Date September 19, 2014 | Venue Stanford University in the US
A Lecture at Stanford University
Hello, everyone. I am Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul Metropolitan City. It is my pleasure to stand before the bright students and distinguished faculty members of Stanford University, a school of truth, intellect, creation, and innovation. I am furthermore honored to speak to Stanford global leaders, who are pioneering the world as entrepreneurs, CEOs of global companies, politicians, and scholars. I sincerely and gratefully appreciate your attendance.
Back in 2005, I was studying, attending discussions, and doing research as a visiting professor at Stanford University. I studied with your seniors at this campus. My experience meditating, researching, and studying at Stanford has been greatly helpful for me in serving as the mayor of Seoul, the capital of Republic of Korea, a position in which I am responsible for the well-being of 10 million citizens.
Today, I would like to share what the Seoul administration has done to resolve a variety of urban problems the current era is facing. In addition, I would like to talk about how I became the mayor of Seoul, and my experience working as a social designer.
Many cities around the world are confronting a number of complicated problems. Millions of citizens are still living in poverty, and cannot escape from the increasing polarization of wealth. Furthermore, they are completely exposed to unfair practices and laws as well as increasing inequality. In Korea, as in the rest of the world, our lives are under the threat of a multitude of social issues: global warming, energy and environmental problems, natural disasters, crime, a low birth rate, and a super aging population.
Seoul is no exception. Like other global cities, it is also experiencing these problems. In Seoul, there are many social issues related to welfare, education, childcare, unemployment, suicide, energy, super aging society, and crime. How, then, is Seoul addressing these problems?
As you know, Seoul has accomplished industrialization and democratization from the ashes of the Korean War, a transition known as the ‘Miracle on the Han River.’ Per capita income of Korea has reached 20,000 USD. Korea is now one of the top 10 largest trade giants in the world, and ranks 14th globally in terms of GDP. Despite these great achievements, there are dark sides as well. The national happiness index is falling, and the suicide rate is the highest in the world. We also have other challenges to be addressed, such as a low birth rate, an aging population, unemployment, and income disparity.
In short, Seoul has a number of conflicts and a variety of serious issues. Perhaps this is unsurprising for a mega city of over 10 million people. I decided to resolve these complicated issues with the help of our citizens. With the motto ‘Citizens are the Mayor,’ I have implemented collaboration with citizens in every aspect of city administration.
It has been possible to serve citizens as the mayor, and to put priority on citizens in my administration, because my philosophy of city administration is based on good governance and innovation. I believe a city where people collaborate with each other to innovate, a city where people keep working together to resolve urban problems, is a city ready to deal with the challenges of today together. Our ultimate goal is to create a city of happiness where people live in harmony.
That is why, as soon as I was inaugurated as the Mayor of Seoul, I launched the Seoul Innovation Bureau, the first of its kind among local governments in Korea. I began by ending existing administrative practices, and overhauling the paradigm through which civil servants saw their responsibilities to the city and its citizens. Under the three administrative principles of communication, participation, and good governance, I tried to create a Seoul where we dream, build, and enjoy our lives together.
A modern innovative administration begins by listening to the voice of citizens. As a representation of this, in front of Seoul City Hall we have a huge statue of an ear. One day, a citizen smashed into the ear with his car to say, “Listen to what I have to say!” Although it was a painful experience for City Hall, we took it as a chance to listen to citizens more attentively.
In order to respect and listen to our citizens, we launched a diverse range of administrative programs, including more than 80 listening policy workshops and deliberation meetings joined by experts, on-site mayor’s offices in different local communities for one night and two days, more than 120 on-site visits, disclosure of about 10,000 pieces of administration data, attracting over 1.4 million people to Seoul Citizens’ Hall, getting over 2,800 people to participate in a Speakers’ Corner, ‘Honorary Vice Mayor’ and ‘One-day Mayor’ programs, Participatory Budget System, and Policy Expos.
Moreover, the Seoul government made efforts to disclose its own information and processes to citizens more diligently. Administrative information was disclosed, shared, and opened to the public. The Information Communication Agora was launched to disclose Seoul’s public data. We also provide big data to citizens. Through the Seoul Wiki Website, about 2,700 Seoul policies have been disclosed with their policy background, progress, and budget.
This speed-of-light administration was accomplished through innovative administration with social media. Seoul may very well be the first local government to achieve this in the world. Seoul created a social media center, 44 social media management systems, and ‘Eungdapso,’ a main public service center, through which the city government combines citizens’ opinions. I have more than 1.3 million followers on social media: 100,000 followers on Kakao Story (a Korean chat app), 320,000 on Facebook, 900,000 on Twitter. Through social media, you won’t be surprised to hear I receive civil complaints at all hours of the day.
One day, in 2012, I received a civil complaint on Twitter that read, “I am a bus driver. I couldn’t buy anything for my children on Children’s Day because of my overdue wages.” I delivered this message to Seoul City Transportation Headquarter.
After four days, the bus driver sent another message to me, “The overdue wages were paid, and my children are now proud of me. Thank you, Mayor.” This is what is happening to Seoul.
My social media accounts are like a symphony of citizens’ nagging, scolding, and laughing. “Dear Mayor, a wheelchair lift is broken in the subway station.” “In front of my house, the sidewalk is broken.” “These food waste bins smell awful.” I listen to all the voices of citizens, and deliver them to Seoul public officials. The voices of nagging and scolding soon turn into the voices of laughing.
“Thank you, Mayor. I didn’t expect that my small opinion would be adopted into a policy. I feel like I’m a mayor.”
