[Outlook]A better use of land

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[Outlook]A better use of land

Housing prices in Seoul have been skyrocketing. The Seoul branch office head of a Japanese company said the weak yen and rising consumer prices have made life harder.
A professor at a university in Busan sighed over skyrocketing real estate prices in Seoul, saying that the price of one apartment there is equal to four in Busan. For this very reason, people delay marriage and plan to have fewer children. Many people say that they are having a hard time operating their businesses due to low price competitiveness.
Why have real estate prices in Seoul soared so high? One of the main reasons is that Seoul is considerably small compared to the population it should accommodate. For instance, Beijing is 16,808 square kilometers, Shanghai 8,240, Tokyo 2,102, and London 1,580 square kilometers. According to the China Statistical Yearbook, size in contrast with population shows that Beijing has 1.5 times the population of seoul and 27 times the size, and Shanghai has 1.8 times the number of people and is 13 times larger.
Seoul’s population is 10 times bigger than Ulsan but its size is only 60 percent of Ulsan’s.
Seoul has seen its population increase three times, its number of households six times, and its income grow by 10 times since 1963, even though its geographical size remains the same. Given the rise in the number of people, Seoul looks inflated.
The supply of land remains the same, while the demand has gone up steeply. Thus real estate prices inevitably increase. The problem is particularly serious in the Gangnam area.
The present status of Seoul’s land usage shows how serious the shortage of land in Seoul is.
Of its total area, mountains represent 25 percent, rivers 10 percent and roads 12 percent. When assessing only usable land excluding those mountains, rivers and roads, the population density is four times higher than Singapore and Hong Kong.
This is why real estate prices in Seoul are so high. Professor John Kane at Harvard University studied new metropolitan areas and points to flawed land policies, including the green belt policy.
Without making drastic reforms in metropolitan and national land policy, Seoul’s real estate prices will surely continue to rise in accordance with its economic growth. If this is the case, what solutions can exist?
China’s Chongqing city is 82,000 square meters with a population of 32 million.
A seasoned expert in national territory said that Korea can become one city when we think of the size of the whole country: 99,000 square kilometers. Transferring the capital city to Chungcheong province would not be a solution. Tokyo and Osaka are interconnected cities even though their distance is a whopping 550 kilometers.
And the northeastern United States ― encompassing Boston, New York, Baltimore and Washington ― is hundreds of kilometers across but is all interconnected with cities. This is called a megalopolis. This is a linear city, which differs from metropolitan cities, which use a ring concept for city planning.
However, Korea is still captured by the conventional ring city concept.
Korea has the world’s fourth most advanced high-speed railway technology. High-speed trains traveling more than 400 kilometers per hour will soon be available. Then, people can commute between Seoul and Busan in one hour.
This will resolve problems such as the over-concentration of Seoul and metropolitan cities, a severe shortage of land in Seoul, where to establish an administrative city and balanced land development.
Mobile phone usage tells us that there is no division between Seoul and local provinces. The country is already one large community.
The solution for Korea is to make efficient use of our land. Making the country into one megalopolis seems to be doing just that. Seoul and Cheonan are already connected.
Rather than suppressing the growth of the metropolitan cities by being obsessed with the ring city concept, the capital zone surrounding Seoul should be allowed to spread beyond Cheonan and further south.
As we concluded the free trade agreement with the United States, we should allow market principle to elevate our usage of land to the standard of the United States. We have many world class construction companies and national land planning experts. It would be wise to let them find solutions.

*The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Byung-nak
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