Atlantic Cities

Seoul Ends Failed 'New Towns' Project

Seoul Ends Failed 'New Towns' Project
Reuters

After 10 years, a Korean program that actively tore down older, low-density neighborhoods and replaced them with high-density “new towns” is coming to an end. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon announced the end of the program, which was intended to help provide housing for the rapidly growing South Korean capital, last week.

The "new towns" were initially heralded as a success but quickly fell victim to the global economic downturn. Thousands of Seoul residents have been caught in the crash.

“The city, lawmakers, the government and construction companies should apologize for having misled public opinion on new towns,” Park said.

The scheme was first introduced in 2002 by former Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak, a homebuilder before becoming mayor and now the country’s president. The project built on a previous new town effort begun in the late 1980s to alleviate crowding in the city by building five new towns about 20 kilometers outside the city. Lee’s effort was intended to create better living conditions for low-income residents, starting with three pilot projects in slum areas. With financial success, these projects inspired dozens of developers to take on similar redevelopment efforts throughout the city.

The new towns seemed like a good idea during the real estate boom, with locals in “old towns” clamoring for the redevelopment projects that would grandly increase their property values. But now, most residents in areas that had been slated for redevelopment as new towns would prefer to stick with the old as the financial benefits of redevelopment have disappeared.

Indeed, 85 percent of the proposed new town developments haven’t broken ground.

Property values, though, are not the only reason the citizens of Seoul have turned against new towns. Many of the new towns have been built so far out into the periphery that it takes hours to commute to the city, where jobs are. And many residents have been priced out of the marketplace, taking buyouts for their demolished homes that don’t come close to paying for new ones in the city.

There are more than 1,300 sites at various stages of redevelopment in Seoul, 370 of which are located within 35 "new towns," according to East Asia Daily. The city now plans to review all redevelopment plans in the city, especially those new town projects that have yet to break ground, to determine whether residents want them to move forward. Projects will be cancelled if more than 30 percent of landowners are opposed.

And as this report notes, many residents don’t want these projects to happen.

Gyeonggi Province, which has designated 23 districts since 2007, has been reeling in the face of developments such as the cancellation of district designations beginning last year, the fourth of the project. In September 2010, the designation lapsed for the Manan district in Ansan due to divisions among residents for and against the project, without any announcement having yet been made for the decision. This came in the wake of a similar situation with Geumjeong in Gunpo. Pyeongtaek is pursuing the cancellation of the Anjeong district, which is opposed by 80 percent of residents, while Osan is pushing to cancel all but three of its 19 zones through a referendum.

An estimated 48,000 Seoul homes were demolished in 2010 for redevelopment efforts, and only 22,000 new units have been rebuilt.

But now the government is hoping to prevent any more of these projects from turning into disasters. As community members align with each other to oppose these projects, the government had pledged to listen. But for those who’ve already lost their homes and have no replacement, the problems of Seoul’s new towns will remain for a long time.

Photo credit: Jo Yong hak / Reuters

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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