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Tackling urban challenges

Statesman News Service |

Seoul willing to help Delhi tackle urban challenges Park Won-soon, the Mayor of the South Korean Capital city of Seoul was recently in Delhi for talks on cooperation in tackling urban challenges, like air pollution. He met Union ministers and top functionaries of the Delhi government during the course of his trip. A recipient of the Magsaysay Award for public service, he has been the Mayor of Seoul since 2011.

In this interview to Ashok Tuteja, the Mayor discusses possible tie-ups between “startups” in India and South Korea, among other issues.

What was the objective of your visit to India?

The population of India is more than 1.3 billion, and its economic growth rate exceeds 7 per cent. India is a country Seoul should pay attention to as a “blue ocean” partner in economic exchanges. It was the first official visit made by the Mayor of Seoul.  I visited India to explore a new market and facilitate exchanges among small and medium enterprises and startups in two countries, refraining from those among big companies, in a way of city diplomacy beyond a nation diplomacy.

“Economic exchange” was a top priority on this trip. During my visit to India, I attended the opening ceremony of the Seoul-India Economic Exchange Centre, which will serve as a main base for exchanges of startups and small and medium businesses between Seoul and India. In addition, with 10 promising Korean startups, selected from a ten to one competition, I had IR (investor relations) meetings with Indian business persons to lay a foundation for startup exchanges.

As it happens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing ahead with “Startup India” and “Digital India” initiatives that support startups in India and make India a hub of the world’s information technology industry. Given the fact that both Korea and India are the world’s best IT powerhouses, I expect that we will see more active startup exchanges and advances into each other’s market in the near future.

Can you please tell us about your meetings with Indian officials?

I met with key figures who are leading economic and political policies of India, including the Governor of Delhi, the Chief Minister of Delhi, and the Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs. We promised to share growth policies with each other and make closer cooperation between the     two countries and two cities as well.

Seoul already has experience in resolving diverse urban challenges the city of Delhi is currently facing ~ about air quality, transportation, smart city and urban infrastructure. So we are willing to share our know-how with Delhi, a city in a period of transition of urbanisation. In particular, I think Seoul can contribute to the implementation process of three projects India is strongly pushing forward ~ Clean India, Housing for All, and Smart City.

You must have experienced air pollution in Delhi during your visit. How do you think Delhi government can deal with it?

The City of Delhi is carrying out the odd-even driving programme in the hope of improving air pollution and traffic congestion. However, it is not sufficient to enable the citizens to have rights to breathe fresh air and to maintain healthy lives. In fact, air pollution cannot be solved just in a day, nor achieved solely by a city or a country. Both long-term and short-term policies should be applied at the same time for a long time. And neighbouring cities and countries need to work together to obtain good results.

In the case of Seoul, we see automobiles as the main course of the air pollution. So, we encourage the citizens not to drive a car (but to use the public transportation), and increase public transportation infrastructure, in order to reduce vehicle emissions. Seoul introduced the restriction on older diesel vehicle weighing 2.5 tons or more in the metropolitan area. When the fine dust level goes beyond certain levels, the city government will carry out emergency measures to reduce the high concentration of fine dust, and then provide free public transportation during commuting hours (from the first train or bus to 9 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.).

Also it will encourage half of commuters driving to work to voluntarily leave their cars at home based on odd-even number plates. Since 55 per cent of fine dust in Seoul comes from overseas, the city government is making an effort to establish diplomatic cooperation with other countries. After taking office, I have established cooperation with 13 Northeast Asian cities, including Beijing, to improve air quality in the region. I also have a plan to found a related international organization led by the Seoul Metropolitan government that has a power of execution and binding.

What are the similarities you noticed between Seoul and Delhi?

Seoul and Delhi, having a population of 10 million and 18 million, respectively, are the two global cities that share a common destiny. India is following in the same footsteps. Seoul had taken half a century ago. In this sense, we have an exceptional bond of sympathy. Seoul went through rapid urbanisation, called the “Miracle of the Hangang (or Han River)”. It resulted in numerous after-effects, such as a rapid increase in population, traffic congestion, water and sewage problem, public transportation and housing shortage.

Seoul had undergone many trials and errors to solve these problems and taken diverse challenges. As a result, Seoul becomes a city that exports best know-how and practices of public transportation, water and sewage system and e-government to the world. Policy know-how and experiences Seoul had accumulated will serve an important milestone for the City of Delhi to solve the problems. We are willing to put our heads together with Delhi.

How do you think Delhi can combat the problem of traffic congestion?

The best way to solve the traffic congestion is to innovate the public transportation. For healthy lives of the citizens and a sustainable future of Delhi, the automobile-centered transportation system should be changed into a system focusing on public transportation, bicycles and pedestrians. Among others, the best way to solve the traffic congestion and to improve the environment at the same time is to increase urban railways, the most eco-friendly transport method.

Seoul started to build subway railways from the 1970s, and now has nine subway lines in total (342.6 km, 320 stations). Also 10 light rail lines have been established at the blind spots of public transportation to satisfy the citizens’ rights to move and breathe.

Why is Seoul considered one of the best international  Capitals?

National boundaries are becoming less important, but cooperation and solidarity among nations are getting more important. Seoul is now strengthening its position as a global Capital because, I think, it is seeking to work together with the world’s cities to solve the common problems, while demonstrating a leadership of solidarity.

Seoul has developed innovative experiences about urban transportation, e-government, urban railway, housing, water and sewage, environment, and urban development, accumulated in the urbanization process during the last half-century, into solutions. And it shared a total of 53 policies with 39 cities in 28 countries.

Besides, Seoul is leading international urban networks, such as Citynet and ICLEI. Our main goal is to open and expand an era of city diplomacy based on practicalities at a global stage. We also would like to share a blueprint for a sustainable future with cities, contributing to happy lives of the world’s citizens.

Don’t you think Seoul and Delhi should become sister cities?

Seoul and Delhi are partner cities that have infinite rooms for cooperation. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and I agreed to build up a friendship city agreement between two cities when we met. The agreement only remains to be signed. It was a pity that we were not able to sign the agreement due to a lack of time during my stay in India. However, it will be soon signed in a near future.