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Citizen Participation: The Soul of Seoul

  Published: 12 July 2018
  Theme: Planning

Seoul, the winner of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2018, shows how citizens as leaders of their own city can transform everyday spaces and major streets.

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Citizens taking part in an open debate as part of Seoul's policy making process. (Photo: Seoul Metropolitan Government)

For decades, South Korea has enjoyed stellar economic prosperity, resulting in an urban development fixation on quantitative expansion. In the 1970s, the city demolished a lot of its urban heritage to accommodate freeways, parking lots and high rises, while in the 1980s, the city deregulated building-to-land ratios, floor ratios and usage restrictions in the lead up to the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. But with the new millennium came a shift in the urban development focus, with greater emphasis on sustainable development and the preservation of Seoul’s built heritage, and more recently the transformation has been led by city residents themselves. Here are some highlights:

The 2030 Seoul Plan

A collaboration between citizens’ groups, city council members, experts, city government officials and other stakeholders, this 2013 draft paved the course for the city’s future, categorised by key issues, and containing spatial structure and land use plans, regional plans and action plans. The process saw the formation of the Seoul Plan Citizens’ Group, 100 citizens who were tasked with identifying the vision and key tasks for the city. The plan was also reviewed at public hearings and regional presentation sessions.

Open government 2.0

The M-Voting smartphone app invites citizens to vote almost daily on municipal issues, which in turn provide the city with data to improve services. The Open Information Communication Plaza website shares city documents with the public, while the Seoul Open Data Plaza maintains an open data platform where virtually all quantitative datasets, except for confidential or personal data, is shared freely to educate the public of municipal affairs and invite people to develop their own apps to help address issues.

Seoul innovation bureau

The first of its kind in Asia, this multi-departmental innovation unit's purpose is to seek insight and ideas from the public, many of which are adopted into policy. A massive civic-engagement undertaking with two goals: to draw citizens into the decision-making process, including budget decisions, and to transform government organisational culture. Among other initiatives, the bureau operates an online portal and hosts interactive workshops between residents and government to seek feedback on important issues.

Urban regeneration

In 2017, there were 131 active urban development projects underway in Seoul, driven by a citizen-led process that focuses on urban regeneration, or development without demolition, as opposed to redevelopment. Some of the finest examples to come out of this approach are the Sewoon Shopping Centre, the transformation of seven 1970s commercial mega-blocks into a vibrant Makercity, and the Mapo Oil Tank Cultural Park, an eco-friendly cultural centre crafted from the remains of a circa 1978 emergency fuel storage facility.

Sharing city Seoul

Since 2012, a new culture is emerging based on the sharing of resources and services. It started with the city government itself sharing facilities such as unused parking lots, empty rooms and idle public spaces with citizens in a bid to help residents, startups and established companies build and capitalise on shared resources. This has spurred a sharing sensibility among citizens, who are encouraged to develop apps to further share services and resources that will help the city and its communities.

 

By Jennifer Eveland

This article was first published in Skyline issue 9.

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