Mayor requests new plan for Yongsan Park

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Mayor requests new plan for Yongsan Park

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Wednesday requested the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to reconsider its plan for Yongsan Park, which he fears is at risk of being split into pieces by contending powers including government ministries and the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).

“The Seoul Metropolitan Government is concerned that under the current plan by the ministry,” Park said, “the Yongsan Park will be split in half, many of its areas taken up by powerful entities and much of the park being used by a hotel, a helicopter station and as a site for the remaining U.S. forces.”

Park added, “I cannot accept a national park like this, nor will the people accept it.”

The plan is part of the ministry’s so-called Yongsan Park Development Project, in line with the U.S. Forces Korea’s relocation to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, south of the capital, by 2017. With claims from the USFK, the U.S. Embassy, Korea’s Ministry of National Defense and other ministries, only 68 percent of the 3.58 million square-meter (884 acre) area will be converted into the national park, according to the city government.

Park likened the park to the national identity of Korea.

“The return of the land means that Korea is receiving back a land that contains some painful history,” Park said. “The Yongsan Park will encompass areas that for some 100 years have been invaded or occupied by foreign forces, including those of the Mongols, the Manchus and the Japanese.”

“Yet,” he continued, “the central government is carrying out the project in a high-handed manner, without listening to what the people think. At this rate, it will create a park irrelevant to the nation’s history.”

Last April, seven government ministries and agencies announced their plans to build museums and entertainment centers at the park, including a police museum, a sports center and a women’s history museum, which will take up some 900,000 square-meters in all.

“The city government hereby proposes to the Land Ministry to form a coalition with the city government, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and experts to recreate the plan from the start,” Park said. “An amendment to the special act on the park should be in order.”

The Special Act on the Creation of Yongsan Park, implemented in 2008, delegates authority over the creation of the park to the Land Ministry.

While a public and private committee comprising members from the Land Ministry, Seoul city government, Yongsan District Office, media, civic groups and ordinary citizens existed from 2013, the city government said it was not effective. “The committee has not been a good venue for the city government to get its voice involved in the Yongsan Park plan,” said a Seoul city government official, “given that among the 22-member group, only one person represents the city government.”

Until 2016, the committee also met only once a year.

While the Land Ministry responded positively to the city government’s suggestion, saying it will cooperate with the city government on the park project, some insiders questioned the city government’s intentions.

“The Seoul city government is merely trying to draw away the public’s attention with this,” said an official of the Land Ministry. “The ministry is doing everything legally, and will keep to the original plan to commence construction on the park by 2019 in order to finish it by 2027.”

This is the second time that Mayor Park has drawn public attention with his open opposition to the central government. The Seoul city government is currently mired in a legal battle with the Ministry of Health and Welfare over the city government’s youth subsidy program.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, SEO JUN-SUK [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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