[VIEWPOINT]A metropolitan system would be grandLogic applies to land, too. Regional planning should follow geography. The country and the regions then develop and residents live comfortably.
The so-called grand metropolitan administrative system, proposed by the mayors of Seoul and Incheon and the governor of Gyeonggi province, has created fresh discussion.
The system would be designed to improve the quality of life in the metropolitan region and enhance its global competitiveness.
The problem is that other local governments are against the idea.
Opponents contend that the grand metropolitan administration system requires deregulation, which will eventually block local and regional development.
But regrettably, the controversy over the proposal seems to have developed into wrangling by parties about their own selfish interests, rather than a reasonable discussion.
The controversy has two aspects.
On one hand, there is no big disagreement that a fundamental and structural approach is urgent to ease congestion in the metropolitan area.
Even still, there might be differing opinions about whether it is best to allocate what had been forcefully gained by affluent metropolitan areas and give that to comparatively less privileged rural areas.
On the other hand, unfortunately, the economy of Korea is struggling to become developed.
Also, it is well known that big cities represent and lead a given country’s competitiveness.
It is also a global trend that greater administrative consultation bodies are being organized to focus on large cities.
This is to respond efficiently to the explosively increasing demand for a bigger administrative system, including housing, industry, environment, transportation and welfare.
Leaving aside the theory on urban stratification system, which presupposes the fact that metro areas are for the richer, it is self-evident that Seoul and the metropolitan area is not just for residents of Seoul and its vicinity.
In this sense, the idea of a grand metropolitan administrative system is welcome.
This is a time in which barriers are being opened. The great megalopolises such as Paris, London and New York are well known to us, and these cities are expanding their reach even beyond national borders.
Until when are we going to be lost in a zero-sum game, sticking with old theories that presuppose conventional boundaries are be fixed forever? The megalopolis is already a reality. So we should accept this phenomenon as an unavoidable trend.
Establishing a grand metropolitan administrative system can be instrumental to enhancing benefits for metropolitan residents, solidifying the foundation for the growth of the entire national economy and promoting international competitiveness.
We should make best use of this opportunity to establish a framework for construction and co-existence, not disintegration nor conflict. We cannot constrain the function of our hearts because the functions of the other organs and limbs are weak in comparison.
If the Seoul metropolitan region falls competitively behind Tokyo or Shanghai, the Korean economy as a whole cannot compete with the Japanese or Chinese economy.
This is what geography teaches. Once again, standardization by pulling down the average level is the worst policy, and goes against nature. Thus we should avoid it.
If we fear to shake production components in rural areas because of the urbanization, it would be reasonable to seek separately measures to ease that concern.
With that, I once suggested developing a “southern sea belt” as a strong sustaining pole that could compete with the mid-peninsula and grand Seoul metropolitan area.
Local governments, too, should seek ways to build a regional administrative consultation body, keeping in mind future development and a local area’s characteristics.
Needless to say, the central government should support those local governments’ efforts.
The central government should also help establish a physical and cultural system to share the fruits of the development of metropolitan region smoothly with the local areas. The best policy would be to help comparatively advantageous areas to do better while supporting disadvantaged areas.
The argument that the already well functioning, interrelated grand metropolitan region should be separated by artificial fences is a useless bureaucratic idea. Containing concentration by adding inconveniences through regulations does not make sense anymore. If it becomes extreme, both people and their money will simply leave.
The voters gave unreasonable policies a bitter blow in the recent elections.
I hope the top decision makers received a valuable lesson from the results. Please be reasonable, honorable leaders of this country. The rewards will be all yours.
* The writer is a professor of geography at Seoul National University and vice president of the International Geography Union. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yu Woo-ik
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