Seoul is a U-City.How about KL?

Jeff Ooi in his Screenshots has a nice story about Seoul and its young Mayor.We can forget about such success story for our cities as long as we continue to vote in the Umno-led BN government which would do its best to prevent the restoration of local government elections.

Seoul 2010… U-City

I was cursing myself why we had to keep on making retirees-to-be run our major cities as mayors, the datuk bandar. The feeling just got more intense as our appointment with the Seoul mayor approached by the seconds.

We all knew that Seoul just had a new, young mayor last July. But when he walked into the conference room, there were still audible sighs of awe, followed by enthralled silence.

Mayor Oh Se-hoon… LensaPress photo by Jeff OoiOh Se-hoon is young and looks young. He was born in 1961. But Korea believes he is fit to run the capital city, Seoul, which is the sixth largest in the world, with a population close to 11 million.

Being a city with a 600-year history, Seoul has all the trappings of a century-old city that has developed into a congested cosmopolitan — high population density within a small land area, huge demand for housing and amenities and astronomical cost for urban re-development, perennial traffic jams and escalating cost of living that put its global competitiveness to steep test. New threads are the worsening air pollution from neighbouring countries up north.

New growth engine industries

It’s particularly noted that Oh published a book in 2005, titled: Failure Offers Seeds of Hope. Talking to several senior officials from a Korean conglomerate, university students and our tour manager, I get the feeling that Oh is cut out for a job that seems unenviable to the faint-hearted.

Oh has put on record that, after taking office last year, he has dedicated his attention towards laying the foundation for ‘Creative City Administration” to make Seoul a more competitive city.

Tourism is given highlight in his revenue structure. With current tourist arrival hovering at 6 million, he has the ambition of doubling it to 12 million by 2010. His selling point is the ‘Clean and Attractive Global City’ that aims to project Seoul as a capital for tourism, fashion and design, finance and distribution, digital content, R&D and convention. These are what he has identified as the new growth engine industries for Seoul.

Skyscrapping 63 Convention Center, Gangnam District, Seoul… LensaPress photo by Jeff Ooi

Oh also outlined his intended efforts for environment and the ecosystem by adopting a working strategy for the development of clean and renewable energy. These are encased in projects slated for Cheonggye-cheon Restoration initiated by his predecessor, and the 253-billion won Han River Renaissance Project, which Oh announced last fall.

These projects are seen as strategies that will rejuvenate Seoul which is said to suffer from a dearth of tourist sites and activities.

Interestingly, when we met him last week, this grand plan of a ‘Clean and Attractive Global City’ was presented as Seoul, the U-City. U for ubiquitous.

550-UCity_0035.jpgRecently, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced a plan to build a large theme park near the Han River to make it a tourist attraction. The theme park would include an indoor ski dome and rafting facility on the Nanji Stream.

However, the plan drew flaks in the media which feared the proposed location may pose environmental impact on the World Cup Park and the nearby Han River, besides the potential traffic snarls.

There are 23 bridges spanning across the Han River to connect Older Seoul in the north
and new Gangnam area in the south (left-hand side area)… LensaPress photo by Jeff OoiThe Korea Herald, an English newspaper founded in 1953, suggested that “if a theme park is seen as a way to attract foreign tourists, there are already a number of theme parks in and around Seoul. Perhaps one of them can be revamped and updated”.

“The city is announcing one plan after another for boosting tourism in the city, apparently blinded by a target of 12 million foreign visitors,” the Herald said in an editorial. “In order to prevent costly mistakes, the city administration must fully consider the effects of such plans on the environment and the quality of life for residents.”

The controversy comes as little surprise if the experience of Oh’s predecessor in the Cheonggye Stream restoration project is taken as a lesson well learned.

This is how present day Cheonggye Square and its surrounding look like.


LensaPress photo by Jeff Ooi

Outsiders rarely know that much of the 5.8km Cheong Gye Cheon (cheon is Korean for stream or creek) was formerly concealed under concrete roads, and the water was polluted. In 1968, an elevated highway was built over it.

In July 2003, Oh’s predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who was the Seoul mayor from July 2002 to June 2006, initiated a project to remove the highway, and to uncover and restore the stream. Lee maintained that years of neglect and development had left the stream nearly totally dry and 120,000 tons of water had to be pumped in daily.

It became an instant controversy. Trades who occupied the place refused to relocate and a series of protests were launched. Environmental activists joined in to criticise the project for its high costs. They even termed it a purely symbolic project that would not really benefit the city’s eco-environment.

However, when Cheonggyecheon restoration work was finally completed and opened to the public in September 2005, it waslauded as a major success in urban renewal and beautification. The success also helped Lee consolidate his image as a serious contender for the 2008 presidency race.

That, to me, is a case of solving an old problem with new ideas. Looking at Oh’s U-City outline, he is apparently following the footsteps of the previous mayor while building his own legacy.

And he only three more years to realise his plans, as 2010 will determine whether he will succeed.

Meanwhile, South Korea has already been talking about relocating its capital city to the central Chungcheong region.

NOTE: A group of 50 business and IT journalists comprising 11 countries from Africa, Middle East, the Indian Sub-continent and South-east Asia were hosted to a media trip to Seoul by LG Electronics Inc. I understand that I was the only blogger invited to the media tour which incorporated a visit to the Seoul Metropolitan Government and LG plants and facilities.

Photo courtesy

More photographs chronicling glimpses of Seoul are available at

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