Let’s do it together with the residents

Visit to Yeongdeungpo Flophouse Village

Date: February 3, 2012
Venue: Yeongdeungpo Flophouse Village

Mayor Park: How about here? In a cold room. I saw some repair works being done.

Residents’ representative: Thanks for the cement, roofing materials, and briquettes.

Head of Yeongdeungpo-gu Office: And now we have installed water meters for each household.

Mayor Park: This redevelopment project you have planned will take a long time. If you go ahead with the project, it should be done in a way that revives the neighborhood.

Head of Yeongdeungpo-gu Office: It is regrettable that these vulnerable people in the flophouse village have been forced out by the redevelopment project. I would like to see them continue to live here even after the development is complete.

Director Kim Gyeong-ho: That’s the vision of Mayor Park.

Mayor Park: Instead of completely demolishing all structures and constructing large buildings, I suggest that we carry out more measured development together with the neighborhood residents. Although my staff has installed toilets and power meters, seeing this place myself makes me quite sad. The quality of this housing should be improved. The other day, you told me that you would redevelop the whole area. Regardless of whether that is possible or not, please think about how we can improve the quality of housing here and improve the landscape while preserving the characteristics of this neighborhood.

Pastor: One of the most pressing issues is that we have so many senior citizens living here. We need more places for them to rest and relax.

Mayor Park: In that regard, if pastors or local activists can come up with more precise ideas and plans, the staff in our Housing Division may be able to lend support.

Head of Yeongdeungpo-gu Office: We are proceeding carefully while carrying out more research and reviews.

Reporter Lee Jeong-hyeon: We visited a facility for the homeless yesterday. It is clear that we need to provide more support for them, as they could become homeless again at any time. Do you have any ideas regarding this issue? What about employment for the homeless?

Mayor Park: We need to think about how to create more jobs. Joblessness among the youth and the homeless are similar issues. As the number of day laborer jobs is decreasing due to the lack of large-scale construction projects, we need to pursue alternative means of achieving steady job creation. Jobs may be created in areas such as urban agriculture and air pollution prevention, and these can be linked to the vitalization of retail shops in the neighborhood, or to a village community business. These efforts can create jobs in the community. And we can support good companies with the purchasing power of Seoul Metropolitan City. I asked my staff to conduct a comprehensive review on that.

Housing is a human right

Press conference to address New Town redevelopment issues

Date: January 30, 2012
Venue: Briefing Room, Seosomun Building, Seoul City Hall

Dear Seoul citizens, I have come here today with determination at the most difficult moment I have experienced since I was inaugurated as mayor.

Today, we look back on the 40 years of redevelopment and 10 years of New Town developments that led Seoul to become a hotbed of speculation and construction sites. As such, we need to urgently address the New Town issue. We must also renew our resolve and draw up a blueprint for the new era of residential renewal projects.

With 1,300 New Town redevelopment project sites, Seoul has become a mess. How have we come to this? What is the goal and who are the beneficiaries of the New Town project? What have we lost and gained as a result?

Much like killing the goose that lays golden eggs, many politicians made commitments to carry out New Town projects in order to win votes. Landlords, speculators, and even individuals encouraged them. Pursuing the dream of making a quick fortune, the whole nation—and Seoul in particular—was swept up in a powerful craze of speculation. The central and local governments, which are responsible for mitigating such situations, failed to fulfill their roles. Therefore, politicians, administrators, and speculators alike should reflect on this.

In retrospect, during the past four decades, these large housing projects required painful sacrifices to be made for the sake of “development” and “growth”. Especially, the projects demanded sacrifices on the part of the underprivileged members of our society, forcing poor landlords and tenants to give up their rights to housing and their livelihoods. Only the large land owners and successful investors and supporters benefitted. Though the residents’ homes may have been old and uncomfortable, they had lived there from generation to generation, together with their neighbors. But they were forced out of their homes regardless. The New Town redevelopment projects initiated by huge capital and powerful landlords forced poor landlords and tenants to move to even lower quality residential areas than before. Furthermore, the irregularities in the process of obtaining consent in each phase of the projects, conclusion of written resolutions, and holding of general meetings were already deeply established, chronic, and thus incurable. By using so-called OS (outsourced) personnel, those involved tried to bribe union members who had limited access to information and lacked proper judgment. They hired agents to forcibly remove poor residents who had no other options and demolish their homes, and they applied great pressure at the general meetings on the pretext of maintaining law and order, thereby blocking the free expression of opinions. And these are only a few of the numerous problems.

