The sustainable housing regeneration initiative based on the residents’ economic self-sufficiency
Seoul Metropolitan Government

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
From 1950 to the early 2000s, Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, experienced industrialization and rapid growth, which led to a rapid increase of the population and the expansion of the city. During this time, real estate became a means of quickly amassing wealth and property, giving rise to reckless housing improvement projects, such as redevelopment and reconstruction involving complete demolitions of older areas. The side effects were value placed on property rather than people, loss of local characteristics due to the destruction of communities, and reckless damage to the natural landscape. While profits from the developments were returned to developers and speculative investors, the socially vulnerable and destitute, unable to pay the high prices for new apartments and bear the additional burden of development, were driven out of their homes to the outskirts of the city, where they encountered a lower quality of life and housing. Meanwhile, household debts increased due to real estate speculation, which in turn led to a decrease in consumption and a vicious economic cycle. The rise in property values and rental prices due to the development of whole regions also caused other social problems, such as gentrification. “Gentrification” refers to a situation in which old residential or commercial areas occupied by lower-income families are renovated to suit middle-class families wanting to move in, leading to an increase in rent and the displacement of original residents by others with a higher income. There are positive effects of this phenomenon, such as the vitalization and improvement of local communities. However, some of the negative effects include the forced displacement of original residents due to the influx of people from different regions, which results in the reduction of the diversity and sustainability of communities and weakening of the competitiveness of the city. Therefore, establishing and implementing measures to counter these negative impacts have become a key challenge in the process of carrying out urban regeneration projects.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Breaking from past notions of redevelopment and reconstruction, which involved large-scale demolition and a focus on the physical and external aspects, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has transformed the development paradigm dramatically to focus on social, cultural, and environmental regeneration and sustainable communities based on residents’ economic self-sufficiency. In this way, communities are preserved while the quality of life and housing for low-income and poor families is improved. As a prerequisite to attaining the goal of a sustainable city and communities, the SMG implemented the “integrated regional regeneration project for the creation of self-sufficient economies of residential communities,” which includes education for residents, fostering of urban regeneration activists, establishment of urban regeneration support centers, comprehensive support for communal manufacturing and production, and the provision of community facilities. Moreover, for the public good, the SMG is using a range of initiatives to resolve conflicts among various social groups—such as residents and tenants of residential and commercial buildings—arising from development. The initiatives include the operation of conflict mediation coordinators, an open information system for redevelopment projects, signing of memoranda of agreement to prevent gentrification, signing of MOUs for cooperation among the government, civil organizations, and schools in the housing regeneration process.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
To overcome the negative side effects of the past approach of demolishing older buildings to construct apartment complexes, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) sought an alternative approach beginning in the early 2010s. It established an Urban Regeneration Headquarters that has since been working hard on systematic measures for transforming Seoul into a people-centered city. The government focused on developing an urban regeneration model for comprehensive, sustainable housing that is based on the active participation of residents and their self-sufficiency. The approach maintains existing communities and settlement environments, strengthens communities, and establishes a self-sufficient basis for a local economy for residents. In addition, it involves “preventive measures against forced demolition” to protect the socially vulnerable and poor. Through the establishment of a cooperative system among the government, civil organizations, and schools, as well as MOUs signed by the SMG with universities and civil organizations in the urban regeneration areas, urban regeneration projects could go ahead with reduced gentrification and other side effects of development. With a regeneration initiative that involves citizens, the SMG could combine the unique historical, cultural, and social assets of different regions and enhance the level of communities’ vitality and pursuit of happiness through the “rediscovery of forgotten values.” In sum, this initiative has helped create a foundation for sustainable communities by stabilizing the housing environment for the socially vulnerable, making sure to preserve assets with historical, cultural, and social value, and enhancing communities by improving the environment.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Breaking away from the previous government-led, large-scale top-down development approach that focuses primarily on the improvement of the physical housing environment, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) developed its own comprehensive and sustainable community regeneration initiative. Through a local resident-led bottom-up approach, it protects the socially vulnerable, preserves and utilizes historical and cultural assets, and focuses on the economic, social, cultural, and safety aspects of the neighborhood. In the initial stage of its regeneration initiatives, the SMG encouraged local residents to participate by identifying worthy projects for their communities. Under the principle that the creation of a sustainable community must be founded on the strengthening of residents’ capacities, the SMG provided education and training for residents and selected those who have completed the courses with outstanding grades as “urban regeneration activists” (147 people). It then dispatched the activists to eight support centers to take part in regeneration projects. Since conflict could be intensified with direct government interference in conflict-ridden development areas, the SMG selects experts in negotiation as “conflict mediation coordinators” (113 people) and dispatches them to conflict-ridden areas. They contributed to the resolution of conflicts by helping both sides reach an agreement or propose alternatives.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Seoul Metropolitan Government founded the Urban Regeneration Headquarters on January 1, 2015, to take charge of its urban regeneration initiative. The headquarters became the integrated center for the initiative, which had been previously carried out by different bureaus and departments. The headquarters has successfully carried out urban regeneration initiatives in Seoul, a megacity with a population of 10 million.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
