Seoul Human Town

Date 2014-06-11 Category Housing Updater scaadmin
Last Update


Establishment of a system in which residents participate from the initial planning stage

Seoul Human Town’s plans were established with the participation of residents from the initial stages, and the SMG will manage and operate the villages through pledges from the residents upon completion of the project. The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) appointed a master planner for each village, and selected experts in urban planning and architecture. It organized resident councils together with related personnel in each autonomous district so that the plans could be implemented effectively. As planning began to be carried out on a full scale, a working-level council was organized with resident representatives, and various workshops were planned to promote the active participation of residents.

Resident participation opportunities to build our neighborhoods with our own hands

The chief characteristic of the project is that resident participation was encouraged from the planning process. Local residents presented their opinions by participating in resident social gatherings and presentations from the initial stages, and received a variety of information. The resident council, composed of resident representatives, took part in resident workshops and debated specific “village” issues with experts and public administration officials. In this process, various tools designed to enhance the understanding of residents, such as target image games, village maps, design cards, and models, were used. Based on the understanding, a planning process for garnering resident agreement on specific village issues was devised, and a plan that would reflect this process was decided upon. The agreed details were reflected in the district plans, and a design guideline suitable for the features of the village was drawn up. Consequently, the following results were implemented in the project:

Based on the pilot projects conducted in Seowon Village in Gangdong-gu, Neungangol in Gangbuk-gu and Seonyugol in Seongbuk-gu during the first phase, practical work guidelines titled “Building Villages that Are Good Places to Live In – An Urban Design Guide in Harmony with Residents" were produced and distributed to relevant agencies. In October 2011, housing and city public officials were provided with training on the diffusion of the pilot projects.

Legislative and system improvements for diffusion of the Seoul Human Town project

The SMG set the project direction to the reorganization mode to ensure stable implementation of the Seoul Human Town project. The SMG suggested reflecting the residential area regeneration project in the city and the Residential Environment Reorganization Act to the MLTL. For the residential area regeneration project to be conducted systematically and efficiently, two to three pilot projects were implemented in stages according to the local conditions. The SMG plans to expand the project after amending the relevant law by analyzing the performance of the pilot projects. The following pilot projects have been implemented thus far: three areas of detached housing clusters, two cancelled areas set for planned reconstruction and reorganization districts, three areas within the reorganization promotion district, and two districts of type 1 and 2 general residential areas.


Seoul Human Town is a new concept that recognizes the value of low-rise residential areas, and is designed to protect and manage them as ordinary residential spaces that incur relatively low management expenses compared to apartments. It provides alternative spaces that offer diversity to uniform urban landscapes and can quickly cope with changes in the city. Seoul Human Town has actually brought about innovative changes to the existing development of exercising the total demolition mode.

What is a human town?

 The term "human town" refers to a project that encourages residents to develop their own neighborhoods. This is achieved by shaping the competitive residential environment by adopting security/crime prevention measures, community facilities, parking lots, and rest areas, which are the advantages of apartments as opposed to low-rise residential areas, where detached homes, multi-households, and multiplex dwellings are clustered.

The charm of low-rise residential areas is enhanced and their value is improved

The Seoul Human Town project has provided an opportunity to reassess the value of low-rise residential areas. Low-rise residential areas maintain a humane residential environment where communities are alive and naturally form along alleyways. Low-rise dwellings are also relatively cheaper and the management expenses are lower than those of apartments, thus enabling ordinary people to afford them. People of diverse income levels will be able to live in various types of homes through the Seoul Human Town project, which focuses on the advantages of low-rise dwellings and enhancing the residential environment. The project could be a sustainable, manageable alternative for low-rise residential areas.

A new paradigm of residential area regeneration

There has been a shift of perception with regard to detached houses and multi-households/multiplex housing clustered areas, which have been recognized as a relatively inferior residential environment (i.e. an inconvenient living environment and vulnerability to crime and natural disasters).
  • First, security and crime prevention are consolidated through the installation of CCTVs, security lamps, and security guard posts, and the provision of support for neighborhood crime prevention organizations.
  • Second, welfare facilities are established, such as senior citizens centers, management offices, day care centers, and everyday life convenience facilities including water treatment and environmentally-friendly facilities.
  • Third, urban infrastructure is established by expanding parking lots, parks, trails, and access roads.
  • Fourth, the cornerstone was laid to present an alternative means of development to apartment-centered urban reorganization projects by shaping low-rise residential area’s nostalgic life style, based on an enlivened sense of community, via the following measures: organization of management units, enactment of management rules, operation of resident representative council, and establishment of infrastructure such as welfare facilities and roads.
By reducing CO2 emissions caused by the indiscreet home demolition process, continuous residential area management and various projects aimed at enhancing the energy efficiency of homes, and new attempts in the area of low-rise residential management are being conducted.