What have we gained and lost through this New Town redevelopment project? Residents were removed from their homes by speculators and investors, causing them to become “urban refugees”. Neighborhood communities were dismantled, and small businesses completely disappeared. And with the removal of low-cost housing units for less privileged citizens, the cost of renting homes near their old neighborhoods has soared. In the end, in return for the disgrace of becoming a “Republic of Apartment Complexes,” we have let so many of our values be destroyed. We believed we were achieving growth, but it was only greed.

Since I became mayor, I have spent three months visiting every corner of these redeveloped neighborhoods, hearing so many heartbreaking stories wherever I went. In the redeveloped areas of Imun-dong, Mullae-dong in Yeongdeungpo-gu, and the flophouse in Dapsimni, people—including grandparents and grandchildren—were living in spaces so narrow that they couldn’t lie down comfortably. I saw so many citizens that our society should have embraced; however, now they are going to be evicted from their homes due to the New Town redevelopment projects. They have nowhere to go. If I could, I would put everything back the way it was before the redevelopment projects were launched.

My fellow citizens, I know that you have endured considerable pain. And as I am responsible for this city’s administration, I extend my deepest apologies for the pain and sorrow you have endured as a result of the New Town redevelopment project.

I have thought deeply about this issue and continued to research the factors involved, and I found that we face considerable legal obstacles.

I met many people from various walks of life, and talked with them and asked for their advice. I have searched for every possible solution within our reach. However, there is no option that can satisfy everyone. Here, again, I am sorry for my inability to find a solution.

But this is not the end; it is only the beginning. Until we remove all of the pain caused by the New Town projects, I will employ all available means and resources to find solutions.

For me, the past three months felt like three years. Through extensive communication and numerous discussions with countless people, I have developed a greater understanding of the situation, sought solutions to the issue, prepared a framework, and convinced the National Assembly and the government to accept the system. I have also listened to the heads of the gu offices outline the pros and cons of the situation and the solutions. Finally, at the end of last year, I established a legal framework—a small but meaningful step.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has prepared this framework and determined the direction we must take to solve the New Town redevelopment issue. First of all, while investigating the status of the situation, we will work to mediate any conflicts and share responsibility with the heads of gu offices, which are familiar with the local circumstances. The decision as to whether the New Town project should continue or be scrapped will be made only after we have sufficiently reflected on the residents’ opinions.

So far, the New Town redevelopment projects have been implemented without accurate information, such as details on the extent of individual contributions required by the project. Therefore, we will first have a survey agency conduct an objective on-site investigation of 610 neighborhoods, including those still in the planning phase and those where redevelopment unions have already been organized. We will also investigate all 866 redevelopment projects that are currently underway in order to identify and resolve any existing or potential conflicts. The investigation will be led by the mayor of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the heads of the gu offices. Depending on whether a project owner exists and on the extent of responsibility and authority, different roles will be assigned. The investigation process will be objective and transparent, and opinions will be collected in a fair and open way. After the results of the investigation have been fully disclosed, and if a majority of the residents still desire it, the project will continue.

We will ensure that redevelopment is carried out with proper administrative support and improved systems, and we will reinforce public project management and reform the system so as to protect poor landlords and tenants. In areas that choose to continue with the projects, the tenants’ right to housing must be guaranteed. Particularly underprivileged tenants who lacked sufficient legal protection and were unable to benefit from the government’s protection measures will be supplied with public rental housing. And the cost of rent will be similar to that of permanent rental apartment housing. To help tenants return to their own neighborhoods, they will be provided temporary housing in a nearby redevelopment area, and when the redevelopment of their neighborhood is completed, they will be allowed to move into rental housing in the same area they had lived before. In addition, during winter and in poor weather conditions, residents will not be made to move out of their homes and demolition work will not be carried out. Furthermore, the opinions and ideas of poor landlords and tenants, who have so far been excluded from the discussions and negotiations regarding New Town redevelopment projects, will be actively incorporated into the project planning process. If the majority of residents disapprove, the projects will be scrapped, and if residents wish, their districts will carry out a community building project as an alternative. The Seoul Metropolitan Government will assist with the installation of infrastructure, such as public facilities, provide loans, and lend administrative support for housing repair, village making, and small-scale maintenance work.