For the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s (SMG’s) urban regeneration initiative, a systematic 10-year plan titled “2025 Urban Regeneration Strategy” was created in the course of a year (from March 2015 to December 2015). In addition, a mid- to short-term plan titled “Urban Regeneration revitalization Plan” was established for 13 areas in Seoul as part of the master plan for the sustainable urban regeneration initiative. In the implementation stage, over 50 civilian experts selected as “conflict mediation coordinators” were first sent to conflict-ridden development areas. They monitored the areas over 500 times throughout the year to provide customized solutions and decisions on progress. Moreover, alternative projects were sought with a focus on preserving regional values, including the communities, cultural assets, and natural landscapes. In addition, urban regeneration support centers were established in eight housing regeneration areas in Seoul (Changsin and Sungin, Haebangchon, Garibong, Sinchon, Seongsu, Jangwi, Sangdo, and Amsa-dong) to facilitate communications among the administration, local residents, and stakeholders. Master planners and activists were dispatched to onsite centers to actively support the implementation of the urban regeneration initiative. The SMG also bought and renovated anchor facilities for the regeneration revitalization areas for use as bases for the local residents’ economic, cultural, and social activities free of charge. The SMG provided support for the residents’ economic self-sufficiency in operating the facilities and laid the foundation for sustainable and self-sufficient communities. Nineteen areas received support for implementing resident-led initiatives involving meetings with about 1,600 residents. There were 140 education and training classes a year given to over 3,000 residents to strengthen the capacity of residents in regeneration areas. Educational and training programs to discover and foster “regeneration activists” produced over 120 regeneration activists a year, who were dispatched as mentors to assist residents in regeneration areas. To establish a sustainable and self-sufficient economic basis, the SMG also provided consulting for the development of products that were representative of regional characteristics. Through these efforts, 53 neighborhood enterprises and cooperative associations in 23 areas received support, such as joint marketing events to promote their products, as a way of laying a foundation for residents’ self-sufficient economy. Moreover, the SMG developed a comprehensive diagnosis and monitoring system for regeneration projects and enhanced their implementation through systematic management, comprehensive evaluation, and feedback. For the successful implementation of the regeneration projects, the SMG’s Urban Regeneration Headquarters invested KRW 195 billion in 2016 in projects and has plans to invest about KRW 231 billion this year as well.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Urban Regeneration Headquarters, which is in charge of Seoul’s urban regeneration initiative, established the 2025 Seoul Urban Regeneration Strategy Plan and the urban regeneration revitalization plans. The former is a long-term master plan for Seoul’s urban regeneration initiative until 2025, consisting of a phase-by-phase roadmap to promote urban regeneration, while the latter are plans for eight areas with deteriorated residential environments, but where complete demolition is not suitable or plausible due to local characteristics. In the planning stage, residents’ proposals were sought and these were then reflected in the plan. In the implementation stage, consultative groups made up of residents of the areas under urban regeneration and a cooperative system consisting of government officials, civilian experts on urban renewal, and universities in the regeneration areas was established to ensure the initiative went smoothly.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
With the transformation of the city’s development paradigm into the community regeneration initiative, it became possible to protect the housing of the socially vulnerable and lay the foundation for sustainable communities. Among the 683 areas across Seoul that were expected to be redeveloped and reconstructed, 328 became regeneration projects focusing on the preservation of local values and landscapes. (These areas include the Changsin and Sungin-dong apparel industry village, the Ihwa and Chungsin-dong Seoul City Wall mural village, and the Haengchon-dong fortress village urban farming project.) Previous redevelopment and reconstruction projects offered little protection for the socially vulnerable and their right to housing, as forced demolition was legally allowed if over 75 percent of residents agreed to it. For the first time in Korea, however, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) adopted strong and “comprehensive preventive measures against forced demolition” to systematically provide a social safety net that protected the housing rights of the socially vulnerable (such as residents of the Muak-dong Okbaraji History and Culture Street). For eight housing regeneration revitalization areas as well as 22 neighborhoods in 9 regions, the SMG provided support for regeneration projects tailored to the characteristics of the areas and to establish neighborhood enterprises for economic self-sufficiency. The SMG also supported a joint exhibition and sales of representative products from 53 enterprises in 24 regeneration areas. Through implementing housing regeneration initiatives tailored to each area, it was possible to lay the foundation for sustainable and economically self-sufficient communities while preserving the historical and cultural assets of all of the areas.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
