The Role of Development Prohibited Areas & Management of Reopened Areas

Date 2015-06-24 Category Urban planning Updater ssunha
Sun-Wung Kim
Last Update

Prohibited Development Areas: Introduction & Designated Areas

Background: Demand for Stronger Regulations on the Use of Land

Seoul continued to serve as the capital after Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule and became the Republic of Korea. It is not only the capital but also the heart of the nation’s politics, economy, industry, society and transportation. Beginning in the 1960s, economic development in particular, led by the central government, encouraged a concentration of population and industry in Seoul. This dense concentration made city management difficult, which posed a unique problem as it was so close to the truce line with North Korea. In response, the South Korean government introduced the concept of development prohibited areas to contain spatial expansion, preserve the natural environment of the surroundings, and pursue its security policies.

Development of Relevant Policies

The concept of development prohibited areas was developed in four stages: i) a period of policy development (1971 – 1979) when policies related to development prohibited areas were first introduced and implemented; ii) a period of maintenance and conflict (1980 – 1997) when rigid management resulted in a variety of complaints; iii) a period of policy change (1998 – 2002) in response to the complaints and demands regarding the city’s built-up area; and iv) a period of policy adjustments and management (2003 – present) when the development bans were partially lifted and adjusted. Further details can be found in the subsequent sections.

Policy Development (1971 – 1979)

During this stage, revision of the Urban Planning Act in 1971 led to the designation of development prohibited areas, followed by stringent implementation of regulations. The ring type was specifically requested of the development prohibited areas so as to contain the concentration of population and industry in the outskirts, excluding the already built-up areas. The areas began to be strictly controlled through regulations on using and profiting from the area, pursuant to the Urban Planning Act.

Policy Maintenance & Conflict (1980 – 1997)

During the period of policy maintenance and conflict, the purpose of the development prohibited areas was maintained but the operation and management were rather rigid, increasing controversy over the designation itself. When a shortage of development lots was felt in the existing urban areas, the number of collective complaints rose drastically. As part of the New Town (Saemaeul) Campaign, the government then launched a program to systematically improve the residential structure by amalgamating the detached housing spread out in development prohibited areas, and eased various bans to increase the convenience of local residents.

Policy Changes (1998 – 2002)

When Kim Dae-jung ran for president in 1997, he promised to lift some bans on areas where protection was deemed unnecessary, beginning discussions on the need to change the development prohibited area policy. In 1999, the Ministry of Construction & Transportation announced the partial removal of the development ban on seven large city areas under significant pressure for expansion, but still required good environmental management practices and the full removal of the development ban on seven small/medium city areas with lower pressure for development. The former, which included Seoul, was to include a wider-area urban plan. Additionally, evaluation of spatial structures and city environment for partial adjustment was included in the plan. As the legal foundation for this improvement, the Act on Special Measures on the Designation & Management of Development Prohibited Areas was enacted in 2000, stipulating the designation of development prohibited areas.

Policy Adjustment & Management (2003 – Present)

In 2003, the development ban was lifted to make way for the construction of public housing for lease, which included national public housing complexes and Bogeumjari housing areas. By 2007, the 2020 Wider-area City Plan for the Seoul Metropolitan Area was approved, with suggestions for the adjustment and management of development prohibited areas. The development areas prohibited were then reviewed to find the total number of restrictions that could be removed, with areas where easing should take place being prioritized. At the same time, discussions on ways to improve the areas that would remain under the development ban were also proceeding. Upon closer review, it was seen that the prohibition on areas that have lower preservation value and already-established infrastructure would stay to maintain the current volume. But it also could be removed when necessary so as to vitalize the local economy and use the available land for industrial and residential lots. On the other hand, the areas where the ban remained in place would see a stronger management system (e.g., fines for damage, bans on additional public facilities within the area) to prevent undesired outcomes such as increases in land prices and environmental degradation.

Development Prohibited Areas

Having reviewed the green belts in British and Japanese city outskirts and other areas where urbanization had been adjusted, Korea designed a development ban policy to meet its own needs. In 1971, the Urban Planning Act was revised to include the legal grounds for designation of development prohibited areas; starting with Seoul in July 1971 until April 1977, 14 city areas, such as large cities, the seat of provincial government offices, industrial cities, or cities where environmental conservation was deemed necessary, were designated for development bans on eight separate occasions. The total land area affected was 5,397.1 km², or approximately 5.4% of the nation’s territory. Of this total, 1,566.8 km² was in the Seoul metropolitan area, and 166.8 km² in the city.

