SINGAPORE: Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, has won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize for its contributions to creating an “inclusive, creative and sustainable city with a high quality of life”, its organisers said on Friday (Mar 16).
The biennial international award, jointly organised by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), aims to honour cities that create liveable, vibrant and sustainable urban communities.
According to the organisers, Seoul was chosen for its model strategies, including its “bold leadership with innovative solutions”, communication with citizens and stakeholders, its shift away from car-oriented transportation to people-centric spaces as well as its creative rejuvenation of heritage buildings.
“With a leadership that dares to take bold decisions and a government that devised innovative problem-solving methods, the city has successfully turned itself around from a highly bureaucratic top-down city with rising tensions between the government and its people, into the inclusive, socially stable and highly innovative city of today,” the jury citation stated.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon highlighted the importance of citizen participation, citing the example of the city's 2030 masterplan.
“The empowerment of citizens is the most important factor and asset for citizens to make agreement together,” said Mr Park. “So with my administration, I am always emphasising providing such occasions and opportunities for citizens to participate in decision-making in the metropolitan government’s policies.
“In the past it was usually decided by the mayor and a few experts. But now, having Seoul Plan 2030 we have guaranteed citizens to be involved. So I realised that collective intelligence and wisdom is very great.”
Dr Cheong Koon Hean, who is on the nominating committee, said that the panel was impressed with the city's efforts in roping in its residents.
"Seoul really adopted a very participatory planning process, given that they used to be so highly centralised and people felt very left out of decision-making,” said Dr Cheong, who is also CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB).
“This big switch to participatory planning enabled them to really engage with the citizens. Arising from that, because they engaged their citizens, they were able to have dialogues and convince citizens to agree to some of the highly innovative transformation projects, which were very difficult projects."
Dr Cheong also noted the “visionary leadership” of Mayor Park, who was a human rights lawyer before he was elected in 2011. She recalled a visit to Mr Park's office, where “he would not sit at the head of the table because he said that seat is reserved for the citizens. So he really walks the talk.”
“And behind his desk, he had these multiple electronic dashboards that enable him to monitor everything about the city. So he’s definitely a very hands-on mayor,” added Dr Cheong.
The nominating committee picked Seoul out of 28 other contenders, and the decision was approved by a six-member council.
The prize council included individuals such as Mr J Y Pillay, chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers, Mr Flemming Borreskov, the president of the International Federation for Housing and Planning in Denmark, as well as Dr Qiu Baoxing, counsellor of the State Council in China.
Four cities - Germany's Hamburg, Russia's Kazan, Indonesia's Surabaya and Japan's Tokyo - received special mention for their best practices in city management.
Seoul will receive an award certificate, a gold medallion and a S$300,000 cash prize at the Lee Kuan Yew Prize Award Ceremony on Jul 9 during the World Cities Summit.
Mr Park said that he was honoured to receive the prize on behalf of Seoul, and hoped that cities around the world would be able learn from its experiences.
“I think the effectiveness of decision-making by citizens is very universal. The participatory governance can be shared with cities around the world,” said Mr Park. “Because this is the era of cities. Cities can play a role more important than nations sometimes. And cities are the place of innovation. So there are so many cities who are bringing about change and social innovation."
Past prize winners include Medellin in Colombia in 2016, Suzhou in China in 2014, New York in 2012 and Bilbao in Spain in 2010.