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Mayor's Hope Journal

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  • Visiting the Scene…
    [Mayor Park Won Soon’s Administrative Journal 32]

  • SMG 1468

    We’ve worried so much about Typhoon Sanba with the Chuseok holidays so imminent, but the news is that it moved away via the coast off Gangneung. We’ve also heard news that two people were injured in a landslide, and that 450,000 houses were left without power. I am sure that the extent of the damage has not been fully assessed yet. I just hope that all of you are safe. I still remember our dear citizens who volunteered to campaign for the buying of fallen fruit to help local farmers who suffered so much devastation during Typhoon Bolaven the last time around. That touched my heart and strengthened me greatly. This time around, the City of Seoul promises to do whatever it can to share the pain felt by our region. I request our dear citizens to exercise great care, and to revisit the scenes of damage and let us know.

    The power of any administration, as well as all its problems and their solutions, can ultimately be found on site. I believe it was last Tuesday … when, from the 11th to the 13th, I went to the Rental Housing Development with several people from the relevant department and its agency, various experts in health and welfare as well as mental health staff, and members of the relevant citizens’ groups. At the site of the development, we listened to the rental residents themselves in order to identify their problems and come up with solutions. We intentionally did not go to the area that was publicized in a daily newspaper some time ago. The deputy mayor was due to visit that area, and in addition, we were wary of the residents’ problems serving as an opportunity for the mayor to publicize himself.
    The 3-day Rental Housing Policy tour was a closed one. As such, I will not disclose the name of that specific area. On the night of the 13th, the last night, I slept at a resident’s place. Our conversations with the area residents were very memorable and lasted late into the night. The next morning, on our way back, we found that an elderly gentleman, who was hard of hearing, was gathering paper waste. We found out that he was selling the waste for income. Selling them nearby would yield 40 won. He would have earned more profit if he had been able sell them at a more distant place, but because he was unable to go very far, he was selling them at a nearby place. I thought that with better organization, he has the potential to create a good, socially responsible business. Perhaps we could give the gentleman a stable income along with the pride of owning a business.

    Our nation has declared to have 100,000 of the 500,000 residences built in a year supplied as rentals. In addition, in the case of SH, a public firm under the City of Seoul government that handles the construction of rental housing developments, it is managing 330 development sites and about 134,000 residences. There are also about 800 Resident Welfare Centers. However, we seem to lack a comprehensive system that can actually care for the lives of residents there. I just cannot shake off the voices of residents pleading that “this is a concentration camp for the disabled!” We simply could not say anything to our citizens, who with genuine anguish complained at our counseling centers, where their mental pain is meant to be shared, that “once we were able to earn 40,000 won more than the legal limit, we were excluded from the basic income earner classification and became wage earners at the next level up, at which point all government assistance was stopped. Please allow us to become disabled then!” This gave me a chance to think long and hard about the following words written by a clinical psychiatrist in a book entitled Bread and Soul: “A prolonged shortage of bread is sure to result in a famine of the soul.”

    But I cannot just worry and do nothing. The Rental Housing policy has multiple layers of problems. It has to go through a process involving various methods of fine tuning. The same goes for setting up the policies in the first place. There are so many issues involved, such as amending the regulations and managing individual case studies, making it impossible to achieve overnight success. But if we pool our strengths to find solutions on site, we will find a clue. We will continue to discuss and to cooperate with the relevant agencies, experts, and our resident citizens so that together we can propose a comprehensive solution to the Rental Housing Developments in our city before the end of the year.

    The most excellent workers that we verified on site were our Tongjangnims (heads of tong – district subgroup). Our Welfare Specialists were simply amazed by their knowledge and passion. They were familiar with every detail of the lives of each household. It would be of great practical benefit to our residents if we were to collect their ideas and provide them with useful education and other forms of support.

    Someone has mentioned the “No-no Care (a welfare program whereby a healthy senior citizen is matched with other senior citizens to provide for their care), there is in Japan, what is called the Welfare Life Cooperative, whose members are mainly housewives. The concept is one of a socially responsible business, where a volunteer delivers meals, changes light bulbs and performs other light chores, calls the children, and if possible takes the single senior citizen living alone to the market for groceries. It is a type of a service in which communal care is provided to a person in need. It would be excellent if we could introduce this system to our communities.

    Food is also an important issue. Here, we are not talking about just having a meal. Through eating, we not only take in the nutrients and calories that we need for our daily lives, but we also confirm our sense of existence and learn about ourselves. It would be good to have in our Rental Housing Developments eating places similar to Germany’s “Restaurants without borders,” or our own version, “Food place without doorsill”. Franchise restaurants which have succeeded in their business pursue meaningful projects by sharing the costs 50/50 with government agencies in order to guarantee them a fixed, albeit modest, income and thereby contribute to the public good.