A late night bus system for those who come home late at night was also created by communicating with citizens on social media. We utilized big data by analyzing more than 3 billion phone calls and late night call data. As a result, we are now operating nine late night bus lines, which carry over 6,000 citizens per day on average. When the bus system, the so-called ‘Owl Bus,’ was first introduced, I got about 50,000 ‘Likes’ and 3,353 comments on Facebook. They also made suggestions. The Seoul government listened to them, and then applied them to our policies. The ‘Owl Buses’ soon took the first place of the top 10 news stories selected by citizens.
In 2011, a few days after my inauguration as the mayor of Seoul, I received a letter. It said, “In just 100 days, 6 people have committed suicide here.
Please stop people from committing suicide. Let them live with dignity.” This letter was from a resident of a rental apartment. My heart was broken.
That day, I cancelled all my plans, and went straight to the rental apartment immediately. I stayed there for three days with the residents, and communicated with them. They were suffering from poverty, loneliness, and neglect. Before that, I had thought that their problem only depended on whether they had a house or not. I decided to analyze and deal with the problems of the rental apartment system more carefully.
At first, I tore down walls between offices, and removed silos between divisions. For eight months, the related experts and eight offices including Housing Office, Health & Welfare Office, Women & Family Policy Affairs, and Community Building Division worked hard as a team to devise a solution for rental apartments.
Finally, we announced a comprehensive plan for rental apartments. The purpose of the plan was to reduce rents to lighten the burden on residents, and to create jobs in order to allow the residents to escape from poverty on their own. The plan also covers medical care, education, and childcare for the residents. It was a remarkable achievement that we made by communicating and cooperating with citizens.
There is an area called ‘Sogeum-gil’ in Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu. This area was designated as a redevelopment district, and the neighborhood around it had a high crime rate. To decrease the crime rate there, we visited the area, held interviews and public hearings, and conducted surveys. In this manner, we were able to figure out the lifestyle of the residents. The residents mostly consist of females and senior citizens, and many residents come home early in the morning.
To reduce the crime rate, we took a new approach. Using the technique of service design, we designed the area with lights for those who go home late, painted the walls with bright colors, and created a path for residents to walk along for their health. The technique we used is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). In the end, the crime rate was reduced, and the residents’ satisfaction was improved. This was possible because we innovated in the area with a solution that we designed specifically for that location.
Seoul is one of the most energy consuming cities in the world. The Fukushima nuclear disaster was an opportunity for us to reflect on our energy policy. Why isn’t Seoul able to create energy? Seoul decided to save and create energy with the help of our citizens. We developed the ‘One Less Nuclear Power Plant’ project and ‘Sunlight Power Station’ with citizens, and replaced the existing lights with LED lights.
The 1.7 million members of the ‘Eco-Mileage’ program practiced energy saving both at home and at work. Children and teenagers took part in ‘Lights-Off Event for the Earth.’ Finally, in June 2014, we succeeded in reducing two million TOE, equivalent to the capacity of one nuclear power plant. The world heralded our success. Many countries come to Seoul to learn our energy policies, and Seoul has become a successful model of local energy policies.
Seoul’s challenges did not end there. We have embarked the 2nd stage of ‘One Less Nuclear Power Plant’ project. We will cut the capacity by four million TOE and reduce greenhouse gasses by 10 million tons. With an administration based on cooperation and innovation with the citizens, Seoul took 1st place in the category of ‘Fostering Participation in Public Policy Decision Making’ at the UN Public Service Awards, and 2nd place in three other categories.
Moreover, the 1st prize-winning program ‘Seoul Citizen Welfare Standards’ was enabled through 162 meetings from the basic planning stage under a private and public cooperative governance system consisting of citizens, experts, and public officials. It was a great masterpiece which, unlike the other existing programs, went through an online board, the ‘Round Table Conference with 1,000 Citizens,’ policy workshops, and a panel of citizens ‘Seoul Meari’ in order to reach a social agreement.
Now, Seoul is rising as a global city. Seoul ranked sixth as a Global Power City for two consecutive years, and it was selected as one of Top 5 MICE Destinations in the tourism industry for three consecutive years. Business Traveler USA selected Seoul as the Best International Meetings Destination for two consecutive years. More than 10 million travelers are visiting Seoul.
Ladies and gentlemen, Seoul is changing by the day. The urban environment and citizens’ lives are also getting better. The Seoul model is being exported to 22 cities of 21 countries, a phenomenon known as the Seoul effect. Seoul’s policies on waterworks, the electronic government, energy, and climate have become global models.
Seoul is an advanced city many developing countries in Asia want to resemble. Ladies and gentlemen, I say that “The world belongs to those who dream” to everyone I meet. Looking back at my life, I was always dreaming, and I tried hard to make my dreams come true. I have been lucky enough for my dreams to come true.
Did I achieve my dreams by myself? Did I make the Seoul effect by myself? No. All of my dreams and the Seoul effect were the result of cooperation with 10 million citizens, public officials, many corporations, and institutions. There is an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go by yourself. But if you want to travel far, go together.” The key to a better life is ‘togetherness.’ A dream we dream together will come true.
Ladies and gentlemen, you probably know the song, ‘Gangnam Style’ by Psy, once ranked number two on the Billboard chart. In Seoul, there is ‘Won-soon Style’ which is to make a Seoul where citizens live in harmony through cooperation and innovation.
So far, I have talked about my life and my experience, working for Seoul through communication, cooperation, governance, and innovation. I hope my story will be helpful to your lives and your communities. Ladies and gentlemen, please continue to support Seoul, and visit Seoul. Seoul will grow with you. Seoul invites all of you. You will be with Seoul, won’t you? Thank you.