The pink haze over Seoul is being replaced by a clear view of the sky, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Se-hoon Oh, who has prioritized the reduction of GHG emissions through the built environment in one of the world’s most populated cities.
Since assuming office a few years ago, the mayor has tirelessly promoted eco-friendly urban planning, transportation, and building design to reduce overall energy consumption and carbon emissions while creating jobs.
The mayor’s efforts were reinforced by a 2008 presidential declaration that low-carbon green growth is a key pillar of Korea’s vision for long-term development.
President Lee Myung-bak aims to “create new growth engines and new jobs out of green technologies and clean energies.”
Seoul’s attempts to improve the urban landscape as a response to climate changes have included these efforts:
- A new electric tram in Seoul Grand Park: The vehicle’s battery is charged using an underground electrical strip, and the design features a striking lack of overhead electric wires and trailing grey exhaust.
- A plan to spend $156 million over 5 years to replace 9,000 buses and 72,000 taxis with electric or hybrid vehicles.
- Carless days: Residents are encouraged to register online and pledge to not drive on a chosen day of the week. Participants are given an electronic tag to put on their windshields that tracks compliance.
- The addition of emissions-reducing devices on diesel vehicles.
- Implementing mass transportation-based traffic policies, increasing eco-friendly transportation means such as bicycles, and improving conditions for pedestrians.
- The addition of seven lines (73.7 kilometers) of light-rail transit by 2017 so that access to mass transportation within 500 meters will be ensure throughout Seoul.
- The instigation of smartcards for all public transportation: as of mid-2010, smartcards were used for 92 percent of the 31 million trips taken each day.
- A more pedestrian-friendly environment: For example, the Choenggye Stream Restoration involved the reversion of an elevated inner-city highway to its original state, opening up pedestrian areas and bike paths and turning the area into a key visitor attraction.
- The active promotion of bicycles as a means of transportation: A new network of bike paths exists along all major roads; bike-friendly zones are being established in all residential, commercial, and tourist areas; and bicycle parking spaces are being provided in major mass transportation facilities such as subway stations. Eventually, bike rentals and electric bikes will be introduced and eco-friendly bike-related facilities will be expanded.
- The availability of data to reinforce good habits: The city makes available the amount of carbon emission for each transportation mode and route option, thereby making citizens aware that behavioral changes can be an effective tool in the fight against climate change.
The transportation and development plan has reduced vehicular traffic, resulting in clearer air, better access to business and shopping districts, and new inner-city wildlife habitats. Improved pedestrian connectivity has breathed new life into surrounding districts which now enhance the cultural and economic value of the city.
The national focus is on “green growth” to emphasize the relationship between environmental objectives and economic growth objectives, but regardless of the spin, the results are paying off quickly. According to the city, air pollution has decreased by 20% in 4 years, and the city is enjoying more days of clear skies and high visibility than in 15 years. In addition, residents in outlying areas have better access to transportation to jobs in the inner city, thereby increasing employment opportunities for low-income citizens of the outer city.
Seoul is garnering international recognition for its efforts to transform the urban landscape: in July it was named a UNESCO City of Design; in September it was awarded a gold IDEA/Brazil 2010 Award, a prestigious design award. It’s clear that Seoul’s efforts to morph into a sustainable city are paying off.