중앙데일리

Make base a park? Seoul says yes, but others differ

July 29,2003
Imagine a large park with a deep forest, cool lakes and families relaxing on the grass. In Seoul? Perhaps, if the city gets its way and can find the money to turn the U.S. military garrison at Yongsan in central Seoul into that kind of retreat.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is planning to landscape 2.6 million square meters (642 acres) of land where U.S. forces have been stationed for the last 50 years into a park. The Korean and U.S. governments agreed Thursday to move the U.S. military base to southern Gyeonggi province by 2006.
The park that the city wants to build there is about 11 times larger than the 56-acre Yeouido Park, but the city government seems to be in no hurry to get working on the project, and other agencies also have ideas for different uses of the site.
After the turnover, the Yongsan land will belong to the Ministry of National Defense, but the Seoul Metropolitan Government has the ultimate right to decide on its use, said Kim Soon-jik, a spokesman for the city government.
But he said that nothing had been done yet to put wheels in motion to make the project come about. He said that the city government and the Ministry of Defense would start discussing how to develop the site only after the Korean and U.S. governments wrap up the issues surrounding the military relocation and the cost-sharing agreements to finance the move.
“The city government plans to purchase the site, financing it from the city government’s budget,” Mr. Kim said. But money matters are also still not being talked about between the two bodies; he said that would happen only after the turnover of the Yongsan site was completed.
If the purchase price exceeds the city government’s ability to fund it, Mr. Kim said, the city would ask the defense ministry to lease the land to it without charge.
The defense ministry, however, says it is considering selling the site to either public or private entities if the Korean government is stuck with too large a bill for relocating the American military. “The Seoul city government has been planning this project for more than ten years, when the issue of relocating U.S. military base was first brought up,” Mr. Kim, the city spokesman, said. “But the governments of the two countries called it quits on account of the huge cost to move the units at that time.”
“We need to minimize the cost of moving the U.S. military bases, so selling the land would be a good option for us,” said Kim Ki-beom, a defense ministry official.
There are several other ideas floating around for how to use the land when it becomes vacant.
“Some of city officials came up with the idea to move the city hall building to the old military bases,” another official at city hall said.
The Federation of Korean Industries proposed that elementary and high schools for foreign residents in the country be established there in order to address criticism by foreign investors that Korea lacks such schools and the cost of such an education here is too high.
Some commentators on the city’s Web site also seem to think that the land should be redeveloped into commercial or housing districts, but the city government has rejected those ideas. Lee Myung-bak, Seoul’s mayor, took office with a pledge to use the land for recreation, and he is sticking to his guns.
But support for a park is also substantial among users of the city’s Web site bulletin board, although the number of people commenting on the issue is not overwhelming.
“Nothing has been decided except the land would be developed into a park for all the people in the country,” said Sun Kwon-soo, deputy director of the urban planning department at the city government.
City officials say the plan calls for a long-term effort.
“The new city park will not be designed in a year,” Mr. Sun said. “Instead, the city government would add facilities or trees whenever citizens using the park raise good suggestions or complaints.”


by Kim Hae-noon


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