A recent EASIN Urban, Transport and DRM Community of Practice (CoP) meeting I attended in Seoul, South Korea was an eye opener in terms of the rapid urban development of the city of Seoul. Considered an East Asian tiger, manufacturing and an export-led economy have made Seoul a global city with neon skylines and the new focus of Asia’s technology boom. A presentation by Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), the agency responsible for the city’s urban planning, describes the city as a ‘strategic space for people to reside in since ancient times’. Nevertheless, the city and its urban identity have gone through various transformations – through the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) to restoration after the Korean war (1950-53) to industrialization (1960s-1970s) to development and globalization. In SMG’s words, Seoul is witnessing the ‘environmental and historical awakening as a world city’. Evidence of this was seen in sites I visited to the restored Cheonggyecheon stream and a former landfill converted to Haneul Park.
Thoughts on urban growth from Kiel to Nairobi
I’m writing at the end of a long, dusty mission, after numerous plane, train and car journeys. In fact, 1/7th of my time has been spent on being transported from one city to the next; this gave me plenty of time to marvel at the diversity in city structures.
The first stop was Kiel, Germany, where I spent a few hurried days with academics, government officials, private companies and journalists, discussing solutions for pressing problems in trade and clusters and their impact on poverty and inequality. A city of around 280,000 residents, Kiel is small, about as dense as Dublin, and well-linked with the rest of Germany and Europe. It is one of multiple core-municipalities that form a system of cities around Hamburg along with Lübeck, Bremen etc. The train from the airport was relatively painless, and travel within Kiel (to shop for fresh bread and herring) consisted mostly of short walks.
The Ecological Sequestration Trust has had a busy two months hosting workshops and meetings in India, China, Africa and the UK to discuss how to help these demonstration regions become more resilient and successful.
During this time, I also attended the UrbanTec Conference in Beijing and was struck by how various presentations on ‘smart cities’ emphasized that ICT systems were the key to building more resource efficient and resilient cities.
- Be Proactive. There’s much any city can do today. Even without sufficient budget or authorization from ‘senior levels’ of government, every city has a full menu of things that can be carried out immediately, generating positive momentum and goodwill. Business rewards the active entrepreneur, and the public desperately wants active cities. The rewards are great.
- Plan – Plan Right. All cities carry out master plans for their key services, long-term infrastructure needs, and land use planning. Before starting these plans, the end needs to be clear. They are guidance documents, aspirational, and ways to rally supporters and give fair hearing to opponents. But a plan, no matter how good, can never be seen as a finished product. Before starting the plan an agreement is needed that the city is moving forward on this issue: the plan is the vehicle to bring along as many supporters as possible and identify potential potholes and trouble en route. Like a city, good plans are living documents.