[VIEWPOINT]A cautious word on relocation

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[VIEWPOINT]A cautious word on relocation

The relocation of the 176 public institutions in the capital region to other parts of the nation is expected to produce considerable side effects in the future because of the structural problems in the way the project was pursued.
Most of all, the relocation of public institutions will aggravate regional antagonism in Korea. The central government’s method of uniformly distributing the institutions to each region is essentially motivated by political intent.
The government argues that it considered the degree of regional development and the association with local industries and objectively distributed the relocation sites of the institutions.
However, hardly anyone buys the government’s claim. It is fundamentally impossible to select the site of relocation that way due to the nature of the public institutions, and the government has amplified suspicion by postponing the announcement for the site selection result six times.
Moreover, local autonomous government heads have bet their political careers on the issue of the public institution relocation plan. If the result is not up to the expectations of local people, they are likely to assert that the government has made biased decisions in consideration of certain regions.
The relocation of public institutions, whose original purpose was to promote national integration through balanced development, ironically inflates regional discords.
The relocation of public institutions is highly likely to undermine the effectiveness of government administration.
In order to improve the competitiveness of the administration, public institutions are targeted as needing restructuring the most. In reality, citizens consider some public institutions as badly-run organizations with dubious management.
Therefore, trimming down the public sector that has grown relatively ineffective and huge compared to the private sector is an urgent task.
However, in order to smooth down the resistance of the public institutions against relocation, the government is offering various incentives instead of restructuring. Furthermore, once the relocated public institutions establish themselves as major employers in those regions, the restructuring of those institutions could rock the economic base of the given regions, and restructuring will be forever impossible.
Moreover, the relocation of public institutions will bring a nationwide real estate boom. The government plans to create new towns, so-called “innovative cities,” at a size of at least 370 acres, with each of the relocated public institutions at the center. Undoubtedly, real estate prices will rise simultaneously in extensive areas.
The rise in prices from the government’s development plan, not due to the rise in demand from buying, is an obvious bubble. After all, the relocation of public institutions will bring nationwide balance in real estate prices instead of the balanced development of the country that the government hopes for.
The most worrisome side effect of the relocation is the fact that the government is giving the wrong idea on regional development to local residents. Ultimately, local development is attained through the efforts of the region, not given from the outside.
In this perspective, the relocation of public institutions is sending very wrong messages about regional development to locals. In other words, the plan makes residents only believe that local development is possible if the central government assigns a major public institution that causes a big development ripple effect that would be otherwise unattainable.
As a result, local residents will focus on lobbying the central government instead of making their own efforts and producing ideas to develop their region.
Balanced development is a good thing. However, in solemn reality, a good motive sometimes produces unintended, evil results depending on how you approach it.
The government should give up its ambition to create a turning point for balanced development by relocating public institutions in the Seoul area to some of the provinces all at once.
It is necessary to have the wisdom to promote the changes gradually, after verifying expected side effects and reviewing them fully, first by moving a few institutions on a trial basis.

* The writer is a professor of urban and regional planning at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hur Jae-wan
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