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Mayor's Hope Journal

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  • An Open Letter to Seoul’s Citizens

  • SMG 1653

    Greetings fellow citizens! This is your mayor, Park Won Soon.

    Upon hearing the suggestion that I should hold a press conference on the 100th day of my term as Seoul’s mayor, I said, “No.” Now I feel there is something missing here. So, I am sitting at a computer to write a letter to you. I miss you. I remember meeting so many of you in person.

    I started my job thinking that the city government of Seoul is not a place for big slogans but rather a friend who gives you a helping hand when you need it. I don’t know whether I am being a proper friend to you or not.

    Last week was the most difficult time for me as your mayor. Though it was not initiated by this government, I had to announce an increase in public transportation fares, which of course directly affects your daily lives. I felt that it was not something I could ask one of my staff to do, so I came forward and made the announcement myself. I don’t want to blame anyone. I am sorry. I felt terrible that I was not being a mayor who offers comfort and encouragement. As is the case for central government ministers, I found out that a mayor, too, must assume full responsibility for everything that happens on his watch.

    I was sworn in the day after the election. Now, I’ve been in this position for a little over 100 days. Frankly, I feel more like a couple of years have passed instead. I have been so busy. Well, from my experience as your mayor, I can tell you that the issues facing the special city of Seoul are very complicated, numerous interests are entangled, and there is no solution capable of satisfying everybody involved. Sometimes the job is scary, while at other times it’s just very difficult. However, each decision that I make has the power to make you happy and possibly change the world, and with that thought all my headaches are gone. So, on the way to the office in the morning, I’m always happy and excited. As many of my staff might feel uncomfortable knowing that I am in the office, I don’t stay very late, but instead, quite often, I come back to the office late at night to work until morning.

    I encounter many new things and scenes every day. However, sometimes I feel as though I’d been preparing myself for this job for a long time. Working for the welfare of the general public feels like wearing a suit that fits me perfectly. I like this job, all the time. It is true that from time to time there are conflicts with the central government.

    More specifically, the Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Minister of Strategy and Finance recently criticized some of the activities of the Municipal Government of Seoul. Such criticism was unfair, but I did not mind it at all. What I care about is our own judgment of whether we are doing things properly.

    For some reason, I used to think of a dinosaur fossil whenever I heard the words, “the Municipal Government of Seoul.” It simply frightened the citizens. I did not like it. Frankly, the new City Hall intimidates me, too. I often wonder if you can come and go comfortably like your home, which is how the building should be.

    Lives are never improved simply by issuing big slogans, erecting huge buildings and staging mammoth events.

    I would like to be a mayor who helps you, the honest and hard-working people of Seoul, to realize your not-so- big dreams. I cannot dream your dreams on your behalf but I would like to help create an environment in which you can realize your dreams. I would also like to be a person who listens to young people’s dreams.

    I would like to be a ‘pacemaker’ so that all the citizens of Seoul can have dreams and realize them. ‘For the people, with the citizens’ is my main principle, my guiding philosophy, as your mayor. It is right that cities must change themselves to fit their citizens. The position of a citizen is the most important in a city.

    I will do my job as thoroughly as possible. I will change what I can, as fast as lightning, if you will. For instance, you voted to reduce the tuition fees of University of Seoul and expand the free school meal service to all students. There was no reason to hesitate. We have changed them accordingly. The discussion about welfare in Korea would not budge for too long a time. Finally, it began to shift in many parts of our society. I felt proud. You know, there is an expression, ‘the butterfly effect.’ I would call the recent change in the discussion a ‘ballot effect’ or ‘citizen effect.’

    The world changes in this way, I think.

    The theme of the Davos Forum 2012 was “Great Transformation: Shaping New Models.” There were many different ideas about how to fix broken capitalism. Not so openly, but clearly. I, too, have a dream. I have to resolve many pressing issues, but I think at the same time I cannot afford to neglect to prepare for the mega changes we’re facing. I think I have to plan for the big changes ahead, one step at a time.

    If the people have made sacrifices for the city over the past ten years, now, the city has to change itself for the people for the next (ten) years. This is an idea that I have never let go of for long. I will do my best to promote the principles of a new philosophy for the city of Seoul, the development and decline of an urban civilization and the citizens’ participation and cooperation. Thinking of such challenging subjects, my heart beats faster again.

    Those architects trying to build buildings for the sake of people, and not the other way around, will lecture the officials of our city. I will walk around the city, along its ancient walls, and I will look down at the city from a helicopter, too, for a different perspective.

    During my short visit to Japan, I will try to find an answer to the questions of why a modern city rises and falls and what people can do in the process.

    Even if we don’t blare, please understand that the city of Seoul keeps moving forward. Our clock of changes will never stop. We will be preparing big waves for the changes under the surface. We’ll be preparing for the new era to which you aspire.

    The Day of Onset of Spring (‘Ipchun’) has just passed. This means that it is time for farmers to begin to plant seeds. In fact, farmers go out to plough and plant seeds no matter what. These days I think I understand them. I will do what I have to do no matter what.

    Finally, I recently introduced a policy – which in itself is not a big deal – just to ‘scratch a neighbor’s back when he or she gets an itch.’ However, you have chosen it as the best policy implemented by the new municipal government of Seoul during its inaugural 100 days, to the surprise of many people. The policy in question was that of ‘relaxing the parking regulation enforcement in front of mom and pop diners during the lunch break.’ Let me put it this way. I WAS OVERHWELMED. I appreciate your concern for our struggling neighbors. I am not boasting about one of my policies. I am saying, “Thank you” to you for your care. It is all of you who constantly motivate me to work for the community. I hope that the city government you chose will remain your good friend and help you to change your life for the better at all times.

    Thank you.

    Late at night on a weekday in February 2012