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  • New Year’s Address of Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon

    SMG 2067
  • ‘A Sheltering Hill for the People of Seoul’
          Dear citizens of Seoul and colleagues of the City of Seoul:

          A New Year has dawned, bringing great hope and promise.

          I wish all of you, citizens of Seoul, in this Year of the Dragon,
          a healthy and vigorous year, and hope that the vitality of this sacred creature will assist you in making
          all your dreams come true.

          The year just passed was quite a bleak one for us as a society.
          As though we had been taken back to the development period of the past,
          growth seemed once again to be the be-all-and-end-all of what we stood for.
          Under a government policy characterized by an imbalanced focus on growth,
          economic disparity widened in an increasingly winner-takes-all society,
          resulting in a major step back in the quality of life.

          In the meantime, the wheel of history continues to turn, oblivious to our predicament.
          Enough with this winner-takes-all society!
          We all stand to lose in such a society.
          Let us now work together to create a world where all can thrive and all can win!
          This was precisely the desire the people of Seoul expressed through their ballot in the by-election
          held in October last year.
          This is also the major imperative of our time.

          Finally, this is my mission as the mayor of Seoul.
          Two months into my term of office, I am thrilled to address the people of Seoul at this beginning of
          a new year.

          Two months.
          This is certainly not enough time to get the gigantic ship that is the City of Seoul back on its true course,
          in tune with the demands of our time.
          Indeed, it is far too insufficient, especially given how far off course it has been from the path of real
          progress for nearly a decade now.

          I am, however, pleased to announce that all the preparatory steps are now behind us here at the city
          administration, thanks to the hard work of the City of Seoul’s staff and the cooperation of the City Council.

          First of all, we have cleared the path towards the free, environmentally-friendly school meal program.
          We have also cut tuition fees at municipal colleges in half, opening wide the door to more educational
          reforms.
          The City of Seoul, meanwhile, is no longer being run behind closed doors.
          The Office of the Mayor is wherever Seoul’s citizens are, and is necessarily all about communication.

          The 2012 city budget has been entirely reviewed across the board.
          Ostentatious projects and civil engineering projects have been eliminated to increase the budgetary
          allocations for community welfare and safety.

          The city administration’s organization has also been overhauled to give greater priority to community
          welfare, safety, and jobs. Personnel reassignment has been undertaken on a massive scale, energizing
          the workplace culture at both the City Hall and ward offices.
          The friction with the City Council, another big problem the city administration has been grappling with,
          is all but gone, relations between the two having finally been normalized.

          Fellow Citizens of Seoul!
          With this solid head-start for the year ahead,
          the effort to center the city administration on Seoul’s citizens will kick off in earnest.
          I invite all of you to take part in our effort to improve Seoul, and together we will enjoy the fruits of this effort.

          Let us make no mistake: the current political and economic conditions and the various indicators suggest
          that the outlook for Seoul’s families and the city administration is not likely to change for the better over
          the coming year.
          Nor will it be easy to heal the social rifts caused by inequalities and economic disparities.

          While life is never easy for anyone,
          The economically-vulnerable segments of any society tend to be particularly hard hit by life’s difficulties.

          The glitter of our metropolis, well summed up by such catchphrases as ‘Design Seoul,’ hides many
          dark spots where people struggle with the pain of poverty.
          During the two-day uninterrupted tour of the poorest neighborhoods of our city I took shortly before
          Christmas, I became a first-hand witness of the harsh conditions in which some of our fellow Seoulites
          are living.

          I met school-age children living with their mom in a motel room.
          I met people, on the brink of becoming homeless, living in tiny rooms with not even three-square-meters
          of living space.
          As many as 600,000 Seoulites currently live in this type of substandard temporary housing arrangement,
          known as gosiwon.

          Some of the people I met during this tour were elderly ladies in poor health who were forced to pick up
          scrap paper in the streets to earn a living.
          One such old lady lived with a grandson in an unheated room with only an electric floor mat to keep
          themselves warm in the severe cold of mid-winter.

          Worse still, the old lady and her grandson will be forced to leave this tiny, sullen room they call “home”
          when the New Town redevelopment project kicks in.
          Once this room goes, the kindly neighbors who pick up scrap paper and empty cans for her, when the
          old lady is too sick to do it herself, and who sometimes leave a milk pack outside her door will also
          be gone.