Development prohibited areas were first designated in 1971; by 1976, a total land area of 1,566.8 km² was designated. As for Seoul, the first designated area encompassed 129.4 km² (also in 1971), increasing to 166.8 km² by 1973. In August 1972, 23.4 km² of land was added to the Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu, and Yangcheon-gu areas. In July 1973, some 14.0 km² of today’s Jingwannaeoe-dong, Eunpyeong-gu (part of Goyang City in Gyeonggi Province at the time) was absorbed into Seoul’s administrative region.

<Figure 1> Development Prohibited Areas in Seoul & Metropolitan Area

Effects of Development Prohibited Designations

As one of the strongest controls on land use in Korea’s urban planning policies, development bans play a crucial role in preventing urban sprawl in the capital area from getting out of hand, preserving the natural environment around large cities, and providing green spaces for urban dwellers. The effect of the development ban policy in the city has been to offer visually pleasing views of green spaces and of the major mountains (e.g., Bukhansan, Gwanaksan), as virtual breathing spaces for city dwellers, with other areas used for farming, livestock, forestry, and other similar means for gaining livelihood. Development prohibited areas take the form of a belt of certain width. In recent years, these areas have been fitted with hiking trails and bicycle paths for visitors to enjoy. Some of the state-owned land within the areas is currently used for “weekend farming” and other projects.

Undesired Results & Countermeasures

As mentioned, the designation of development prohibited areas helps keep urban sprawl from becoming disorderly, and preserves greenery and open spaces for future generations to use in the city. While this system has had positive effects on the management of growth in the capital area, it cannot be denied that there have been adverse effects as well, such as overly stringent development restrictions in some areas included in the scope and complaints from local residents. As times have changed, there has been an increasing demand for educational, cultural, welfare, and other public services to improve the quality of life, which in turned required the development of new cities. The rigidity of the development prohibited area regulations failed to reflect this trend and led to complaints including the following: First, it was unreasonable to ban development in areas where an urbanized residential area already existed or where the restricted area boundary passed through a town; second, the ban was only applied to residential areas or low-productivity farmlands located within the designated area, while the ban did not apply to some urban green spaces, fields, forests, and farmlands that had been appropriated for urban use despite their relatively high preservation value; third, the stringent regulations caused inconvenience to local residents in their daily lives and infringed their property rights, and the land price was considerably lower than other comparable regions; and fourth, there was a growing demand for public investment as new city development met the boundaries of development prohibited areas, making it more expensive to travel to other cities.

To address these complaints, the government revised the Enforcement Ordinance of the Urban Planning Act for 40 times between August 1977 and December 1996, and attempted to relax the bans, but these revisions were not sufficient to meet the demands of the residents. Finally, in 1997, debate on the removal or adjustment of the bans arose during the presidential elections. In the following year, an initiative was taken which included lifting the development bans from some designated areas. In 2000, the Act on Special Measures on the Designation & Management of Development Prohibited Areas came into effect, providing a separate system for the management of prohibited areas, which had formerly been under the Urban Planning Act. The initiation of the Act on Special Measures on the Designation & Management of Development Prohibited Areas in 2010 enabled the addition or removal of designated areas, with already-designated areas chosen as sites to develop for building public housing or the Bogeumjari housing districts.

Direction of Adjustment & Lifting the Bans

While the government was aware of the concerns over Seoul’s expansion and the need for better environmental management practices, it was resolved to reduce the ongoing complaints in the best way possible. It instituted the wider-area urban plan for the Seoul metropolitan area to allow for the partial removal or adjustment of the bans, seeking to improve the relevant systems and policies in the following way: first, low-value areas, where bans were not imposed to, were to be opened to city use but to be managed in an environment-friendly way to prevent degradation; second, the underlying principle was that any profits that was gained from an increase in real estate value after the ban was lifted should be redeemed, with appropriate measures in place and meticulously carried out to prevent speculation.

Instructions for adjustments on the development prohibited areas were to be in accordance with these principles and based on environmental evaluations proposed for the 2020 Wider-area City Plan for the Seoul Metropolitan Area, which provided spatial and land use plans for new cities. In cases where demand rose for public housing in urban areas, flexible measures could be adopted in response. For instance, some areas within development prohibited areas could be designated for adjustment and bans lifted to the extent that it did not undermine the purpose for designation in the first place. Apart from this, some areas in development prohibited areas could be given priority for relaxation of the bans, such as group settlements, settlements through which a development prohibited area boundary passes, industrial complexes, and pending industrial development areas.

