Shift in the Residential Area Regeneration Paradigm: Seoul Human Town
The launch of large-scale demolition and development projects including redevelopment and reconstruction
In Seoul inferior residential areas sprang up in hill areas or riversides, due to there not being enough homes. These residential areas arose from the rapid population inflow that resulted from industrialization and urbanization. In the 1970s, Seoul implemented residential home improvements, while the public sector reorganized the infrastructure in inferior residential areas. After that, commissioned redevelopment projects using a total home demolition mode, which was carried out by commissioned private construction companies, were adopted. Actually, at first, the redevelopment projects had been implemented to solve financial problems and expand residents’ participation using loans from abroad.
After 1983, as a joint redevelopment mode (land owners offer land by forming an association, and construction companies pay the redevelopment project cost) was adopted. The project was conducted in a total demolition mode by the private sector.
Problems with the redevelopment project that was led by the private sector
Consequently, many homes were supplied in the short-term through the home redevelopment project, which built large-scale APT complexes and totally demolished existing homes. However, cheap homes for ordinary city dwellers were demolished, and thus, a vicious cycle continued. Poor tenants among the native residents did not resettle and move away to other inferior homes, and in turn, their inferior homes were demolished and redeveloped.
This mode of redevelopment was linked to the destruction of a Korea’s feature of alleys in the low-rise residential areas. The community collapsed, and the new homes became almost as uniform as apartments. Therefore, serious problems emerged in the residential diversity aspect. As development profits returned to home owners, the project formed a standpoint of regarding "home" as a subject of speculation, rather than viewing it as a living space.
Relatively high priced apartments were built along with the destruction of the low-rise dwellings of ordinary people
As this mode of home redevelopment was active in the existing towns, apartments in Seoul accounted for 58.7% in 2010. 99% of the homes supplied through reconstruction projects were apartments. However, as redevelopment that was focused on profitable mid/large-sized high priced apartments continued, without considering the native resident’s income level, the small-sized home supply fell. Among the total annual home supply, 71% are apartments, and the negative image of Seoul as being “a city of apartments” is deepening.
New direction avoiding apartments-centered housing supply
Housing redevelopment projects, which were centered on apartments for the past 40 years, negatively affected ordinary people’s residential stability including the loss of local characteristics, community destruction, urban landscape damage, uniform types of dwelling, and the disappearance of low rise homes. Most low-rise home areas are waiting to be transformed into apartment complexes, and a vicious cycle neglecting outdated dwellings is repeated, without an effort to reorganize residential areas into villages that are good to live in.
Now is the time to recognize the value of low-rise residential areas and ordinary urban dwellers’ residential bases. The following development models are urgently required: low-rise residential areas should be protected from indiscreet total demolition for the coexistence of various types of dwelling for sound urban development and various income brackets’ pleasant residential living. Low-rise residential areas should be preserved and managed to remain as villages that are good to live in.
Seoul Human Town is an alternative for newly recognizing the value of low-rise residential areas, and to protect and manage them as ordinary city dwellers’ residential spaces that require relatively cheap and smaller management expenses as compared to apartments. It provides alternative spaces that offer diversity to uniform urban landscape and that can quickly cope with city changes. Seoul Human Town has actually brought about innovative changes to the existing development of low-rise residential areas using the total demolition mode.
"Human Town" refers to a project that realizes “Residents’ Building up Their Neighborhood.” It does so by shaping the competitive residential environment by adopting security/crime prevention, community facilities, parking lots, and resting spaces, which are the advantages of apartments as opposed to low-rise residential areas, where detached homes, multi-households, and multiplexing dwellings are clustered.
The charm of low-rise residential areas is enhanced and their value is improved
Through the Seoul Human Town project, an opportunity to newly recognize the value of low-rise residential areas has been offered. Low-rise residential areas maintain a humane residential environment where communities are alive and naturally shaped along the alleys. The low-rise dwellings are relatively cheaper and management expenses are lesser than that of apartments, and therefore, ordinary people can pay for them.
