Interview with Park Won Soon

Incontro con uno dei sindaci più visionari del mondo: il primo cittadino di Seul Park Won Soon

«In coreano, la parola “bellezza” deriva da “diversità”: basta guardare il mondo da angoli, prospettive diverse per trovare le idee con cui trasformarlo in un luogo migliore e più bello». La fede di Park Won Soon, sindaco di Seoul, in quello che gli economisti e i sociologi chiamano “Medici effect”, ovvero il fatto che le idee più rivoluzionarie e promotrici di cambiamento nascono solitamente all’interfaccia tra settori dell’economia e della società molto diversi tra di loro, è granitica: «Appena insediatomi, nel 2011, ho creato il “Seoul Innovation Bureau”, un team di persone dedite a studiare strategie alternative per risolvere i problemi della città attraverso un approccio olistico, che trova il suo punto di forza nell’interazione tra settori della società diversi, spesso molto distanti». Ma la risorsa più preziosa del Bureau, spiega Park, sono i suggerimenti e segnalazioni dei cittadini di Seoul, che, attraverso una serie di nuovi strumenti, in primis gli smartphone, possono interagire attivamente con l’amministrazione cittadina. Considerato uno dei sindaci più “social” del mondo, Park utilizza infatti attivamente i social media per interagire con i propri concittadini: il suo account twitter, con oltre 700.000 seguaci, è divenuto un seguitissimo forum di scambio-idee in cui gli abitanti della metropoli coreana possono segnalare problemi e abusi e proporre soluzioni. Alfiere della cultura dello “sharing”, Park ha creato anche “The beautiful Store”, un esempio di azienda con finalità sociali nata per consentire ai cittadini di Seoul di scambiarsi oggetti che intendono donare o di cui non hanno più bisogno: «Li puliamo e li aggiustiamo, per poi rivenderli a basso costo. La speranza è quella di diffondere la cultura della condivisione in Corea. Analogamente, con la mia fondazione “The beautiful Foundation” ho inteso dimostrare che se ognuno di noi donasse anche solo l’1% dei propri guadagni si potrebbero realizzare progetti di altissimo impatto sulla comunità. Anche questo rientra nel quadro di una società più “bella”, da qui il nome di entrambe le iniziative». «Non voglio essere ricordato come un primo cittadino che ha lasciato in eredità una o due opere grandiose», conclude Park. «Piuttosto, cerco di essere un sindaco che sembra faccia poco o nulla, e che in realtà lavora ad una miriade di piccoli progetti come questo, che hanno come unico scopo quello di migliorare la qualità di vita dei cittadini.»

Pubblicato su L’Uomo Vogue, Novembre 2013

Photo credit: Eric Guillemain.

 

 

 

1. “Beautiful Foundation,” “Beautiful Store,” “Beautiful family”. The word “Beautiful” recurs many times in the projects you funded. It looks like beauty plays a central role in the better city you envision for the future. Can you explain us better?

The term beautiful roots from diversity. If you look at the world in various aspects, you will find many beautiful ideas, activities, solutions. The Beautiful Foundation, a community foundation, and The Beautiful Store, a social enterprise, their ultimate philosophy was to help people recognize that simply sharing one percent of their own income could have incredible impact. After taking the office as Mayor of Seoul I created the Seoul Innovation Bureau, where we find diverse or innovative ways to approaches to problems rather than top-down bureaucracy. We are undertaking numerous cross-sector innovations on trying to “Listen” to what people say. For example, The Simincheong, located in Seoul City Hall, acts as a speaker’s corner for anyone who wants to send a video message to the city administration. Moreover, we are trying to “Engage” people on Seoul’s policy planning. The Residents’ Participatory Budgeting System, a citizen-participatory budget plan that allows citizens to secure 50 billion won (roughly $47 million) in 2013 for projects of their choosing, as well as a campaign to declare Seoul “A city where citizens share with one another.” Seoul is such a beautiful city, where tradition and modernity coexists. But to make it more beautiful we are communicating, collaborating and sharing with the citizens.

 

2. In a recent interview, you were proud to announce that a very large percentage of the citizens of Seoul have, or will have soon, a smartphone. You are strongly convinced that such technology will contribute dramatically to improve the quality of life in our cities, right? How do you imagine this to happen practically in your city?