<Table 1>  Eligibility for Removal of or Adjustment to Development Ban

  Adjustable Area Priority Areas
 Eligible Target  Subject of national projects (e.g., national public housing)
· National public housing complexes
· Bogeumjari housing complexes
· Wirye New City
 Group settlements of a defined size
Settlements  through which the boundary passes
Industrial complexes
Pending industrial development areas

The size of the area eligible for the removal of the bans was 30% or more of the existing total restricted area, apart from the total set forth under the 2020 Wider-area City Plan for the Seoul Metropolitan Area. And it was ultimately determined by factoring in the scope of any areas additionally required to pursue national project tasks. Any area that must be used to improve the priority group settlements would not be subject to the aforementioned total, in accordance with the guidelines.  


<Table 2 > Total Adjustable Volume & Total Allowed Adjustment of the Development Prohibited Areas in the Capital Area

Designated Development Prohibited Area
Environmental Evaluation Score 4/5 Ratio (%)
Total Allowed Adjustment  
Adjustable Area: Score 4/5 Ratio (%)
Ratio against the Restricted Area (%)  
Area (km²)
Seoul Metropolitan
1,540.80 11.84 8.07 125.8 -
Seoul City 166.8 11.23 7.98 13.3 60
Incheon City 80.6 19.36 10.28 8.3 60
Gyeonggi Province 1,293.40     104.2  
Source: 2020 Wider-area City Plan for the Seoul Metropolitan Area (2009) 

Removal of Development Bans

According to the guidelines of the modified Urban Plan with regard to extensive settlements within development prohibited areas, the bans were lifted from the priority group settlements and/or adjusted for the eligible targets (e.g., national public housing, Bogeumjari housing, Wirye New City). As of June 2014, bans were lifted from a total of 51 areas (17.2 km²), including 28 medium to large group settlements (6.4 km²), and 19 areas (totaling 10.1 km²) to be used for national public housing complexes, the Bogeumjari housing complexes, and Wirye New City. The areas that remain under the ban totaled 149.6 km², or 89.7% of the total area initially designated.


<Table 3> Removal of Bans in Seoul (June 2014)  

    No. of Areas Opened Area(km2)
(51 areas covering 172km2) Group Settlements 28 6.4
National Projects 19 10.1
Others 4 0.7

<Table 4> Development Prohibited & Reopened Areas in Seoul (June 2014)


  Area(km2) Percentage(%)
Initially Prohibited 166.8 100
Reopened 172 10.3
Remaining 149.6 89.7

<Figure 2> Development Prohibited Areas around Seoul (2014)



Group Settlements as a Priority: Removal of Bans by Type & Directions for Management

The criteria by which an area is selected for removal of development bans in Seoul are those group settlements with: i) 100 or more housing units; and ii) a density of 20 units or more per hectare. Here, “density” refers to the net household density, factoring in the characteristics of the group settlements in Seoul’s development prohibited areas. The types of priority areas include improved settlements, existing urbanized settlements where the New Town Program has been implemented, settlements with a concentration of dilapidated houses built by those evicted from demolished houses, and natural settlements.

Improved Settlements

This category was applied to settlements improved by the settlement improvement programs launched from 1976 to 1978 and from 1985 to 1986 and also to Maehwa Villa in Hang-dong, Guro-gu, renovated pursuant to the Residential Environment Improvement Program from 1993 to 1996. The restriction was lifted from 15 areas totaling an area of 1.0 km².

The settlements improved by the settlement improvement programs include Bangjuk Village in Yulhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, and New Village in Dobong-dong, Dobong-gu. There were two special Presidential orders in the late 1970s and the mid-1980s for housing renovation and systematic improvement in development prohibited areas and farming settlements in the natural green belt on the outskirts of Seoul. With this program, 46 settlements accounting for 3,442 houses (34 settlements with 2,555 houses by the first order and 12 settlements with 887 houses by the second order) were renovated.