Also, we will effectively manage all conflicts throughout the entire process. Conflicts revealed through on-site investigations and problems discovered while collecting residents’ opinions or during the decision-making process regarding the scrapping of the New Town project will be addressed and resolved by a soon-to-be-established housing rehabilitation support center. Moreover, the conflict mediation committee has already begun its operations.

However, at this moment, it is regrettable that we still face considerable limitations. In particular, we do not have any provision that provides for the cost of dissolving unions. This is expected to cause new conflict, but we do not have any alternative. The politicians and the central government, who should be taking more responsibility for these matters, are saying that all expenses should be borne by local governments. The most urgent measure for tenants and commercial areas is still far from complete.

I, as head of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, strongly urge politicians and the government to share this responsibility with us. You must share your financial resources with local governments and jointly develop various alternative models. In particular, the government and National Assembly should become actively involved and finalize the incomplete content in the relevant laws revised late last year.

In addition, the opinions of tenants should be reflected in the redevelopment area designation phase, and project plans should be established. To ensure that the livelihood of retail shop tenants is not threatened, reasonable compensation packages need to be prepared. In the event a project owner goes bankrupt, part of the expenses incurred should be borne by the central government, instead of just passing the buck to a local government. I submit this request to the government and the president. Any further issues not yet dealt with will be addressed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and revised legislation will be prepared and submitted to the National Assembly by May, when the new session is scheduled to convene.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government reaffirms that “Housing is a Human Right!” As such, the previous New Town redevelopment projects, which focused solely on producing returns for investors, will be transformed into projects that focus on “housing and the people”.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government will no longer have any policy that promotes the supply of housing through complete demolition and redevelopment practices. New policy will be drawn up and implemented—policy that aims to manage housing in order to protect residents and restore neighborhood communities and places top priority on the people. The Seoul Metropolitan Government, central government, local districts, construction companies, developers, and unions, which are all responsible for the current situation, should apologize and reflect on their actions. Furthermore, they are expected to make concerted efforts to resolve the problems they have caused.

I would like to repeat that as long as I am mayor, the past development practices based on complete demolition will be totally eliminated. Instead, urban renewal will be pursued as a means of building sustainable residential communities where the rich and poor and the past and present exist in harmony.

As long as I lead Seoul, I will not let any resident burst into tears due to a surprise demolition on a winter night. While I serve you as mayor, there will be no more designations of New Town redevelopment areas. Thank you. 

We will be a shoulder for citizens to lean on

2012 New Year’s Address

Date: January 2, 2012
Venue: Sejong Center for the Performing Arts

‘We will be a shoulder for citizens to lean on.’
Building a city together through citizen-centered city administration
Seoul that we make together, and enjoy together

Beloved citizens of Seoul
and members of the Seoul Metropolitan Government family,

Happy New Year! The Year of the Dragon has dawned, and with the energy and vigor of a black dragon flying up into the sky, I wish you all the best of health, and hope that all your wishes come true this year.

Last year was a very tough time for our country. It was as if we were flung back into the development era. Under single-minded policies that pursued only growth, the world was led by the winners, and the deepening social polarization wreaked havoc on our lives.

And yet, the wheels of history continued to turn. “The world of winners must come to a stop! That kind of world makes everyone losers, so let’s join hands and create a world where we can all live together!” This was the resounding aspiration of the citizens that surfaced during the by-elections, and is a sentiment that represents the spirit of our age as well as my calling. It has been two months since I took office, and now I find myself in a new year. Two months is too short a time to change the course of the huge ship of the Seoul Metropolitan Government toward the spirit of our time. This task is all the more formidable considering that the city had followed a course that focused on decoration and showing-off for nearly ten years.

But with the commitment and hard work of the Seoul Metropolitan Government family and the cooperation of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, I believe we have finished righting the course of our ship. First, we removed the huge obstacle that had hindered the provision of free, green school lunches, and by halving the tuition for students at the University of Seoul, we have opened the floodgates of education innovation. Also, I opened my door and set out to meet people out on the streets, thereby expanding the platform of communication with our citizens. Furthermore, by fully reviewing the 2012 budget, we have excluded wasteful activities and construction projects; instead, we have increased the budget for public welfare and safety. The organization of the Seoul Metropolitan Government has also been reorganized to focus on welfare, safety, and job creation. By carrying out a large-scale reshuffling of our staff, we have reenergized the working atmosphere at the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the gu offices. We have also normalized our relations with the Seoul Metropolitan Council, the other mast of the ship, which was in a state of devastation.