A Smart City can be defined as a city where IT and other smart elements are strategically equipped to achieve sustainable growth, urban life functionality and a city where its citizens can be truly happy. By tapping into their smart phones, Seoul citizens can get any information they need including public transportation schedules, locations of nearby facilities or restaurants, cultural performances, anytime, anywhere. In addition, they can pay their taxes, report complaints, and make proposals to the city government online with their smart phones ubiquitously. Also, for the underprivileged that does not benefit from IT, Seoul Metropolitan Government introduced smart phone devices support programs, narrowing the IT gap among classes and improving the livelihood of people who live in the margins of our society. Seoul aims to create new values by converging and harnessing data of the city government and public sector, so that pressing issues of Seoul are addressed based on big data analysis, policies are devised scientifically, and better civil service can be provided. Seoul plans to use big data to devise marketing strategy to attract more foreign tourists, reduce the percentage of empty buses and taxes, and solve other governance issues. In addition, by using big data, the city government will provide a detailed civil service that takes care of big and small concern of citizens.

 

3. You created a think-tank, called “The Hope Institute”, that wants to be, as stated on its webpage, “an initial actor of social development and build a database of information and knowledge spanning the globe”. Can you explain us a bit more in detail, or with some examples, how should such a database work and look like? When will it be operative and how?

Hope Institute was aimed to redesign South Korean society through active engagement and support at several different scales from ordinary citizens to corporations to the South Korean government. The Hope Institute engages in a variety of vital, sustainable activities, devising creative policies to improve living environments. Operating a “Social designer” school that offers education about social innovation for social enterprises and assists people in starting social enterprises, and consulting with local governments on social economic policy and initiatives to revive local communities. The Hope Institute also conducts experiments to induce the active cooperation of local governments and public institutions in improving citizens’ lives. Through these efforts, the institute quickly came to see that cross-sector cooperation and convergence were the most effective means to tackle the problems plaguing South Korean society. Though the Hope Institute had significant impact in forging serious partnerships with the government and other public institutions, there were fundamental barriers to large-scale change due to traditional, at times inflexible, government decision-making. It was not easy to convince the government of the necessity of partnership when even citizens were not fully convinced of its worth.

 

4. Which megalopolis of the world should be taken, according to you, as a model of urban development?

New York, London, Tokyo, you can name number of global cities that can be a role model for Seoul but each city has its own vision for future and I believe Seoul needs to have urban development plan that takes the unique identity of Seoul into a consideration. Around the world, the number of mega cities with more than 10 million populations is on steady increase. Consequently, mega cities carry more weight on the global economy. They are also considered as the core competitiveness edge of their country. As one of global mega cities, Seoul should actively attract global companies’ investment, and foster creative talents to be more competitive. Through advancement and constant growth, Seoul also should be a leading city that is getting ahead in the global competition. To this end, Seoul will build creative hub where creative talents and cutting edge technology and knowledge are produced. The hub will be centered on universities and research institutions concentrated in Northeast region. But there is a caveat. The urbanization led to more risk factors that can destabilize a society including wider gap between the rich and the poor. Therefore, as much as to achieve quantitative growth, it is equally important to improve the quality of lives of citizens

 

5. I was impressed by how far-reaching your vision of your city is. You talk about the need of a 100 years development plan. Which important goals, do you think, can only be reached with such a long-time work perspective?

Urban planning is not just about land planning, but a plan that encompasses all areas including welfare, industry, culture, education many other sectors. So far, Seoul has experienced fast economic growth as well as urbanization. We might have got things done fast but failed to get things right. Things should be different now; from now on it should be done right. Seoul’s new vision for the future encompasses aging, housing, lifetime education and many other welfare problems to become a city where its citizens can be truly happy. To this end, there will be no longer a room for haphazard urban planning. Instead, by providing a platform for open communication and giving special care to the need, Seoul will strive to be a city that humanity is placed at the center of the governance. In order to restore Seoul’s identity, a new light will be shed on our history. And by special management of areas that has environmental, historical, cultural values, Seoul will have its own unique landscape.

 

Schermata 2015-11-02 alle 22.19.32

 

 

 

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