People having various income levels can live in various types of homes through the Seoul Human Town project, which is equipped with the advantages of low rise dwellings and the enhancement of the residential environment. The project can be a sustainably manageable alternative for low-rise residential areas.
A new paradigm of residential area regeneration presented
There has been a shift of perception in regards to detached houses and multi-households/multiplexing housing clustered areas, which were recognized as being a relatively inferior residential environment (inconvenient living environment and weakness from crimes and natural disasters).
First, the consolidation of security and crime prevention through the installation of CCTVs, security lamps, and security guard posts, and support for residents’ own crime prevention organizations.
Second, the installation of welfare facilities like senior citizens centers, management offices, day care centers, and everyday life convenience facilities including water treatment facilities and environment-friendly facilities for residents.
Third, the establishment of an urban infrastructure through the expansion of parking lots, parks, trails, and access roads.
Fourth, the cornerstone was laid to present an alternative development means against apartment-centered urban reorganization projects by shaping low-rise residential area’s nostalgic life style, based on an enlivened sense of community via the following: the organization of management units, the enactment of management rules, operation by creating a resident representative council, and establishment of infrastructure like welfare facilities and roads.
Through the reduction of CO2 emissions, which have been caused in the indiscreet home demolition process, continuous residential area management and various projects enhancing existing homes’ energy efficiency, new attempts in the area of low-rise residential management are being conducted.
The government and the city of Seoul implemented a type of regeneration of redevelopment and residential environment improvement projects to preserve low-rise residential areas, where ordinary people reside, from the total demolition of redevelopment projects. However, private sector-led redevelopment projects could not avoid the total demolition redevelopment mode, since development profits come first.
To solve this problem and to improve the housing problems that have resulted from housing policies centered on uniform apartments supply, the government of Seoul, which is called, “a city of apartments,” the local government, academia, and expert groups made great efforts. However, adequate effects were not generated. In December 2009, the city of Seoul began to debate the concept of Seoul Human Town, which is a new concept for low-rise residential areas. It combines the advantages of apartments and low-rise homes.
According to Seoul’s strong commitment to shift its housing policy’s paradigm, the Seoul Human Town project was proposed. For a specific direction of the project, 38 internal meeting sessions, 3 advisory meeting sessions, consultations with the relevant government agencies including the Land, Transportation, and Maritime Affairs Ministry were held, and reporting to the mayor was carried out. In April 2010, 5 months after the proposal, the Seoul Human Town Shaping Plan was announced. Two months later in June 2010, the Seoul Human Town Implementation Plan was established as being the mayor’s policy.
Residents’ participation was promoted through various contests for Seoul's citizens and students
Seoul focused on the means to induce residents’ voluntary participation in order to attract the general public’s continuous interest in Seoul Human Town, and spread the culture of building humane villages. The city of Seoul selected the areas for which the Seoul Human Town project’s effects may be huge among the target areas. This was applied by autonomous districts, and implemented pilot projects. In 2008, the invitation for applying for project target areas was publicly sent out, and the Target Area Selection Deliberation Committee was organized with relevant experts on Nov. 21, 2008. In this manner, pilot project areas were selected. For smooth project implementation, there was a principle to select areas, in which large scale development plans were not established in the concerned area or adjacent area within 5 years among residential areas that can minimize development pressure, or type 1 general residential areas, where infrastructure is relatively good, and a small scale detached houses area with about 100 households.
The city of Seoul then let local residents organize resident common councils through a district unit plan, and established a method to support its operation and plan to establish the public facilities that were required by the residents. The city also plans to improve the environment including alley design. In addition, the city of Seoul assisted in the budget to implement the planned projects in the second phase of the plan.
The city also held two contests that students participated in. It did so in order to discover new project target areas and to induce the general public’s interest and attention. Through all this, the Seoul Human Town project is being carried out by targeting selected villages.
The Human Town Project has been established through residents’ participation.