          Where should this poor old lady go? Where can she go?
          Where can children growing up in a motel room find cause for hope?
          Who exactly will benefit from this New Town project?

          The purpose of a government or a city administration is to protect and assist citizens who find themselves
          in precarious situations, usually from no fault of their own, and who, small though they may be in terms of
          their means or their power, are no less important than others.

          Yet, our government and city administration, blinded by the lure of growth and the glitter of ‘design,
          renaissance or development,’
          have ignored the value of ordinary people’s lives and that of everyday existence.
          With all these values forgotten, our city is increasingly becoming one which drives out ordinary people,
          making life impossible for them within the city limits.
          I am frightened by the idea of such a city.
          And fear is contagious.
          The City of Seoul not only hurts those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, but also
          threatens the middle classes.

          If we know how others in our community are hurting, if we fear the pain, we must act so that we can
          vanquish it.
          We must find hope. Or better yet, we must create hope.
          This is what all of us living in Seoul should try to do.
          This is also what the government and the municipal administration must do.

          While the government and Seoul’s city administration, led astray by mirages, were neglecting the pain
          of the most vulnerable members of our community, it was individual citizens who admirably rose to the
          occasion to protect them.
          Whether an old lady in her 80s going out every day to deliver lunchboxes to her poor neighbors;

          or a kindly and attentive neighborhood association chief extending a helping hand to all those in need
          in his neighborhood, when he himself has a family to look after;

          or a neighborhood restaurant CEO making sure that kids from poor families don’t skip meals during
          vacation when there is no school meal to keep them fed;

          These are the real heroes who were busy protecting Seoul and the people of Seoul when those
          responsible were not doing their job.
          It is in them that I have seen the true seed of hope.
          It is in them that I see the vision of a citizen-centered city administration and a city made by the
          citizens and for the citizens.

          In a human-centered model of city administration, citizens are not customers, and the city hall is not
          a company headquarters.

          Citizens are not the targets of an information or marketing campaign. Citizens are sovereign.
          They are not the beneficiaries of charity, to be led, guided, instructed or regulated by the authorities,
          but actors of city governance with the right to a decent standard of living.

          The goal of Seoul’s city governance is neither one of efficiency, creativity, design nor renaissance.
          These are not goals, they are only means.
          The true and only goal of a city administration is that of ensuring the happiness of each and every
          citizen and providing them with a worry-free life.

          From growing children and students to mothers grappling with the challenges of child-rearing, young
          adults searching for a job and senior citizens worrying about the late years of life, assisting citizens
          through these various stages of life and providing them with social protection is the real raison d’être of
          a city hall.

          In short, in a people-centered model of city administration, the city must be a sheltering hill for its
          weary inhabitants and also a sturdy shoulder to lean on.
          However, such a sheltering hill cannot be created by the city hall alone, but must be created together
          with the citizens.
          This is the only way the sheltering hill can be enjoyed by all.

          In 2012, we will set sail on this journey of establishing a people-centered regime for the administration
          of Seoul.

          When citizens involve themselves in the administration of a city as its leading actors, we must expect
          more conflicts of interests and more friction.

          According to an old Korean proverb, “when it is fair, the umbrella seller cries, and when it rains, the
          crock jar seller weeps.”
          Issues like smoking in public spaces or making a skate rink outside the city hall have led to conflicts
          of interest and caused bad blood, so to speak.

          It is precisely the City Hall that is responsible for preventing and reducing conflicts between stakeholders.

          In the past, the city administration did not hesitate to undertake projects like New Town and
          neighborhood redevelopment projects, knowing full-well that they would provoke conflicts of interest.

          The current administration will not commit this type of error.
          The current administration, however, still has to deal with the conflicts of interest inherited from the
          previous administration, including those caused by the New Town and other redevelopment projects
          undertaken by the latter.
          Finding solutions to this intricate and tangled web of opposing interests is a mind-boggling challenge.
          However, through communication and discussion, we will together find solutions to this problem.

          A three-year city administration plan will be unveiled in the near future.
          Today, I would like to mention only a few of the most important tasks planned for the year 2012.

          The main goal for 2012 is to shift the focus of the administration of the City of Seoul onto people and
          onto the importance of creating a better standard of living and welfare.