Launch of large-scale demolition and development projects including redevelopment and reconstruction

In Seoul, many inferior residential areas sprang up in hilly and riverside areas due to a shortage of homes. These residential areas arose from the rapid population inflow that resulted from industrialization and urbanization. In the 1970s, the SMG implemented residential home improvements, while the public sector reorganized the infrastructure in inferior residential areas. After that, commissioned redevelopment projects were carried out using the total home demolition method by private construction companies. In fact, the first redevelopment projects were implemented to address financial problems and expand residents’ participation by using loans from abroad. After 1983, a joint redevelopment model (in which landowners offer land by forming an association, and construction companies pay the redevelopment project costs) was adopted, and projects were conducted according to a total demolition model by the private sector.

Problems with redevelopment projects led by the private sector

Consequently, many homes were supplied in the short term through the home redevelopment project, in which large-scale apartment complexes were built by totally demolishing existing homes. However, affordable houses for ordinary city dwellers were demolished, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle. Poor tenants among the native residents did not resettle or move away to other inferior homes, and in turn, their inferior houses were demolished and redeveloped. This mode of redevelopment was linked to the destruction of a unique Korean feature, namely, the networks of alleys in low-rise residential areas. Communities collapsed and new homes became almost as uniform as apartments. Therefore, serious problems emerged in terms of residential diversity. As development profits returned to the home owners, the project led to the emergence of an attitude in which homes were regarded as a subject of speculation rather than as living spaces.

Relatively expensive apartments were built along with the destruction of the low-rise dwellings of ordinary people

As this model of home redevelopment was active in existing towns, apartments in Seoul accounted for 58.7% of the total houses in 2010, with as many as 99% of the houses supplied through reconstruction projects being apartments. However, as redevelopment focused on profitable mid-/large-sized high priced apartments continued, without considering the income level of native residents, the supply of small-sized houses fell dramatically. Among the total annual housing supply, 71% are apartments, and the negative image of Seoul as “a city of apartments” is spreading.

New direction aimed at avoiding apartment-centered housing supply

Housing redevelopment projects, which have been centered on apartments for the past forty years, have negatively affected ordinary people’s residential stability, including the loss of local characteristics, destruction of communities, damage to the urban landscape, uniform types of dwellings, and the disappearance of low-rise homes. Most low-rise home areas are waiting to be transformed into apartment complexes, and the vicious cycle of neglecting outdated dwellings is being repeated, without any effort being made to reorganize residential areas into villages that are habitable. Now is the time to recognize the value of low-rise residential areas and ordinary urban dwellers’ residential bases. The following development models are urgently required: low-rise residential areas should be protected from indiscreet total demolition for the coexistence of various types of dwellings so as to promote sound urban development and a pleasant residential environment for people in various income brackets. Low-rise residential areas should be preserved and managed as villages that are good to live in.


Trial Strategy

Resident participation promoted with contests for Seoul's citizens and students

The SMG focused on a means of promoting residents’ voluntary participation in order to raise the general public’s interest in Seoul Human Town, and strove to spread the culture of building humane villages; and selected target areas where the effects of the Seoul Human Town project had the potential to be huge. This was applied by autonomous districts, which implemented pilot projects. In 2008, invitations to apply for project target areas were publicly sent out, and the Target Area Selection Deliberation Committee was formed with relevant experts on Nov. 21, 2008. In this manner, pilot project areas were selected.

To ensure smooth implementation of the project, it was rudimentary to only select areas in which there were no large-scale development plans in the concerned area or an adjacent area for the upcoming 5 years from among residential areas that can withstand development pressure; type 1 general residential areas where the infrastructure is relatively good; and small-scale detached housing areas of about 100 households. The SMG then allowed local residents to organize resident councils through a district unit plan, and established a method to support its operation and formulate a plan to establish the public facilities that were required by the residents. The SMG also plans to improve the environment including the design of alleyways. In addition, the SMG assisted with the budget to implement the projects included in the second phase of the plan. The SMG also held two contests in which many students participated in order to discover new project target areas and to raise the general public’s interest and attention. Through these ways, the Seoul Human Town project is being carried out by targeting selected villages.

Establishment of the Human Town Project through resident participation

Due to its rapid industrialization and urbanization, the SMG has tried to shift from a top-down model, whereby the public sector uniformly establishes plans and implements them, to a resident-led mode for the implementation of this project. Seoul Human Town is very meaningful in that the residents themselves play a role in managing their residential area. The Seoul Human Town shapes the basis of cooperative governance between residents and the administration, moving beyond the redevelopment mode which in the past caused conflicts with existing residents.

To this end, a residential council composed of residents, experts, and administration officials was formed in each selected area as a channel of dialogue and communication. Experts from relevant fields were commissioned as master planners, and more than 20 resident council meetings were held. Also, residents were encouraged to present their opinions through PR initiatives, including resident education and the distribution of leaflets.

