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National Land Development

Attempts to curb growth in Seoul

The population of Seoul grew 5.5-fold over 25 years, from 1 million to 5.54 million between 1945 and 1970. The rapid population increase created social problems as the reconstruction of housing, water supplies, sewage and roads in Seoul that were damaged during the Korean War had not been fully completed yet. In addition, the concentration of population and central administrative functions in Seoul was regarded as a serious security weakness due to the capital’s proximity to North Korea.

In 1964, the government adopted measures to curb overpopulation in Seoul. However, the measures were not effective due to the policy of encouraging industrial investments, which led to Seoul’s continued growth.

Nonetheless, the government’s basic policy was still to control the concentration of population and industry in Seoul by promoting economic and government activities elsewhere in the country. Due to national security concerns, the government in 1970 created an urban plan that would curb population growth north of the Han River, an area that was more vulnerable to an attack from the North. Since the concentration of the population in Seoul created a serious problem for national defense, the issue received top priority. In 1971, a system of Restricted Development Zones, or “greenbelts,” was adopted under the Urban Planning Act, and the first such zones were designated on the outskirts of the capital. Greenbelts were also created for 14 cities between 1971 and 1977.

Under the Distribution of Industry Act in 1977, measures were taken to encourage businesses to set up operations outside Seoul. This included building the new Banwol Industrial City near Seoul. However, only a small percentage of the factories in Seoul relocated there.

In the early 1980s, the government enacted the Capital Region Management Planning Act (1982) in another attempt to control the excessive concentration of population and industries in the capital region. A Basic Plan for Management of the Capital Region was unveiled in 1984 to cover urban development over the next 12 years. While the policy measures governing growth in the capital region in the 1970s strongly smacked of direct government intervention, those in the 1980s relied more on relevant legal and institutional frameworks to affect changes.

In the 1980s, the measures to curb population and industrial growth in the capital region included expanding the scope of regulations over Incheon and Gyeonggi. It was recommended that industrial plants, universities and public institutions in the capital region be relocated to other areas of the country. Businesses willing to move from the capital region were given tax exemptions or tax cuts starting in the late 1970s.

These policy measures influenced additional measures taken later in the 1990s. But problems resulting from overpopulation in the capital region continued to grow, including environmental pollution, deterioration in urban living conditions, and a growing gap between rich and poor. As a result, the government’s emphasis shifted to promoting balanced regional development among the regions rather than concentrating on efforts to tackle problems within the capital region.

Source : SaKong, Il and Koh, Youngsun, 2010. The Korean Economy Six Decades of Growth and Development. Seoul: Korea Development Institute.