In 2009, a special map was put up for auction. Unlike on standard maps, the Republic of Korea is represented only by Seoul, and all the other regions are erased. This map was made by Jaeseok Lee, a famous, creative Korean advertisement director. Below the map, there is a question asking, “Does Korea only consist of Seoul?” In an interview, he said, “Local regions are excluded from the map to show the gravity of the capital city’s centralization problem.” This map shows the seriousness of the phenomenon. Recently, a new phrase was created to describe the centralization of population in the capital city. The term “The Republic of Seoul” reflects the fact that Korean politics, economics, society, and culture are heavily concentrated in Seoul and its surrounding regions (some cities in Gyeonggi-do and Incheon Metropolitan City).
Seoul has been the core region in Korea for a long time, and there is an old idiom about this: “When a man is born, send him to Seoul, and when a horse is born, send it to Jeju.” During the early and middle periods of the Joseon Dynasty, scholars from various provinces could apply for the civil service literary exam and achieve their dreams of gaining fame. Every opportunity regarding politics and success took place in Hanyang (old Seoul). In the 1960s and 70s, when the economy started to grow in earnest, the Korean government chose to apply a growth pole strategy in capital areas, instead of ensuring even development all over the country. A gap naturally occurred between capital areas and other regions. For example, Yeongnam region, in those days, received heavy investment from the government, which was determined to develop the industries of the nation. As a result, vast heavy industrial parks were constructed in the region and the population increase followed. However, regions that were ignored, such as Chungcheong, Honam, and Gangwon, experienced a serious population outflow.
Concentration in the capital region is still an unsolved problem. Twelve percent of the entire country’s landmass is inhabited by ten million people. Residential and transportation facilities have faced difficulties handling such a huge increase in population in a short period of time. Environmental problems have occurred on a large scale, which have affected other local regions. Furthermore, the gap between local areas and capital regions in terms of healthcare infrastructure has increased. Reputable polyclinics are located mainly in the capital regions. This is a key reason for the reduced accuracy in the diagnosis. As for “intelligent manpower,” it is also increasing unequally in capital areas. Intelligent manpower here refers to people who create new ideas, contents, and technologies, or suggest problem solving methods. Scientists, architects, designers, engineers, university professors, legal experts, financial experts and other occupations are included. A high proportion of intelligent manpower is concentrated in Gyeonggi-do and Seoul, and it is the provision of a residential environment where people can fulfill their ideal lifestyles that is emphasized as the reason for this. This was made possible by the amount of medical, cultural, and welfare facilities that exist in the region.
Problems associated with the centralization of Seoul are rampant all over Korea, but the most noticeable area regarding this phenomenon is entertainment. Let’s take amusement parks in other countries for instance. Such parks can be found all over a country. Even Disneyland, for which it is no exaggeration to say that it is one of the best theme parks in the world, is located in non-capital regions. However, in Korea, the main theme parks are all located in the capital. Of course, there are some theme parks located in non-capital regions; however, the quality and the scale of these parks differ significantly compared to the parks in Seoul. Even worse, they are closing due to financial and safety issues. Due to this, there will be a new theme park opening in 2019 in Busan, which will be three times bigger than the Lotte theme park in Seoul. However, construction of this park was planned by the government, not by a private enterprise.
Moreover, not only amusement parks but also exhibitions and performing arts are held mostly in Seoul. It is said that this field can be sorted into two groups: Seoul and non-Seoul regions. Search results listing the number of exhibitions held in Korea clearly show the gap between Seoul and the rest of Korea. The results for metropolitan cities seem better than for other regions; however, there are still much fewer search results than for the capital. Non-capital regions, especially those that are not part of metropolitan cities, are totally excluded from hosting any entertainment programs. Even Sejong City, which was developed to reduce concentration in the capital, was positioned close to a city like Daejeon, for example. Even Busan, which is called the second city of Korea, is not an exception. The international art center in Busan was originally planned to be constructed by the national government; however, it was eventually constructed and managed by the city. Thus, this proves that the government, when building infrastructure, is only concerned about whether it is in in Seoul or not.
Also, an extreme gap concerning the media’s coverage of the capital and non-capital regions is highlighted by news reports. The press has been criticized for its belated and poor reports about catastrophes occurring in non-capital regions. News about the earthquake that occurred in Ulsan and Gyeongju in 2016, and the forest fires in Gangneung have overtly demonstrated regional discrimination by the media. In 2016, there was an earthquake in Gyeongju. A news broadcasting station broke the news about the incident, but soon they continued broadcasting original programs instead of reporting on the earthquake. However, Seoul’s heat wave was reported as headline news. Also, reporters’ attitudes considering Seoul as the standard were criticized too. Concerning a subway accident that occurred on Line No. 2 in Seoul, the reporters did not specify the exact location, and this made the citizens in other cities where there is also a subway Line No. 2 terrified. This shows how the media only reports on one-side and is not concerned about non-capital regions.
Some people have argued for the relocation of the capital in order to resolve the problem. However, since such action would need consideration of almost everything; finance, procedures, resistance, etc., it is actually an impractical solution. Strong opposition to the relocation of the capital is expected since most of the population is concentrated in the capital. On account of this, it is important to focus on the development of non-capital regions rather than make an attempt to relocate the capital.
In order to rectify the side effects of the centralization of the capital region, the government established Sejong Metropolitan Autonomous City in 2012. However, since Sejong City was planned as a multifunctional administrative city, cultural facilities are practically insufficient. Due to the lack of entertainment facilities, Sejong City is attempting to develop cultural facilities so that residents do not feel inconvenienced by moving to other cities for leisure.
It is crucial to not only build a new city and attempt to decentralize the distribution of power, but also to expand the capital’s infrastructure to non-capital regions. Supply cannot be realized without demand. If there is no population to utilize facilities, there is no point in constructing infrastructure in other places. One of the reasons why infrastructure is constructed and developed in the capital area is because most of the population in Korea resides in that area.
The major reason why most of the population prefers the capital is due to Korea’s social atmosphere regarding academic factionalism and materialism. The majority of students tend to prefer entering universities in the capital region rather than universities in non-capital regions even though they both provide the same quality of education. If the national universities located in each province attempt to secure their competitiveness, this could prevent an outflow of the youth population to the capital. Furthermore, it is crucial for the government to encourage companies to move to local districts away from the capital. Since private enterprises are located in the capital, economically active populations outflow toward the capital seeking opportunities for employment. If the government provides benefits to companies that move to local districts, this could prevent the collapse of local economies and lessen the capital centralization problem.
Juyeon Han, CP Reporter / Jihyeon Son, Cub Reporter
Ju-yeon Han, CP Reporter email@example.com
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