Dear citizens and members of the Seoul Metropolitan Government,

Based on these preparations, this New Year will be the first year we realize “people-centered city administration” and create a “city that we build together and share the benefits.”

Looking at the current political and economic situation and various indexes, the economic outlook for the citizens of Seoul and the Seoul Metropolitan Government in the New Year are far from rosy; rather, their lives will likely be full of hardship. There are no signs of an economic recovery on which we could rebuild our lives, and the conflict and divisions caused by the polarization in our society cannot be resolved easily. These hardships affect us all, but their influence on the socially vulnerable is considerably amplified.

The extravagant banner of the former administration, “Design Seoul,” hid the extent of the pain and hardship the citizens were actually experiencing. Realizing this, I went on a full two-day tour before Christmas Day, and saw some of these people with my own two eyes. I met children who went to school, but were living in a motel room with their mother. I met citizens who were on the brink of becoming homeless, living in a room less than 3.3 square meters in size at an accommodation for those preparing for big tests, called gosiwon. Gosiwon is an unstable form of housing, but there are approximately 600,000 people in Seoul living in such places. I also saw an elderly woman who was physically ill and barely making a living by collecting waste paper. She was enduring the harsh cold of winter on a small electric mat with her grandson. When the New Town redevelopment project begins, she will lose her room, but that will not be the only thing she loses. She will lose her neighbors, who collect waste paper and cans for her when she is too weak to do it on her own, and who leave a carton of milk for her and her grandson to drink. These people are her lifeline. When the time comes, where will she go? Where can the children living in the motel room find hope? For whose benefit exactly is are the New Town redevelopment projects being pursued?

Dear citizens and family of the Seoul Metropolitan Government,

The reason for the existence of the Korean government and the Seoul Metropolitan Government is to concern ourselves with the lives of these small, but valuable people, and to help and protect them. However, these two governments have been blinded by growth, or rather, they were so dazzled by words such as “design,” “renaissance,” and “development,” that they forgot the importance of the lives of ordinary people and the value of everyday life. Amid such confusion, Seoul has become a city that drives people out, people whose lives are small, but precious. This kind of city terrifies me, and that fear is contagious. Not only is Seoul hurting the people who are unable to repay their debts, it is also destabilizing the middle class. If we understand their suffering and difficulties, and if we are afraid also, we must take action to correct the situation. We must find hope. No, we must create hope. This is our duty, as people living under the same sky, and the duty of the Korean government and the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

But while the two governments were distracted, seduced by a mirage, it was the citizens of Seoul that helped the people in need. An elderly woman who, despite being eighty years old, delivered meals to the less fortunate every single day; the Chairwoman of Sharing, who is also a single-mother, looked after her more unfortunate neighbors and assisted other people to help them as well; the owner of a local restaurant fed the children of impoverished families who would otherwise go hungry, because there were no free meals at school. People such as these were the true heroes that stood by Seoul and its citizens when the two governments had strayed from what should have been their main concern. In these people, I saw the seeds of hope. It was here that I discovered the ideas of “people-centered city administration” and the “city that we build together and share the benefits.”

In the “people-centered city administration,” citizens are not clients, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government is not a business. Citizens should not be the target of promotion or marketing; they are the owners of the city. They are not beneficiaries that must be led, taught, and controlled; they are the main actors of city administration with the right to welfare. The goals of the city government in its administration of this city are not efficiency, creativity, design, or renaissance, as these are not goals, but means. The true goals of city administration should be the happiness and peace of each citizen. Mothers who are anxious about raising and providing an education for their children, young people who are looking for work, senior citizens who worry about their old age, to protect the lives of these people is the reason for the existence of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. In a nutshell, the people-centered administration of Seoul must be like a shoulder that weary citizens can lean on and a place for them to rest.