Obstacles and Solutions

Shift in residents' recognition of existing reorganization projects (redevelopment, reconstruction) is needed

Seoul focused on the quantitative housing supply through large-scale development projects, including redevelopment and reconstruction for Seoul citizens’ residential stabilization. Consequently, the project also generated development profits. However, the thirst for development profits will not easily be assuaged, despite the lack of development profits even when apartments are built due to a slump in the real estate industry. Many residents still prefer reconstructing their homes into apartments as a means of increasing their wealth.

In dealing with these residents, the SMG had many difficulties in conducting the pilot projects and convincing them that although no immediate development profits would be generated, more profits would be generated in the long term, according to residential environment improvement, once the human towns were built. All these were carried out through active PR and education about the project, in contrast to the redevelopment project.

Low participation by residents due to insufficient awareness of urban planning

Although local residents are the most important players in shaping the Seoul Human Town, there were many difficulties in gaining the cooperation of residents, since their representatives tried to avoid conflicts with them when deciding on local issues or on matters for improvement. Also, after the establishment of the project’s district plans, when seeking consent for autonomous management under the agreement between residents, the project faced a great deal of resistance.

To overcome this resistance, the SMG has undertaken the project making it a priority to garner the consent of residents, and made efforts to convince residents who did not consent to the agreement for their participation.

Used Resources

Establishment of district plans for implementation of the Seoul Human Town Project

The Seoul Human Town Project needs to diagnose village problems and present a direction to follow on the basis of resident participation. For the project to succeed, community culture needs to be formed by supporting the establishment of resident convenience facilities by the public sector. To that end, the SMG designated pilot project areas, commissioned district plans and selected urban planning and architecture companies. In this manner, the SMG established district plans aimed at resolving local problems, meeting residents’ requirements, and identifying a development direction over a period of about eight months.

Composition of the Seoul Human Town project and financial support

To build a community center in the Seoul Human Town Project area, urban and residential environment reorganization funds were injected into the project and resident convenience facilities received financial assistance, i.e. about KRW 2 billion per district. To form an organization capable of implementing the project, a City Reorganization Committee affiliated with the Housing HQ Residential Regeneration Planning Officer was formed, the Residential Environment Department was newly established, and a team was formed and placed in charge of the project.

Organization of resident councils and selection of master planners

In Seoul, resident representatives were centered on heads of tong and ban (administrative precinct units of Korea) in local areas in order to smoothly implement the Seoul Human Town project. Also, resident councils composed of residents, experts, and public agencies were formed to draw up plans together, and about ten council meeting sessions were held to discuss the planning directions. By selecting master planners, they could play an assistant’s role from the standpoint of both the residents, who live and manage the area, and the local administrative agencies. In addition, an opportunity emerged to resolve local residents’ complaints and alleviate their distrust of the previous top-down type of urban management plans.


The Seoul Human Town project has contributed to solving village problems and turning them into attractive places via the public sector, improving the villages, and presenting a planned management direction in improving the environment of low-rise residential areas. The project has also helped to form a village community culture where local residents can enjoy their life through continuous communication and discussion of how to improve their villages, how to mend fences, and how to develop and maintain parks in the village planning process. The planning process undertaken through resident participation from the initial stages has led the residents to recognize that they are the real owners of their residential areas as well as the key management players.

The possibility of forming a system of continuous management of low-rise residential areas and of conducting autonomous management and participation by the residents themselves was confirmed through community competence. When a community activation program, including social and economic regeneration, together with the Seoul Human Town Project’s physical regeneration is developed and supported, a combination of policies and a synergistic effect can be expected. This can be achieved by linking various projects that have been conducted in low-rise residential areas by civic organizations and social activists.

The community culture, formed in the process of shaping the villages together, is likely to function as a driving force in the building of future villages. The SMG is committed to preserving the diversity of its low-rise residential areas, maintaining the local area’s community and unique identity, and building human towns that are centered on harmony between locality and residents, as well as on humanity through continual institutional supplementation and communication with local residents.


Although the project began as a city policy project, an institutional base will be prepared through the amendment of the Urban Reorganization Act and the enactment of the City Regeneration Act. The Seoul Human Town project is being implemented as a pilot project before the establishment of legal and institutional bases, with the institutional base being made based on the experiences accumulated through the project.

Although the project was initiated by the SMG, the central government has also recognized its necessity, and such recognition is demonstrated as an effort for institutionalization. If the project is institutionalized in the future, similar types of projects will be carried out, and this project may well become a good benchmarking case for other public agencies and private businesses.

Currently, the demand for residential area regeneration, including the voluntary building of villages that retain local features, is rising nationwide. Attempts are being made to manage new residential areas that consider the social and economic conditions of the community and the residents, of which Seoul Human Town is a leading example. Another attraction of the project is that it maximizes the use of local government infrastructure (such as Resident Autonomy Centers, etc.).






Department / Contact

  • International Relations Division  /  82-2-2133-5264  /  international@seoul.go.kr
  • Globla Future Research Center  /  82-2-2149-1418  /  ssunha@si.re.kr