The South Korean government believes that the country needs a new government to relieve congestion in Seoul Metro

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South Korea announces
plans for new capital city

By Renato Pesci, Built Environment Editor

12 August 2004: South Korea is following Brazil’s example by planning to build itself a new capital city. The government announced on 11 August 2004, that it had chosen a site of some 7,130 hectares in the Yeongi-Gongju region, 150 kilometres south-east of Seoul. A government spokesman told City Mayors that construction would start in 2007 and that by 2012 the first government departments would be operating in the new city. The final replacement of Seoul as the South Korea’s seat of parliament and government is not expected before 2020.

The Yeongi-Gongju region, which was chosen from a list of four finalists, won on transport and environmental grounds. The site is close to existing high-speed railway lines and express-ways. The Cheongui airport is also nearby.

South Korea, with some 48 million people, is a densely populated country. The land per capita is 2,310 m2, smaller than that of France (12,540 m2), the United Kingdom (4,290 m2), and Japan (3,102 m2). South Korea, with its population density at 460 persons per km2, has the fourth highest population density in the world, coming after Bangladesh, Germany, and Taiwan, excluding the city states of Singapore and Hong Kong. The actual population density is higher than its estimate due to the uninhabitable mountainous areas.

Since the end of the Korean War, rapid industrialisation brought on a massive population shift from rural to urban areas. Approximately 30 million rural dwellers have migrated to urban areas over the last four decades. As a result, the urban ratio increased from 35.8 per cent in 1960 to 88.5 per cent in 2002. The urban population has increased by approximately 800,000 a year. The increase in urban population has challenged the government to tackle a corresponding surge in the demand for housing and urban services.

A major characteristic of urbanisation has been the concentration of people and economic activities in the metropolitan region of Seoul. Population in the Seoul Metropolitan Area grew from 5.0 million (20.8%) in 1960 to 21 million (46.3%) in 2000. At the same time, the population of Seoul increased from 2.4 million (9.8%) to 9.9 million (21.4%). In the 1990's the population of the Seoul Metropolitan Area increased by 360,000 annually, whereas the city of Seoul has experienced a decline in population since the mid 1990's.

Lee Myung-bak, the Mayor of Seoul, has strongly criticised the government’s plan for a new South Korean capital. He told the press that relocating the capital would do great harm to the South Korean economy and undermine its competitiveness. However, the government countered his argument by pointing out that international companies increasingly favour the Chinese capital Beijing because Seoul had become too cramped and overcrowded.

So far the international business and diplomatic community has kept largely out of the argument. In addition, some observers point out that the whole project may become obsolete if North and South Korea re-united in the not so distant future. The seat of a united Korean government may even be the present North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which already served that role in the past.

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