[Robert J. Fouser] What next Seoul mayor should do

2021. 1. 29. 05:30
글자크기 설정 파란원을 좌우로 움직이시면 글자크기가 변경 됩니다.

이 글자크기로 변경됩니다.

(예시) 가장 빠른 뉴스가 있고 다양한 정보, 쌍방향 소통이 숨쉬는 다음뉴스를 만나보세요. 다음뉴스는 국내외 주요이슈와 실시간 속보, 문화생활 및 다양한 분야의 뉴스를 입체적으로 전달하고 있습니다.

On April 7, 2021, Seoul will hold a special election for mayor. Seoul has been without a mayor since former Mayor Park Won-soon’s shocking suicide in July 2020. The election of a new mayor will stir discussion of how the city should move forward as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. As the leader of the capital city and the overwhelmingly dominant city, the mayor of Seoul is influential. Several mayors have dreamed of becoming president and one, Lee Myung-bak, succeeded in the 2007.

The new mayor will take office a little more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down. Vaccine distribution is expected to start in February and should be expanding quickly by the time the new mayor takes office. Through the rest of the year, vaccination will help Korea achieve herd immunity, allowing for most restrictions on activity to be lifted.

During the first year of his or her four-year term, the new mayor’s main concern will be delivering city services safely and dealing with pandemic economic dislocation. South Korea’s effective response to the pandemic has reduced the severity of these problems for Seoul but the city still faces challenges it thought unimaginable a year ago.

The next three years of the new mayor’s term offer him or a her a chance to enact a vision for the city. The last three mayors of Seoul have all offered a vision for the city, each with a signature project.

Lee Myung-bak took office in 2002, the year that Seoul cohosted the World Cup with Japan. He focused on expanding more green space in the city. His signature project was the removal of the elevated road above Cheonggye Stream, which uncovered the stream and turned it into a park running through the center of the city.

Next, Oh Se-hoon, who was elected in 2006 and reelected in 2010, focused on turning Seoul into world center for design. This reflected South Korea’s higher cultural profile on the world stage as Hallyu and K-pop reached global audiences. His signature project was the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, one of the last buildings designed by the late starchitect Zaha Hadid, on the site of the historic Dongdaemun Stadium. Oh resigned in 2011 in opposition to public approval of a referendum on government provided school lunches.

The late mayor Park Won-soon won was elected in a special election to replace Oh in 2011 and two more times in 2014 and 2018. He is the only mayor in history to have been elected three times. Park entered office amid growing tension over redevelopment projects and citizen demands for greater input into city policy. Early in his tenure, Park focused heavily on urban regeneration activities. His signature project, the renovation of the overpass near Seoul Station, grew out of his interest in urban regeneration.

In looking back at the three mayors, the major theme of the signature projects is remaking the built environment. Lee demolished the elevated highway, Oh built a new complex of buildings, and Park repurposed an elevated highway. The evolution of methods from demolition and rebuilding under Lee and Oh to repurposing under Park reflects broader global trends since the early 2000s.

History suggests that the next mayor will also push a signature project in the center of the city, but that is not what the city needs. The time has come to focus on the neighborhoods, particularly those that have received little attention over the years. A city is only as strong as its neighborhoods.

As the pandemic kept people close to home in cities around the world, neighborhoods came into greater focus as leaders listened to citizens. In some cities, for example, streets were closed to allow housebound residents to walk while social distancing. As things improved, cities turned streets into sidewalks so that suffering local restaurants and shops could use sidewalks to attract customers for outdoor eating and shopping.

Neighborhoods in Seoul have experienced various stresses in recent years. Some have become “hot places” as commercial development has pushed out residents and businesses that catered to them. By contrast, others have lost vitality as tension over redevelopment ran through many of these areas, depriving them of new residential and commercial investment.

To shift the focus toward neighborhoods, candidates for mayor need to find out what kind of neighborhoods people throughout the city want. And they need to avoid the temptation of proposing flashy signature projects.

Robert J. Fouser

Robert J. Fouser, a former associate professor of Korean-language education at Seoul National University, writes on Korea from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He can be reached at robertjfouser@gmail.com -- Ed.

<ⓒKoreaHerald(www.koreaherald.com)무단전재 및 재배포 금지>

Copyright © 코리아헤럴드. 무단전재 및 재배포 금지.

이 기사에 대해 어떻게 생각하시나요?