[EDITORIALS]Destroying our city's lungsThe government announced that it would phase out development restrictions on 124 square kilometers of greenbelt area in the capital region by 2020. The move has stirred up the perennial debate about environmental damage from development, and has also triggered protests from residents in areas where development will still be restricted. Seoul said the measures were not new and are aimed at efficient land use. But the amount of land being decontrolled and the speed at which it will be developed give the impression of a hasty decision. We doubt both that a universal standard was applied in deciding the areas to be decontrolled and that the government has solid plans for the use of land to be freed.
The move is expected to stabilize housing prices in the capital region by easing the shortage of sites for residential construction. The new areas will contain about 300,000 housing units.
Civic groups criticized the government for harming the environment in the capital region by lifting the bans from some very environmentally sensitive areas. As housing construction continues, population and traffic problems will grow. What of steps to check Seoul's sprawl?
Seoul and local governments may try to address their pending problems by creating even more urban sprawl, like new bus terminals and distribution centers. Opening new land for development is perhaps also a way of avoiding protests from residents in developed areas about new public facilities, like crematoriums, there.
The government's construction policy has been responsible for destroying a significant part of the greenbelt. Lifting the building ban was an election pledge of the administration and it is trying to make good on that pledge in an election year. That is bad for land use policy.
Greenbelt protection has survived past political attacks because its value outweighs its demerits. The government promised to keep the principle of "planning first, development later," but that will be difficult. We need plans against indiscriminate development and for follow-up measures to control traffic and check real estate speculation. The fundamental reason for a greenbelt is conservation, not development.