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Urban Renewal Projects Should Be Viewed as a Long Term Project
Lee Won-young  |  franlee0405@hanyang.ac.kr
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[336호] 승인 2017.12.04  
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Urban renewal, a recently popularized notion in Korea, has been capturing the interest of many, especially around the city of Seoul. The notion, which is also known as urban restoration, indicates the reformation of many desolated spots for socio-economic improvements. Recently, Seoul has launched the ‘Well made! 20’ project which aims to turn the city into one of the forerunners of urban restoration in Korea. Through this project, diverse places in Seoul, which were once neglected and closed to the public, are being brought back to the spotlight as a space for art and culture. While the project is gaining great attention, it would be incorrect to assume that there are only positive views amongst these attentions.
What Is Urban Renewal?
Urban renewal is a notion that was first brought into Korea in the year of 2013, through the enactment of the Urban Renewal Act. Its purpose is to establish a certain region or city to a better place physically and socio-economically. Compared to redevelopment and rebuilding, which only focuses on the enhancement of the physical environment of an area, urban renewal attempts to both rehabilitate the area physically, and to revitalize the society around it. The term ‘urban renewal’ is a comprehensive one, including concepts like redevelopment and rebuilding. 
Under the urban renewal policy launched in 2015, the government is aiming to raise residential participation in urban renewal by providing education on the concept. The education is done through various events held within the residences, but also through institutes such as ‘Urban Renewal College’. Through this education, the residential community gets invigorated, which further helps them to realize the problems of their dwelling and come up with its countermeasures. This eventually develops to the point where the residents themselves progress the urban renewal projects. Through these efforts by the government, the notion of urban renewal is becoming more popular amongst the people every day, although it still has a long way ahead to reach its ideal objectives.
 
Overseas Urban Renewal Results
“Before comparing the urban renewal projects of Korea and other countries, we need to notice that our country is still at the very beginning stages of the entire process. We believe that it would take at least seven years to finally visualize a glimpse of the result in every urban renewal project,” explained Professor Choi Chang-gyu, Director of the Hanyang University Graduate School of Urban Studies and Graduate School of Real Estate Convergence.
Since Korea is currently at the entry level of urban renewal, the major difference between Korea and foreign countries would be the degree of participation from their community members. While there are many attempts from the government to provide funds and education to the locals regarding the urban renewal project, the country still lacks spontaneous participation of the citizens to come up with ideas to revitalize desolated areas. 
A good comparison of this project would be the ‘High Line Park’ of New York City, and the ‘Seoullo 7017’ of Seoul. Both places were originally abandoned railroad and overpass tracks, which were later modified to elevated linear parks for people to visit. Although the results of the two seem similar, there is a great difference when it comes to the process of modification. The ‘High Line Park’ project was completed through  five years of planning, starting from the railroad’s repurposing and the grand opening. For ‘Seoullo 7017’, on the other hand, the planning took only two years, from 2015 to 2017. As can be implied from the shortage of preparation time, Seoul came to face some failures. Compared to ‘High Line Park’, ‘Seoullo 7017’ has failed to fully consider the viewpoints of the citizens relevant to the project. This eventually made ‘Seoullo 7017’ to a project created through the ‘top-down’ process.
The project was planned and led by the government with low participation rate from the citizens, while the ‘High Line Park’ is regarded as having the ‘bottom-up’ process.
 
Concerns of Urban Renewal in Korea
According to Professor Gu Ja-hun, Director of the Hanyang University Graduate School of Urban Studies, “The difference between Korea and the other countries when it comes to urban renewal is caused because Korea is still at the initial levels of urban renewal. Since not many citizens have the interest to initiate the urban renewal project within their residence, the government unilaterally leads such projects. The problem is that some citizens express complaints to the government-driven projects, without being aware of this story lying behind.”
Likewise, although there are many merits on urban renewal, some experts still raise concerns about this issue, one of them regarding the rising rental fees of the area following after its renewal. As the buildings and the community gets rebuilt and newly created, the rental fee of buildings around the area naturally increases. This causes existing merchants in the area to eventually leave their place of business. In the end, the ones who helped revitalize the economy of the designated area are forced to leave the place due to the high rental fees.
Another concern is the matter of satisfaction of the residents. There have been some cases where the residents of an area complained about the result of the renewal. ‘Ewha Village’, for example, was turned into a tourist attraction full of beautiful murals after the urban renewal project. However, the residents of the area felt uncomfortable with too many tourists visiting and creating noise. “Problems like these are the ones that can be learned only after launching the project. These concerns are still considered as part of the trial and error of urban renewal, at least in Korea,” commented Professor Gu.
Concerns arose when President Moon Jae-in made the urban renewal of rural areas into one of his election pledges. Experts on the issue have commented that urban renewal is a project that needs a long period of attention to reap any results. In other words, mere five years is not enough to complete a project. They also fear that projects will be rushed and not thoroughly reviewed before being launched. This might increase the possibility of flaws in the project, and therefore create an additional number of unsatisfactory residents. 
 
Actions That Should Be Taken
The concerns that are currently made regarding urban renewal in Korea are mostly due to the lack of experience the country has on this issue. Still, while it may be easy to think that urban renewal mostly creates discomfort during its process of settlement, cases like the Nagwon Arcade and Haebangchon of Seoul have already gained positive results and feedback from surrounding residents.
Meanwhile, both Professor Gu and Choi asked people to judge the development of urban renewal with generosity. They should always remember that the full execution of urban renewal takes a long period of time, which would in the end, bring positive results to the society as a whole. 
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