[OUTLOOK]Mayoral hopefuls need firm plans

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[OUTLOOK]Mayoral hopefuls need firm plans

Several candidates are competing fiercely for the post of Seoul mayor, but few have offered a new vision or substantial strategies to make the city more competitive on the international stage.
So far, Seoul has not been very competitive. For quality of living, Seoul ranked 89th this year out of 215 cities, one step up from last year, according to a survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. This index was based on criteria such as the political environment, safety, education, housing, transport and medical and health considerations. Zurich ranked as the top city, while Singapore was in 34th place. Tokyo ranked 35th, London 39th, New York 46th and Hong Kong 68th. Although the standards used in the survey were those of the western world, it is still disappointing that Seoul ranked lower than other Asian cities. The top cities on the index received high scores on the environment, rich cultural resources and few language barriers between locals and expatriates.
The 21st century's mainstream of city development is to enhance a city's competitiveness. Once, development was focused in the outer suburbs, but now development is taking place in the central areas. Reconstruction projects are being carried out and new jobs have been made in the areas of finance and information technology, even though jobs in the manufacturing industry are disappearing. Cities are attracting money and people from around the world. Major cities compete with one another, marketing refined buildings and environments, many cultural events and shopping malls.
We now need to prepare concrete strategies to improve our status as a world-class city. One of the most urgent tasks is to present a vision on what functions central Seoul should focus on. The 600-year-old city now stands at the crossroads of being reborn as a 21st century modern city. The restoration of the Cheonggye stream can be seen as a symbolic project that removed remnants of the previous industrial city.
However, the reform of a city takes a lot more than individual projects. We need a master plan and tangible strategies to decide what functions the city should have, where industries should be located, and how the physical environment should be improved. An industrial city can't compete anymore with other major cities around the world.
First, we need to figure out Seoul's optimum population, which is essential to becoming more competitive. The metropolitan cities of Paris, New York and Tokyo have populations of ten million. If the governmental bodies and public institutions in Seoul move to other cities, we need a long-term master plan to fill the empty space with other functions. We also need long-term plans on administrative matters such as using local taxes, including the property tax.
Lately, the gap between living standards in southern and northern Seoul has become a major issue. We need agreed concrete strategies on the functions that each zone in Seoul, including these two areas, should carry out. It is doubtful that development in northern Seoul can change the area into a more pleasant living environment. Building high-rise apartment buildings doesn't guarantee a better standard of living. Skyscrapers require other infrastructure such as wider roads and we should discuss whether we are prepared to provide that. Northern Seoul has also offered less expensive housing. So if we start building high rises in nothern Seoul, we run the risk that low-income families won’t be able to afford to live in northern area.
The candidates for the Seoul mayoralty should stop competing with images and slogans, such as choosing symbolic colors. Instead, they should present a master plan on how to make Seoul a competitive international city.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shin Hye-kyung
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