Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

The Displaced Residents' Right to Relocation Assistance: Toward an Equitable Urban Redevelopment in South Korea

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

The Displaced Residents' Right to Relocation Assistance: Toward an Equitable Urban Redevelopment in South Korea

Article excerpt


South Korea's rapid economic growth over the last fifty years has dramatically changed the composition of its urban areas.1 Since the 1960s, a large proportion of the South Korean population has flooded into Seoul for job opportunities.2 As of 2009, the Seoul National Capital Area, which includes Seoul and its vicinity areas, had twenty-four million inhabitants, comprising almost half of the total South Korean population.3

As the most densely populated metropolitan city of South Korea,4 Seoul is the main target of urban redevelopment projects.5 One of the South Korean government's major urban redevelopment projects in Seoul began as preparation for hosting the Seoul Summer Olympic Games in 1988.6 The motive for the urban redevelopment project was to present Seoul to the world as "a prosperous, happy, and healthy place-not as a squalid, impoverished city run by a brutal military dictatorship . . . ."7 As a result, during the 1980s, urban redevelopment projects replaced the traditional small, one-story urban housing units with multi-story Westernized apartment building. 8 According to a report by Seoul National University, approximately 48,000 residential buildings were destroyed and 720,000 people were evicted during the six-year period before the 1988 Olympics.9

Today, urban redevelopment in Seoul and its vicinity continues in order to accommodate the large population and to renovate old urban districts. 10 These redevelopment projects usually result in developers acquiring land from existing owners and renters. 11 The South Korean government justifies large-scale land acquisition related to urban redevelopment as a public works project, enhancing the quality of urban living and promoting modernization.12 Notably, the current Mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-Hoon, has dedicated his administration to several major redevelopment projects, including the New Town Project and the Han River Renaissance, which are intended to beautify the urban landscape.13

One of the major ongoing urban redevelopment projects in Seoul is the "New Town Project."14 The New Town Project is a comprehensive urban redevelopment project intended to transform broad areas of Seoul to create a new "town" within the city.15 Under the Project, the city not only replaces old, substandard housing with new, modernized housing, but also provides new roads, parks, and schools.16 The city of Seoul has designated twenty-six districts for the New Town Project, thus affecting fifteen percent of Seoul's total households (about 250,000 households).17

While urban redevelopment projects have improved the quality of housing and urban living for some people, they simultaneously created a significant relocation problem for displaced residents.18 For example, after redeveloping the 4th District of Gilum in Seoul, only 15.4% of the original homeowners in the district-10.9% of the total residents, including tenants-resettled in that redeveloped district after the project was completed.19

The low resettlement rate after the developers' large-scale land acquisition is attributable to two things. First, the redevelopment projects reduced the quantity of available housing units.20 For example, Seoul's redevelopment projects destroyed 136,346 housing units between 2006 and 2010, but only 67,134 housing units were constructed in their place. 21 Second, the redevelopment projects construct housing units that are prohibitively expensive for the original residents,22 who are mainly poor or low-income people.23 As a result of the redevelopment projects in Seoul, units that cost less than ?500,000,00024 comprise only thirty percent of the available homes, compared to eighty-six percent before redevelopment.25 Thus, with respect to low-income residents, these urban redevelopment projects failed to improve the original residents' housing quality, which was one of the stated purposes of the project,26 and low-income residents have been effectively expelled from the redeveloped districts. …

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