    And I have recently met a clinical expert who taught me the concept of “the wounded healer,” which is based on the assumption that a person who has overcome pain is the best healer of such pain. It is similar to the principle that a person who has been ill is the best nurse for others suffering from the same illness. Alcoholism is also a very serious issue within the Rental Housing complexes. Once we start educating those co-residents who have overcome this problem and lend them support, I think we can count on them to help others suffering from these problems with the due sensitivity better than any other counselor.

    We met a resident at the Development who was disabled. He was riding an electric wheelchair and told us that he no longer gets support for recharging. I’ve heard that 48% of the residents cannot move about. Bearing this high rate in mind, shouldn’t we at least have simple recharging equipment that can help maintain and recharge these vehicles? We have to look for ways of ensuring this can be done.

    Also important for our discussion were topics related to improving and reforming our Welfare Centers and Management Offices. I think the concept of “Welfare” has to become a little bit different at our Welfare Centers. I ask that our centers become active troubleshooters rather than maintaining their typical role of providing food and clothing. I ask that they put together and connect the resources from within, build self-sustaining communities, and create jobs there. It will be extremely difficult in the beginning to create a system of self-sustenance, but once it’s been done, it will run by itself and grow. The same goes for our Management Offices. I’ve heard that the offices are being run by outside contractors, but it may be possible to make organizations from inside the residences. Much discussion is needed in this regard as well.

    Someone even suggested a multi-million dollar idea: “Rental residences must replace amenities, such as wallpaper for example, after a certain period of time in order to maintain and upkeep various facilities. Some units do not need this because they are maintained very well. So, why not reward these well-maintained units by awarding them a part of the facility maintenance budget? Wouldn’t that make the units and the whole town cleaner?” Really, wouldn’t the City of Seoul be able to substantially reduce its budget? If so, the lady who suggested this must be the first person to receive the incentive! Of course, I cannot promise her that here, but I will definitely review whether it’s possible.

    Yet another person said, “Rental Housing will result in the creation of a dubious class of citizens who will not be able to receive any government assistance. Please amend the situation whereby permanent tenants are given preference in rental contracts. Our town is dying because only disabled and elderly people live there. Please review the possibility of letting young couples and single people become our tenants.” This too is a revolutionary and very practical idea. I promise to discuss this matter with you, as well.

    Truly, I have so many things about Rental Housing that I would like to talk about with our citizens to get their opinions. But all this has become too long to post on Facebook. So I will stop right here, and I will try to prepare, by the end of the year, a total solution for our discussion together, so that we will be able to review our collective life together. To the personnel of the relevant City offices and their sub-agencies: you have been called upon to achieve the most important task of both reducing debts and building Rental Housing. I know that this mandate requires you to become gods rather than remaining human. But what else are we to do? We must do it. I promise you that I will do my best. Please do your best, just as you always have in the past.

    The most memorable things during my 3-day visit to the Rental Housing Development site were the beautiful images of our citizens pouring out their ideas, and the way they engaged in the discussions with mutual respect. Such affirmative comments as “Please educate us,” “We really appreciated the humanities lectures,” and “Please save our tiny school from closure” were very touching indeed, and implanted in my heart the seed of faith that we can realize our greatest hopes when we pool our strengths.

    There is an old saying that “Even the king cannot stop poverty.” It may be true that we cannot prevent poverty, but if we become just a bit wiser and if we pool our strengths, we can at least care for our neighbors who are suffering. This past 10th was “World Suicide Prevention Day”. Our nation ranks first among the OECD nations in terms of the number of suicides. The rate of suicide is rising continually these days. Dear beloved and respected citizens of Seoul, please live. Please live together. Please live healthy, and please live very, very long.

    Another busy day has passed. It is time that we tried to control our thoughts and our minds. Oh, by the way, I met Ms. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, last week. She is the most influential person at Facebook after Mark Zuckerberg, having served as Chief of Staff to the United States Treasury Department during the Clinton administration. She was a vice president at Google, but in 2008 she was hired as COO by Facebook and turned the company to profit within one year of her employment. She is also one of the founders of Facebook.

    Even looking back, Ms. Sandberg was very gentle but strong. She was more beautiful than her profile pictures. Together we administered the Mayor’s administrative journal… I was able to re-recognize the role of the SNS medium as a tool of social revolution rather than just one for communication. In particular, Facebook’s role in bringing together organ donors, and its use as a real-time tool to prevent suicide, indicated its potential in helping to reform our City of Seoul. It is said that there are over 10 million Facebook users in Korea. The potentially good things that we can get involved in with Facebook are endless. I remember what Ms. Sandberg said to me in this regard. She said that as the person managing Facebook, she feels that what the citizens of the world regard as most important, what they want most of all, is “truth”.

    We also talked about the importance of “transparency”. Our thoughts echoed each other’s. It lies at the very heart of everything. I agree with it one hundredfold. As your mayor, I promise that our city government will never forget the “power of the diversity of truth” and that we will do our best to foster “the potential of transparency”. Thank you all. I wish you a peaceful night, wherever you may be, whether on Facebook or at our Rental Housing Developments.

    your thought… in deep mayor, park won soon