The city is located just 35 miles south of the Korean Border and has a population of around 25 million people- about half of the national population. The South Korean economy is the 13th largest in the world by GDP, meaning it is well positioned to consider becoming much more sustainable.
Despite the threat of missile and nuclear attacks from the North, resuming a war that has never technically finished, Seoul is an incredibly technologically advanced city. The home of Samsung and LG is using some of that technology to make it the most sustainable city in Asia on the 2015 Sustainable Cities Index.
So what has Seoul been doing to become a more sustainable city, and what does it plan to do in the future?
To look at Seoul’s potential to be sustainable, looking through their past is a good place to start.
Seoul has developed extremely quickly since the Korean War armistice in 1953 and the environment has suffered because of it. City sprawl and rapidly increasing emissions since the 1990s has created a lot of air and water pollution that the city is only now dealing with.
In South Korea, urbanisation grew from 35.8% in 1960 to 85% in 1995 with a huge amount of the population heading towards the country’s capital, so it’s perhaps not much of a surprise that the city expanded almost uncontrollably. Predictably, emissions also rose to match levels seen in many of the larger industrial Western European cities.
In recent years, however, that has changed, and Seoul has taken a much more environmentally-friendly and more sustainable path as it moves towards the future.
South Korea aims to make its Capital reliant on technology. It aims to make public transport more accessible and convenient, make electric cars more attractive with charge points all over the city, and be able to control many aspects of the home all through the use of a smartphone.
This is based on the concept of the ‘Ubiquitous City’. Information that can shape the mindset of residents to one that is more environmentally conscious and form their lifestyles to become eco-friendly is available to everyone anywhere and at anytime. For a city that is home to technological giants, it makes sense to look towards technology to help the city become more sustainable!
Songdo is a brand new city that Seoul is building near Seoul airport. It is designed to be a ‘smart city’ that will use technology to become sustainable that includes a state-of-the-art waste management system and green buildings. 40% of the area of Songdo has been designated as green public space with much of the Songdo lifestyle built around its park space.
Waste is perhaps the most unique aspect of Songdo. Waste is taken directly from kitchens of residents to a waste treatment plant through a series of underground pipes where it automatically sorts, deodorises and treated to reduce its environmental impact, completely cutting out the need for waste collectors and helping to keep waste off the streets.
Reducing the urban sprawl that was so common and almost out of control in the last few decades of the 20th century was a major priority for Seoul and the South Korean Government. Which is where the ‘Greenbelt’ surrounding the city comes into play. By placing a large area of greenery around the city, development can be halted and city planners have to look up for solutions to the growing population. The greenbelt currently covers 13.3% of the Seoul metropolitan area and comes with a lot of environmental and health positives.
On the flip side, however, the restriction of expansion has led to increasing levels of congestion in the city. Restricting development outwards for development inwards and upwards concentrates the number of people inside the city, and development of infrastructure for road vehicles as well as public transport has to catch up to satisfy the demand that is now there.
Where does Seoul go now?
Of all the cities that have appeared on this site, Seoul is the first to really be embracing technology as a way to a more sustainable future, but it is also the first city that is perhaps prioritising one method whilst others are behind, creating more problems. The technology will continue to develop and Seoul will be at the heart of any technological advancement, but that technology must be used to solve many of the issues that have come as a consequence of the city’s first steps to sustainability.