pledged made by the new Seoul Mayor:

"
The 5 pledges of #Seoul mayor #OhSehoon (NB: good luck with that):" (@theSeoulVillage 20210428 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/1387308187209015300)


** see among others "Gwanghwamun Square 3.0 re-Deep-Surfaces"

*** mostly in a pandemic context.

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