This resting place should be created not by the metropolitan government alone, but together with the citizens. This is the only way we can share its benefits. So, the year 2012 will be the year we set off on our journey to create a human-oriented city administration. Throughout this process, conflicts of interest and discord will be inevitable. But, like the old saying goes, “If the weather is good, the umbrella seller cries, and if it rains, the pottery dealer cries.” Even issues such as prohibiting smoking in public places and creating an ice-skating rink in front of City Hall are vulnerable to such conflicts of interest and discord.

In this respect, one duty of the metropolitan government is coordinating, preventing, and easing such conflicts. In the past, the government doggedly pursued the New Town and urban renewal projects, which created an immediate impact but eventually triggered conflicts, and we have now inherited the task of resolving these complicated conflicts. This is indeed a Herculean task, but we will find a solution by thinking about it and discussing it together.

Soon, I will have the opportunity to announce the three-year plan of my city administration, so today I will focus my speech on the priority tasks that must be carried out in the New Year.

The main goal of the city administration in 2012 is to pursue a new city administration focused on people and public welfare. To this end, we will work with the citizens to develop the Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard as a right for all citizens. While strengthening livelihood support for people who have fallen into poverty, we will also provide 80,000 apartments for public rental to ease the anxiety over housing and expand the public childcare infrastructure to relieve the burden of childrearing. We will create environment in which people will not be financially burdened by the cost of education, through such means as reducing university tuition, and we will do our utmost to generate sustainable, quality jobs for the youth and the elderly by securing future growth drivers in the form of socially responsible companies. In addition, we will seek a practical way to offer assistance to families crushed by household debt. In order to create a city safe from disaster, we will expand safety services with a priority on the socially vulnerable, namely children and the elderly, and focus on flood prevention by building a decentralized rainwater management system. Furthermore, in order to restore the value of community, which is currently at risk of disappearing due to development with no consideration for society, we will install the Seoul Community Support Center and adopt various support programs to nurture communities.

Honorable citizens of Seoul and members of the Seoul Metropolitan Government family,

This year will be marked by two major political events, the general elections and the presidential elections, making it a time of festering social division. However, we will be unwavering in our administration of the city. In our relations with the central government, we will offer active assistance where we must and actively receive assistance when we need it, and we will cooperate closely with the soon to be elected National Assembly, as improving the laws to support the new era of local autonomy is also an urgent task.

Today, the entire country comprises one economic zone. Seoul is not an island, and there can be no development that applies to Seoul alone. Therefore, we will reinforce our cooperative relations with other metropolitan cities and act wisely to resolve the problem of imbalanced development with other regions. The strained inter-Korean relations and unpredictability of the North Korean situation are directly connected to not only the balanced development of Seoul, but also the lives of its citizens. Although North Korea is an issue that goes beyond the scope of a local autonomy, we will remain open, and if there is some way we can contribute to peace, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will give it a try, no matter how small it may be. In this regard, I would like to inform the Korean Ministry of Unification and the North Korean authorities that we are open to hosting football matches between the North and South and a holding a performance by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra in Pyongyang.

Honorable Seoul citizens and public officials of the Seoul Metropolitan Government,

It will be a long and difficult process to change Seoul into a city that supports its citizens and makes their lives easier. For too long, people have not been the center of city administration.

But I will never stop pursuing this goal. I have never thought of giving up, and I don’t think it is even an option. We are simply following the spirit of our time, and seeing where history will take us.

Family of the Seoul Metropolitan Government,

A while ago, you had to endure the pain of parting ways with talented colleagues with whom you had worked for many years, and it pained me too. However, from that pain of sacrifice, I believe a fresh wind of energy and vitality will flow through the newly organized Seoul Metropolitan City government. You are the best colleagues I have ever had in my life, and we are partners in the historical undertaking of achieving the rebirth of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. I believe in each and every one of you.

Beloved citizens of Seoul,

I offer my deepest respect to you for your determination to endure the harsh conditions of your daily reality. You are the owners of the city government and the sole reason for its existence. So, I ask you to monitor, assist, and lead the Seoul Metropolitan Government in its transformation into a place where you can find solace when you are exhausted and worried. Only with your participation can we realize “people-centered city administration” and “a city we build together and share its benefits.”

Citizens of Seoul and members of the Seoul Metropolitan Government family,

In 2012, the Year of the Black Dragon, I wish you all the best and great happiness. I give you my word that I will devote myself to making all of my hopes a reality.