“Comparison of urban problems between Korea and the United States through quantitative data analysis”
A part of the Fall 2022 Seminar Series by The Center of Urban Research and Education (CURE), Guest speaker Dr. Yoonhwan Park on Thursday, December 8th discussed the similar problems both Americans and South Koreans face regarding urbanization.
An advanced technological and ever expanding country like South Korea still faces a handful of disadvantages to its growth including urban composition, poverty and inequality between classes, gentrification, transportation, housing, and fertility rates.
Technology seems to be the driving force in its growth and a way for the country to connect seamlessly to another. Unfortunately this has brought a wave of people from rural areas flocking into the big cities primarily Seoul, the country’s capital. Seoul, a flourishing city filled with vibrant culture and infinite scope of opportunities, faces many challenges among them being overpopulation.
Photography by Justin Harris
According to Dr. Yoonham Park roughly 9 out 10 koreans live in the city. With almost 10 million people residing in Seoul, it remarkably surpasses the 8 million people dwelling in the NYC metropolitan area. Of course this growth was not overnight but started back in the early 20th century when Korea was considered one of the poorest countries on the map to what it is now, one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Change came shortly after the devastation of the Korean War in the 1950s. In such a short amount of time, South Korea implemented in the 60s ways of modernization by moving away from agriculture. The South was able to fully recover from the effects of war and advance their way of life.
Due to this transformation, Architecture most importantly transportation improved allowing more citizens to travel from the suburbs and rural areas to the cities. Interestingly, suburban areas are very different from the ones Americans are familiar with. Most picture a picket white fence with a big yard but in South Korea, it consists of apartment buildings. Dr. Yoonham Park stated that the suburbs resembled more like cities than the typical standard American suburbs. This design is an environmental effort done by the government to conserve more energy.
In previous years, Seoul was experiencing a suburban growth which reached its highest between 1990-2000 at 120% population by provincial level jurisdiction. This growth rapidly lowered as more migrated to Seoul and other major cities. Recently to reduce the congestion, the government has decided to elect Sejong as the country’s administrative capital to spread out the influx of population.
The Battle isn’t over as the government must tackle the dangerously low fertility rates. As most of the population live in the cities, the cost of living is one of the main contributing factors of the decline. Another factor of the decline is the high childcare costs. An apartment in Seoul can go for over $1 million dollars. Ultimately the newer generations are more focused on earning a higher living, they simply can not afford to live in the city and have a traditional family at the same time. The Korean Government has spent $200 billion on combating this issue.
Now the cities have more older generations than younger which is of grave concern. Korea has one of the highest poverty rates in the world alongside the United States. 40% of the poverty rate consists of the elderly. Curious on the subject, I asked Dr. Yoonham more on the issue. For context, he earlier explained that the poor, especially the elderly who are homeless are a top priority and the country has made ways in which to provide aid or assistance. Those who are over 65 years old are allowed to ride the transit for free.
I said, “ It seems South Korea has a somewhat positive view compared to the very negative and criminalized approach the United States has on those who are homeless, specifically the elderly. Is there a reason why that is?”
Dr. Yoonham Park responded, “Korean culture has this respect towards the elderly and feel it is their duty to help. Most of the homeless people there do not sleep on the street, do drugs, and commit crimes. They do not cause trouble.”
According to a 2020 study by Statistics Korea; the Supreme Prosecutors´ Office, the crime rate in South Korea lay at about 3,311 crimes per 100,000 population. Several regions showed crime rates above the national rate, led by Jeju, which recorded about 4,371 crimes per 100,000 population.