Greater Seoul’s population concentration calls into question government’s balanced development policies

Posted on : 2020-01-07 18:39 KST Modified on : 2020-01-07 18:39 KST
Experts point to lack of effort from Moon admin. to address disproportional population issue
Busan is seen as the most successful example of the government’s “innovation city” policies. (provided by the city of Busan)
Busan is seen as the most successful example of the government’s “innovation city” policies. (provided by the city of Busan)

The population of the greater Seoul area, or the Seoul Capital Area (SCA), accounting for over half the population of South Korea is being attributed to factors including the suspension of “balanced national development” policies since the Roh Moo-hyun administration and a recent trend of slow growth. Observers are calling for the immediate implementation of plans currently under consideration for a second round of public institution relocations outside the SCA, as well as measures to promote the growth of provincial metropolitan areas to alleviate the concentration of population in the capital region.

Experts interviewed by the Hankyoreh on Jan. 6 agreed that the SCA’s population passing the 50% mark represented a failure in government policy.

“The signals under the Moon Jae-in administration have not been good,” said Lee Min-won, a Gwangju University professor and former chairperson of the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development.

“Real estate prices in Seoul have soared, and a third group of ‘innovation cities’ have been announced for the SCA along with metropolitan transportation measures to resolve this -- which amounts to the government basically telling South Koreans to come and live in greater Seoul,” he explained.

Lee Du-yeong, director of the North Chungcheong Province Economic and Social Research Institute, shared a similar assessment.

“Unlike Roh Moo-hyun, President Moon has not done anything in terms of balanced development among regions. He hasn’t treated it as an important governance task, nor has he attended virtually any related meetings or events,” Lee noted.

“Looking at the administration’s policies, we see a lot of things about ‘shared growth’ and ‘inclusiveness,’ but almost nothing about ‘balanced development’ or ‘decentralization,’” he added. “It appears as though they’ve basically given up on balanced development policies.”

Slow growth was also named as a factor behind the concentration of population in the capital region. Ma Kang-rae, a professor of urban planning and real estate studies at Chung-Ang University, noted, “In times of slow growth, there’s an increased tendency for people to favor safety.”

“People are going to prefer Seoul as a place that appears more beneficial in every respect, from real estate investment to university admission and employment,” he explained. “And because the slow growth trend is very likely to continue, the concern is that the [population] concentration in Seoul is only going to intensify.”

As the most pressing task to alleviate the overconcentration, experts pointed to a second round of relocations of public institutions remaining in the greater Seoul area.

“The situation today would not have arisen had the Moon administration pursued relocations of public institutions early on,” Lee Min-won said.

“Rather than using the elections as an excuse, they should be announcing measures right away for a second round of public institution relocations,” he advised.

At least 122 public institutions should be relocated outside SCA

According to the current Special Act on Balanced National Development, anywhere from 122 to 500 public institutions should be relocated outside the SCA, depending on the standards applied. Ju Hyeon-jong, deputy chief of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) innovation city development team, said, “The institutions subject to relocation are estimated to be in the range of 350.”

At the same time, he stressed, “The second round of relocations needs to have a societal consensus behind it, which makes it difficult for the executive to take the first step.”

“The ruling party will need to establish guidelines,” he advised.

Park Byeong-seug, a Democratic Party lawmaker and chairperson of a special committee pursuing the relocation of the National Assembly building to Sejong, said, “Since our party views balanced development as such an important task, it is very likely going to adopt the relocation of public institutions as a general election pledge.”

Importance of provincial city centers for 2nd wave of relocation

A number of plans involving the use of old provincial city centers in connection with the second round of relocations are also under discussion.

“To oppose the overconcentration in the Seoul area and resurrect the provinces, we are going to need to promote the growth of metropolitan areas like Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, and Gwangju,” said Ma.

“We should be actively considering the relocation of the second group of public institutions to the old centers of major provincial cities,” he suggested.

Universities, businesses, and jobs are also important areas for examination.

“We should consider dividing Seoul National University into its individual colleges and distributing them to different regions, as well as instituting an integration network for national and public universities,” said one member of the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development.

“We need to give serious consideration to the fact that young people represent the largest segment of people moving from the provinces to the Seoul area.”

By Kim Kyu-won, staff reporter

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