During Seoul’s rapid growth and modernization, the combination of the widespread notion that real estate was a means to amass wealth and the interests of the profit-seeking property developers gave rise to a redevelopment and reconstruction approach that involve large-scale demolition of residential areas and the construction of apartment complexes. This approach brought protests from the poor and vulnerable, who were without the means to remain in the area as residents, and gave rise to conflicts among residents, the destruction of communities, and other social issues. The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) dispatched civilian “conflict mediation coordinators” to conflict-ridden development areas to facilitate communication and dialogue among the stakeholders and help decide on the direction of projects. The government also supported the promotion of alternative urban regeneration projects to replace development that involved the demolition of entire residential areas. Moreover, residents were encouraged to voluntarily participate in the new regeneration initiatives. The SMG made efforts to change the residents’ awareness of redevelopment through education, training, and fostering of urban regeneration activists. It also provided funding for urban regeneration areas to form residents’ associations. Establishing the foundation for residents’ economic self-sufficiency is a top priority for a sustainable regeneration of cities and communities. To this end, the SMG initiated the basis for sustainable communities by providing comprehensive support for the development, designing, promotion, and sales of specialty products specific to the urban regeneration areas. To prevent gentrification and other side effects resulting from development and to protect small business owners’ leases, the SMG also facilitated the signing of memoranda of agreement between lessors and tenants, thereby deterring lessors from raising rents for a certain period. In this way, the SMG set an example of urban regeneration that encourages mutual growth that benefits both lessors and tenants.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The “sustainable housing regeneration initiative based on the residents’ economic self-sufficiency” has been making significant contributions to enhancing the residential environments of the socially vulnerable and poor through establishing a foundation for self-sufficient communities and preserving historical and cultural assets. Seoul, the capital city of the Republic of Korea, has 18.6 kilometer-long city wall that was built approximately 620 years ago. The longest existing fortress wall in the world surrounding a capital, the Seoul City Wall is a major historical and cultural asset. About 12.8 kilometers of the wall has been restored to date. To preserve housing for the socially vulnerable and poor and to prevent damage from reckless development, the Seoul Metropolitan Government began a “City Wall village regeneration initiative” for 22 neighborhoods in nine regions bordering the Seoul City Wall (total area of 1.67 million m2). The initiative aims to create sustainable, resident-centered communities and neighborhoods where the history and culture of the 600-year-old capital, as well as the life and customs of the residents, are preserved. In this way, the city government is enhancing the housing for residents and preserving the area’s historical and cultural assets. In addition, the government started its “residential area regeneration project for eight urban regeneration revitalization areas,” which focuses on eight areas totaling 3,742 km2. These areas were relatively deteriorated compared with other parts of Seoul and mainly populated by the socially vulnerable and poor: Changsin and Sungin (830 km2), Haebangchon (332 km2), Garibong (333 km2), Sinchon (408 km2), Jangwi (318 km2), Seongsu (886 km2), Sangdo (726 km2), and Amsa (635 km2). The initiative implemented inclusive and comprehensive support for the restoration of communities, their living and work spaces, and the creation of a foundation for self-sufficiency and sustainability.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
In the initial stage of the regeneration initiative, the bottom-up approach was employed with residents of target areas being able to decide on their community’s regeneration through open competition and participation. Also, “regeneration activists” and “conflict mediation coordinators” consisting of civilian experts, were dispatched to urban regeneration revitalization areas and conflict-ridden development areas. In this way, the Seoul Metropolitan Government improved the objectivity and accountability in its public service. Transparency has been at the forefront of all rehabilitation projects (redevelopment, reconstruction, etc.) that have been implemented in Seoul. An online Cleanup System was made available for residents where they could find information on a total of 68 related items, including the progress of the project, project-related costs, costs borne by the residents, management of finances by the developers, project implementation plans, and others. This improved the integrity of the public service projects, as it helped strengthen the supervision and monitoring of project progress, preventing corrupt or illegal accounting and business transactions. To evaluate integrity and accountability in public service, the Seoul Metropolitan Government regularly assesses and grades the level of information disclosure of each project twice a month. The government also monitors the project developers’ information disclosure, issuing correction orders to developers that do not disclose information without a justifiable cause or that disclose insufficient information.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
In the past, protective measures for the socially vulnerable were insufficient, with developers simply offering minimum compensation and the poorest and most vulnerable populations being displaced because of reconstruction projects involving the complete demolition of existing housing. To improve this situation, protective measures for the socially vulnerable were instituted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, such as the “comprehensive preventive measures against forced demolition,” prohibiting forced demolition of buildings without sufficient negotiation and discussion.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Local Government  
Contact Person:   YOUNG-SEI LEE
Title:   Housing Regeneration Division  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-2-2133-7157/82-2-2133-0747
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   110,Sejong-daero,Jung-gu
Postal Code:   04524
City:   Seoul

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