[Viewpoint] Building on the Manhattan model

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[Viewpoint] Building on the Manhattan model

The surface area of Manhattan Island, New York, is 60 square kilometers. It is one-10th the size of Seoul. However, the influence of Manhattan on the international economy and culture extends way beyond its area.

What is the secret to why an island only seven times the size of Yeouido is the mecca of the culture and finance around the world?

Just walk around Manhattan for a day, and the answer becomes clear.

The source of its competitiveness is that all the necessary elements are located close together in a forest of skyscrapers, like a semiconductor chip.

People with all sorts of skills mingle every day at restaurants, theaters and clubs. Convergent ideas that go beyond each individual’s field are born, and of course, strong connections are created. Since everything is close together, decision-making inevitably occurs quickly.

The roads in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, radiate out like the wheels on a carriage, focusing on two main axes.

The first is Capitol Hill, and the second is the White House. Around 300 think tanks are located on Massachusetts Avenue, which connects the two axes.

The think tanks act as cushions between Congress and the government, which need to keep their guard up against one another. Dozens of seminars are held there. Not only distinguished scholars, but also government authorities and members of both the ruling and opposition parties of the legislature meet frequently to discuss different issues.

Even sensitive political issues are theoretically discussed and considered here first. The Congressional politics of the United States may have taken root thanks to the political structure of Washington.

Whenever I see New York or Washington, D.C., I become more concerned about the current Sejong City debate in Seoul.

I am not worried that civil servants will have to waste their time in the car as they travel back and forth between Sejong City and the National Assembly in Yeouido or the Blue House.

The concern is that moving government offices to Sejong City from Seoul is not just our own problem.

Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore are lined up right behind Seoul, and Tokyo is watching out for Seoul over its shoulder. They are all strong competitors, even if we integrate all our capabilities in Seoul.

Even moving everything to one spot like Manhattan or Washington, D.C. will not be enough for Seoul to survive this tight spot.

It would be a relief if the Chungcheong provinces could benefit by sharing the functions of the capital of Seoul. However, this is also just a mirage.

There is only one large company that has its headquarters in Gwacheon, where there are many government departments focused on the economy, and the area around the government buildings in Daejeon is not even worth mentioning.

How many companies would be willing to move to Sejong City to follow the government?

Perhaps a few public companies might go if bullied by the government. However, I have never heard of a city like this being a success in any country in the world, let alone in Korea.

The way things are going, Seoul and the Chungcheong provinces could both end up victims.

Promises to the public are important, too. The fact is that the president and government party promised construction of the original Sejong City plan many times during the election.

However, if a promise with the public ends up eating away at national competitiveness, it would be unfortunate for the people, too. It is up to politics to put this right.

If it is not capable of putting things right, it might be better for the National Assembly to set an example by leaving Seoul and moving to Sejong City first. At least this would save the time needed to move between buildings.

*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Kyung-min
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