          To attain this goal, we will begin by establishing, with the input of Seoul’s residents, a minimum
          standard of living for the city.
          We will increase welfare support for the population living on the threshold of poverty.
          We will supply 80,000 new public rental housing units to relieve the shortage of housing in our city.
          We will expand public child care infrastructure to assist the parents of toddlers and preschoolers.

          Meanwhile, we will take the measures necessary to decrease college tuition fees so as to cut the
          financial burden of education.
          We will work hard to create quality jobs that are sustainable for workers of all ages, from youth to
          senior citizens, by helping to secure future growth engines for CSR companies.

          For those households struggling under a heavy debt burden,
          We will find practical solutions that can assist them concretely.

          Now, to make Seoul a city safe from both man-made and natural disasters,
          The city administration will be expanding its safety services, especially for the most vulnerable
          segments of the population such as children and the elderly.
          Meanwhile, a dispersion-style rainwater management system is also being planned as part of the
          disaster prevention effort.

          The city administration will be also investing in the restoration of vanishing community values,
          endangered through years of indiscriminate development and a lack of concern for the social
          through these various stages of life and providing
          The city will be setting up village community centers across Seoul as well as introducing a variety of
          support programs to foster neighborhood-level communities.

          This year, there are two major events on the political calendar of the nation: the general election and the
          presidential election.
          Such events could exacerbate existing social rifts.
          We will be mindful not to allow these events to interfere with the city’s own agenda for progress.

          In our relationship with the national government, we will assist it in areas where our help is vital and
          receive help from it when appropriate.
          We also intend to closely cooperate with the newly-formed National Assembly.
          This is because, to bring about true decentralization, we must make sure that the related laws are
          updated.

          Today, Korea is fully integrated economically, from one end of its territory to the other. Seoul, therefore,
          is not an island. Nor can it grow independently from the rest of the country.
          The city administration will strengthen its cooperation with the wider capital area and make its best
          efforts to find ways of achieving balanced development with regions outside the capital area.
          The increased tensions between South and North Korea and political uncertainty in the north surrounding
          the transition of power are also factors with the potential to affect the balanced development of Seoul and
          the quality of life of its residents.

          Although these are issues that go beyond the competence of a local administration, the City of Seoul
          plans to do what it can at its own level to help reduce tensions between the North and South and to
          contribute to peace on the Korean peninsula.
          For this reason, the City of Seoul is drafting a proposal to host the Seoul-Pyeongyang football
          tournament and to arrange a Pyeongyang performance of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, which it will
          submit to the Ministry of Unification and the North Korean government.

          Making the City of Seoul a sheltering hill for its residents – this is a goal that is easier said than done.
          ‘People’ have too long been absent from Seoul’s city agenda.
          Steering the city administration back on the right course will, therefore, take time and effort.

          I, as your mayor, however, refuse to be daunted by this prospect.
          Not only do I have no intention but also no means to do so.
          This is because making people once again our top priority is the great imperative of our time and
          the direction in which the wheel of history is turning.

          Dear Colleagues,

          We recently had a major organizational reshuffle, and many of you unfortunately had to bud goodbye to
          your co-workers of long date. I understand how painful such separation can be. I too was very sorry to
          see them go.

          I believe, however, that such a sacrifice is necessary to breathe new vitality into the organizational
          culture of the City of Seoul, as it sets out in a new direction.

          You are the best colleagues I have ever worked with in my life and cherished comrades with whom
          I will carry out the historic mission of bringing about the renaissance of the City of Seoul.
          I have unwavering faith in you.

          Dear Residents of Seoul,

          I have the deepest admiration for you who pursue your dreams, for you who never give up in hard times.

          You are the owners of this city and the raison d’être of the city administration. As we try to transform the
          City of Seoul into a sheltering hill where we can all find rest and relief, I ask you to lead, help and advise
          so that we may better achieve this goal.

          Your participation is indispensable to making Seoul a citizen-centered city and a city that is a great place
          to live for all of us.

          I wish you all, residents of Seoul and colleagues of the City of Seoul,

          Happy New Year 2012!

          For my part, I, as the Mayor of Seoul, promise you that I will not spare any effort to make your lives
          better, more worthwhile, and more deeply fulfilling.

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