Friday, June 6, 2014

Seoul : The Mainstay of South Korean Economy


Seoul has served as the central city for the country since its selection as a capital by the Chosun Dynasty in 1394. The first human settlement though is suggested to date back in the Neolithic period and the city was also regarded as one of the important nodes during ‘The Three Kingdom Period’, but the city saw major transformational changes in the late 19th century. The built up area extended beyond the city walls during the Japanese occupation period, but by the time the urbanization process wasn’t started in modern sense when compared with that of present times.

With the economic development of 1960’s, city faced expansion, in all the directions, in all the spheres, may it be population, area, usage of technology, infrastructural  developments – both horizontally and vertically and also its economic strength. Just prior to the first five-year economic development plan Seoul was around half the size of the present city area with approximately 23.7% of the current population. The present population of Seoul Special City (official name of Seoul) is around 10.44 million with the sum of the population living in the Seoul and its urban agglomerations (Seoul Capital Area) is around 25.6 million making it second largest urban area of the world. The population is expected to raise up to 31 million by 2030.

The density of Seoul Capital Area is around 44,000 persons / sq. mile - around eight times than the density of New York & Sydney & five times than the density of Rome. It is slightly more than that of New Delhi and less than one-third of Dhaka – the most densely populated city of the world.

The country's GDP was less than that of Mozambique in 1965 and the overall developmental story can be said to be an economic success which in current times has exceeded countries like Spain and New Zealand.

Congestion rate and high-density with sprawling development are significant contributors to Seoul’s environmental problems. As the demand for land increased, green areas around cities were decreased by 1480 sq. km. in the 90’s and the first decade of the 21st century providing way for business buildings and apartment complexes. Green areas used for infrastructural developments were agricultural lands and mountainous lands. The greenbelt area has been reduced to around 12.07 % of the total area of Seoul Capital Region by 2010 which may impact the health and well-being of the urban dwellers in the years to come. The decrease in the green area will affect the hydrological links decreasing the water quality and ground water level. Moreover, the biodiversity is also directly affected which will have its impact on the overall efficiency of the urban ecosystem. Government has been trying ways to guide the development towards the sustainable path. One thing should be wisely understood that technology and advancements though has provided solutions to several issues, but if they have been implemented without understanding their wider impacts and effects, they have failed with time and have generally proved to be the short-term measures. The long-term success of the urban settlements lies in maintaining the efficiency of its ecosystem.

The demolition of 15 expressways built in 60’s and 70’s by 2002 just after a period of around 30-40 years is a result of lack of the long-term vision which the developing world should learn and try and innovate rather than building expressways and flyovers. A city’s planning can’t be done for such small time spans and planners and persons involved in city’s development process should look within disciplines in order to maintain the city’s efficiency in terms of its natural areas, social relations, economic activities, human living values, which together forms a system which are inter-related and inter-dependent on each other for their individual success.

The announcement of the shifting of the capital to Gongju - around 120 km south of Seoul in 2004 was one such step with a vision to release the pressure from the already overcrowded city of Seoul. The project is expected to complete by 2030 – though there has been several controversies by the political parties and the civic groups ever since its announcement. The cost involved in the infrastructural development of Seoul Capital Area could be utilized by keeping the urban area as the centre for the commercial activities of the country while making the administrative and knowledge centre shifted to the proposed new capital area of Gongju. This may also prove helpful in maintaining the efficiency of the new capital site of Gongju in the decades to come after its initiation.


Seoul Capital Region serves as the mainstay for the South Korean economy serving around half of the country’s entire population and hence the significance of planning as a tool to raise the quality of the living environment not just by means of building infrastructure but also other aspects such as quality of life of the inhabitants, not just by providing them with an easy mobility and access but by factors such as availability of the green spaces, building of a healthy society and also calculating the risks of various natural disasters which are quite essential for an efficient human developmental process. The last factor related with the risk factor is important because the country’s economic base lies in the Seoul Capital Region and any natural failure may have devastating effects on the entire nation’s growth process as the major economic activities are based concentrated in just one urban region.

Image from loc-group

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