Due to rapid industrialization and urbanization in the past, the city of Seoul has tried to shift from a top-down mode, through which the public sector uniformly establishes plans and actualizes them, to a resident-led mode for this project. Seoul Human Town is hugely meaningful in that residents take part in their residential area management. It plans and shapes through cooperative governance between residents and administration beyond the redevelopment mode, which in the past caused conflicts with existing residents.
Towards this end, a resident council, composed of residents, experts, and administration officials, was organized in each selected area as a window for dialogue and communication. The experts from the relevant fields were commissioned as master planners, and more than 20 resident council meetings were held. Also, through PR that included resident education and sending out leaflets, the residents were encouraged to present their opinions.
The establishment of a system in which residents participate from the initial planning stage
Seoul Human Town’s plans were established through the participation of residents from the initial stages, and they can manage and operate the villages through pledges between the residents, after the completion of the project. The city of Seoul appointed a master planner for each village, and selected experts in urban planning and architecture. It organized resident councils together with related personnel by each autonomous district, so that the plans can be effectively carried out. As planning began to be carried out on a full scale, a working-level council was organized with residents’ representatives, and various workshops were planned to induce residents’ active participation.
Free residents’ participation opportunities offered to build up our neighborhood by our hands
The biggest characteristic of the project is that resident participation in village construction was applied from the planning process. The residents presented their opinions by participating in resident social gatherings and presentations from the initial stages, and received a variety of information. The resident council, which was composed of residents’ representatives, took part in the resident workshops, and debated on the village’s specific issues with experts and public administration officials. In this process, various tools helping residents’ understanding, such as target image games, village maps, design cards, and models were used.
Based on residents’ understanding, the planning process that formed a resident agreement on specific village issues was devised, and a plan was decided on that would reflect this process. The agreed details of the residents were reflected to district plans, and the design guideline suitable for village features was drawn. Consequently, the following results were implemented in the project:
Based on the pilot project cases in Seowon Village in Gangdong-gu, Neungangol in Gangbuk-gu and Seonyugol in Seongbuk-gu implemented as the first phase, the practical work guidelines of, “Building a Village That is Good to Live in – An Urban Design Guide That is in Harmony with Residents," were produced and distributed to the relevant agencies. In October 2011, education was conducted for housing and city-relevant public officials to diffuse the pilot projects.
Legal and system improvement actively conducted for the diffusion of the Seoul Human Town project
Seoul set the project direction into a reorganization mode for the stable implementation of the Seoul Human Town project. The city suggested a reflection of the residential area regeneration project in the City and Residential Environment Reorganization Act to the MLTL. For the residential area regeneration project to be conducted systematically and efficiently, 2-3 pilot projects have been implemented in stages according to the local conditions. The city of Seoul plans to expand the project after law amendment by analyzing the pilot projects’ performance.
The following pilot projects have been implemented so far: 3 areas for detached housing clusters, 2 cancelled areas as planned reconstruction and reorganization districts, 3 areas within the reorganization promotion district, and 2 districts of types 1 and 2 general residential areas.
A shift in residents' recognition on existing reorganization projects (redevelopment, reconstruction) is needed
Seoul focused on quantitative housing supply through large-scale development projects, including redevelopment and reconstruction for Seoul citizens’ residential stabilization, and consequently, development profits also accompanied the project. However, the expectation for development profits is not easily disappearing, despite there being no generation of such development profits, even though apartments are built. This is due to a slump in the real estate industry. Still, many residents prefer the reconstructing their homes into apartments as a means to increase wealth.
In dealing with these residents, Seoul City had many difficulties in conducting pilot projects, and convincing them as follows: Although no immediate development profits are generated, more profits will be generated in the long-term, according to residential environment improvement, after human towns are built. All these were carried out through active PR and education of the project, compared with the redevelopment project.
Low participation by residents due to their insufficient awareness of urban planning
Although local residents are the most important player in shaping Seoul Human Town, there were many ordeals in seeking residents’ cooperation, since residents’ representatives tried to avoid conflicts with the residents in deciding on local issues or on the matters to improve.
