[VIEWPOINT]New model for developmentNews that the government has agreed with civil organizations to develop the southern part of the much talked about Sihwa lake into an environmentally friendly, ecological, cultural place for tourism and leisure, was a breath of fresh air for people getting sick of hearing about conflict between the two major parties in the National Assembly.
Sihwa lake is an artificial lake in Gyeonggi province, and the land that was reclaimed by lowering the lake’s water level is over 17 million pyong or 13,779 acres. As a tide embankment keeps high tides from coming in, the area ― originally silt at an estuary of a river ― no longer works for the same purpose.
The land was planned to be used for agricultural purposes, but because of water pollution, the plan to create a fresh-water lake was abandoned and accordingly the plan to use the land for agriculture was given up. The fact that such a large piece of land is less than 40 kilometers away from Seoul, and still remains undeveloped may come as a big surprise to those who do not know the history of lake Sihwa.
Water pollution in the lake became a big social issue not long after the construction of the tide embankment. As a result of the controversy over environmental problems of the lake, the naive and rash plan to build a seawall off the estuary of Geum River to stop high tides from coming in and creating a freshwater lake and cultivating a vast area of reclaimed land along the lake were dashed. It could be said, ironically, that the failed Sihwa lake plan contributed to enhancing our environmental awareness to a mature stage. However public plans have started to suffer a lot since then: All new town development plans meet protests from environmentalists and residents and have difficulties in promoting planned projects. The failure to create a freshwater lake delayed the development of the southern part of the reclaimed land for the past 10 years. Yet considering the potential economic value of the land, we cannot leave it undeveloped forever.
The Korea Water Resources Corporation, which is in charge of the development project, attempted to promote the project many times but failed to do so because of protests of civic groups. The government was aware of a need to develop the land, but restrained from discussing it because of concern that it would worsen public opinion.
The idea the government presented after much thought, was a method of establishing a plan together with residents and civic groups. It was obvious that the government cannot win over public opinion in the end, so the intention was that all parties concerned put their heads together and come up with a frank solution to the problem.
This all started with the proposition of one high-ranking policy maker at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, but the experiment has proven to be quite successful over the past year.
No doubt there is still a long way to go. There are still conflicting opinions on the details of land use, and friction will be unavoidable in the process of implementation.
Nevertheless, the government and the Korea Water Resources Corporation consider it a success that civic groups have agreed with the development plan.
If people continue to compromise with one another and work together with wisdom for a better solution, just as a common ground on the basic direction of developing the land was found, we will be able to work through other accumulated problems one by one.
It is a good example that the plan to develop the southern part of the reclaimed land of lake Sihwa was established by the direct participation of citizens and civic groups. It can now be a model for public development projects. There would be no exaggeration in saying that public development projects up until now were decided and planned in secret chambers.
The logic is that if the plan leaks, it will create a bad environment for the project because there will be speculative investments and rising land prices. Even if this is so, the current public development methods, which require combat police squads to control protesting citizens and environmental groups at hearings on such projects, need to be changed.
Instead of regarding citizens and civic groups as hostile groups because they oppose development, if citizens and environmental groups are allowed to participate in the policy making, planning and development procedures almost like a partner in the business, we will be able to get more diverse ideas and voluntary cooperation from residents of the area. Needless to say, this can’t be done as easily as it is said and happen overnight. That is why this new first-time attempt is so important, and why there will be even more eyes on the development of events to follow.
* The writer is a professor of urban design at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ahn Kun-hyuck