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Upgrading urban living conditions

Following the end of the financial crisis, the reckless development of “semi-agricultural areas” emerged as a political issue in the early 2000s. This underscored the need for an integrated approach to land management that would be conducted in an environment-friendly way. In February 2002, the Act on the Basic Framework of National Land Management as well as the Territorial Planning and Utilization Act were passed to achieve this goal. Previously, urban planning was limited to urban planning zones. The new law required that all urban and rural districts (si and gun ) should create basic urban management plans to cover all the land within their jurisdiction. The zoning system was restructured. “Semi-agricultural areas” and “semi-urban areas,” which had been subject to reckless development, were integrated into the “land management areas,” which were subdivided into “plan management areas,” “production management areas,” and “conservation management areas,” based on land suitability assessments. It was decided that urban land development would be basically confined to “plan management areas.”

Under the newly adopted Class-2 Planned Unit Development Zoning, even non-urban areas were subject to development and management planning, including surveys of roads, landscape and zoning size, in a way similar to urban area development plans. Approval for development projects was granted based on the availability of sufficient infrastructure and whether the project was in harmony with its surroundings.

In areas where it would be difficult to expand infrastructure facilities to serve development projects, the number and density of development projects would be limited. In newly developed areas, the developer would be made to bear the expense for the installation of infrastructure facilities, including those in adjacent areas. In addition, the land suitability assessment system would be used to determine whether a parcel of land should be developed or preserved based on a comprehensive review of its physical, socioeconomic and environment factors.

Most of the large-scale development projects that had been carried out since the early 1960s were for housing, with many being “bedroom towns” that lacked basic urban amenities. As a result, it was necessary to expand the concept of land development to one of full-scale urban development to correct this problem. The Urban Planning Act and the Land Readjustment Project Act were integrated with the Urban Development Act in January 2000. This combined land development methods with urban development methods, while urban development criteria was applied to projects in both the public and private sectors on a uniform basis.

In 2003, work began to restore the Cheonggye-cheon (stream) in central Seoul, which had been covered with concrete for more than 40 years to support a road network. The project, which had been initiated by Lee Myung-bak, the then Seoul mayor, was completed in October 2005. The elevated highway that passed over the stream was demolished. The project aimed to revive the downtown area, with plenty of recreation space along the stream’s banks, and it has largely succeeded in that goal. The restoration project has exerted considerable influence on local urban planning. It made people aware of the country’s cultural and historical resources and awakened policymakers to the need for the creation of public spaces. In response, other local administrations have undertaken similar water restoration projects, which have contributed to the improvement of urban environments nationwide.

Areas of restricted development, or greenbelts, had been established between 1971 and 1997 to prevent urban sprawl and preserve the natural environment of cities. But the concept met with increasing criticism that it represented an excessive infringement on private property rights and steps were taken to abolish some greenbelts or relax restrictions on their use in 1998.

The designation of greenbelts near small- and medium-sized cities, where there was little possibility of urban expansion or environmental damage, was cancelled. In the metropolitan areas of Seoul, Busan and Gwangju, the designation of greenbelts was partially readjusted based on environmental impact assessments and comprehensive urban development plans. As a result, 1,416 km2 out of a total 5,397 km2 in greenbelt space were cancelled. For greenbelts close to large cities, 314 km2 out of 4,294 km2 were removed. It can be said the greenbelts surrounding large cities still maintain their function of conserving the natural environment. But critics claim that they have become less effective in preventing urban sprawl, which was one of their chief goals (particularly in the capital region), and they have hindered the orderly growth of large cities and reduced their productivities.

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

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