Also, after the establishment of Seoul Human Town project’s district plans, when seeking consent for autonomous management under the agreement between residents, the project is faced with lots of resistance. To solve the resistance, the city of Seoul has undertaken the project through residents consenting to resident agreement in priority, and has made an effort to convince the residents, who did not consent to the agreement, to participate in the agreement.
The establishment of district plans will implement the Seoul Human Town Project
The Seoul Human Town Project needs to diagnose village problems and present a direction to take via residents’ participation. For a successful project, a residents’ community culture needs to be formed through supporting resident convenience facilities by the public sector. To do so, the city designated pilot project areas, commissioned district plans, selected urban planning and architecture companies. In this manner, Seoul established district plans covering local problems, residents’ requirements, and a development direction over about 8 months.
Composition of the Seoul Human Town Project and financial support
To build a community center in the Seoul Human Town Project area, urban and residential environment reorganization funds were injected into the project and resident convenience facilities were assisted (about 2 billion KRW per district). To form an organization to implement the project, a City Reorganization Committee affiliated with the Housing HQ Residential Regeneration Planning Officer was organized. In addition, the Residential Environment Dept. was newly established, and a team was formed that was placed in charge of the project for the relevant work.
Organization of resident councils and the selection of master planners
In Seoul, resident representatives were organized, centering on Tong and Ban heads in the local areas, to smoothly implement the Seoul Human Town Project. Also, resident councils, which were composed of residents, experts, and public agencies for establishing plans together, were formed, and about 10 council meeting sessions were held to discuss planning directions.
By selecting master planners, they could play an assistant’s role from the standpoint of of the residents, who should live and manage the area, in addition to the standpoint of the local administrative agencies. Also, an opportunity emerged to solve local residents’ complaints and distrust on the past top-down mode of urban management plans.
Although, the project began as a city policy project, an institutional base will be prepared through the amendment of the Urban Reorganization Act and the enactment of the City Regeneration Act. The Seoul Human Town project is implemented as a pilot project before legal and institutional base establishment, and the institutional base is being made, based on project experiences.
The project was initiated by the city of Seoul, but the central government also recognizes its necessity, and such recognition is demonstrated as an effort for institutionalization. If the institutionalization is established in the future, similar types of projects will be carried out, and this project can become a good benchmarking case for other public agencies or private businesses.
Currently, the demand for residential area regeneration, including the voluntary building of villages keeping local features, is appearing nationwide. An attempt to manage new residential areas that consider the social and economic conditions of the community and residents is conducted, and thus Seoul Human Town can be a leading important case.
Another attraction of the project can be the maximum use of the infrastructure of local governments (Resident Autonomy Center, etc.).
The Seoul Human Town Project has contributed to solving village problems and turning the villages into attractive places by the public sector improving the villages and presenting a planned management direction in improving the environment of the low-rise residential areas. Also, the project hugely helped to form village community culture, and improve villages, where local residents can enjoy their life through continuous communication with villagers by discussing how to improve villages, how to change fences , and how to develop and maintain parks in the village planning process.
The planning process through residents’ participation from the initial stages especially made the residents recognize that they are the owners of the residential areas and that they are the key management players. An opportunity to form a system to continuously manage low residential areas, and the possibility of residents’ autonomous management and participation were confirmed through community competence. When a community activation program, including social and economic regeneration, together with Seoul Human Town Project’s physical regeneration is developed and supported, the connection between policies and synergistic energy can be expected. This can be done through linking various projects that have been conducted targeting low rise residential areas by civic organizations and social activists. The community culture, formed in the process of shaping villages together, is likely to function as a driving force to build up future villages.
The city of Seoul is committed to preserving the diversity of low-rise residential areas, maintaining the local area’s community and unique identity, building human towns that are centered on harmony between locality and residents, and also on humanity through continual institutional supplementation and communication with local residents.
Department / Contact
- Global Urban Partnership Division / 82-2-2133-5376 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Megacity Research Center / 82-2-2149-1418 / email@example.com