<Figure 3> Large Group Settlements & Boundaries of Reopened Areas



Settlements improved by the Residential Environment Improvement Program included the six Maehwa Villa buildings in Hang-dong, Guro-gu. The Villa buildings were built as part of the Residential Environment Improvement Program between 1993 and 1996, located on the city boundary shared by the city of Bucheon. The boundary of the area where the ban was lifted was determined by the scope of the Residential Environment Improvement Program.

Existing Urbanized Settlements Where the New Town Program Has Been Implemented

Located in Jingwannae-dong, Gupabal-dong, and Jingwanoe-dong in Eunpyeong-gu, these settlements were developed as part of the Eunpyeong New Town Program for the pilot New Town Program. Bans were relaxed in three areas totaling approximately 3.5 km². The underlying principle of the New Town Program was to build residence-oriented communities where people from different walks of life and different ages can come together to create a residential space that balances welfare and development.


<Figure 4> View of Jingwanoe-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, & Boundary of Eunpyeong New Town


Settlements with a Concentration of Dilapidated Houses Built by Residents of Demolished Buildings

The settlements where old, dilapidated houses were concentrated were first created by mostly low-income earners who had been evicted from unauthorized houses in the wake of the city center redevelopment programs in the 1960s and 1970s. The houses and lots were confined, severely deteriorating, and in need of assistance from national programs such as the Residential Environment Improvement Program. These settlements spanned across seven areas with a size of approximately 1.6 km². Of these, Gangil-dong and Nowon Village were supported by the national public housing program, and apartment complexes were built in the areas.

In Village #104 in Junggyebon-dong, Nowon-gu, the residential lifestyle remained as it was in the 1970s. Preserving such residential history is important to prevent it from fading from people’s memories. In the meantime, the City of Seoul consulted with experts, communicated with local residents, and launched a plan to protect and improve parts of the village. This is one of the best examples of successfully switching from demolition-oriented development to village transformation.


<Figure 5> Street & Bird’s Eye View of Village #104 



<Figure 6> View of Dilapidated Housing & the Renovation Plans


Natural Settlements

Natural settlements can be divided into low-density settlements on hillsides near the city, such as in Buam-dong, Jongno-gu, and farming settlements formed on the outskirts of the city. Bans were relaxed in three areas covering 0.2 km² of land. Buam-dong sits on a hillside and is comprised of low-density, low-rise detached houses, providing abundant open space. In the future, the area is likely to enjoy a good natural environment and has the potential to become a high-end residential area. On the other hand, farming settlements naturally formed in Sangam-dong (Mapo-gu) and Angol (Dobong-dong, Dobong-gu) are dilapidated and without adequate infrastructure. These settlements are in need of overall residential environment improvement.


<Figure 7> View of Natural Settlements & Improvement Plans 


National Program Types & Direction after Lifting of Development Bans

National Public Housing Complexes

Financed by the National Public Housing Fund, national public housing was built or bought to provide leases for 30 or more years. At first, housing was provided to evicted residents, migrants and those at the bottom of the income ladder, but the scope gradually widened to include people whose average income is a maximum of 70% of the national average. As of June 2014, nine areas (3.5 km²) in Seoul saw their development bans eased to make way for national public housing.

Bogeumjari Housing Complexes

Bogeumjari housing is a new concept that embraces public-built small and medium houses for bidding as well as public housing for lease; the public sector finances or sources the funds to build or buy houses for bidding or lease. Bogeumjari housing is supplied to suburbs where development bans have been eased or through development of specific housing sites such as in Wirye New City. As of June 2014, nine areas (5.0 km²) in Seoul saw their development bans eased.

Wirye New City

Located in the southeastern part of Seoul, Wirye New City is a new town spanning over three local governments – Songpa-gu (Seoul), Hanam City, and Seongnam City (Gyeonggi Province). The size of Wirye New City is approximately 6.8 km² and development is scheduled to be completed in December 2015. Wirye New City was designed to mitigate housing market instability due to housing shortages in the Gangnam area. It is expected to provide housing for some 43,000 households, 22,000 of which will be provided as part of the Bogeumjari housing scheme. As of June 2014, the development ban was lifted for one area (1.6 km²) in Seoul for Wirye New City.


<Figure 8> Location of Wirye New City



<Figure 9> Bird's Eye View of Wirye New City




Designation of development prohibited areas positively contributed to preventing uncontrolled urban sprawl, preserving the natural environment of Seoul and its vicinity, and providing a pleasant environment to city residents. Nevertheless, issues with area boundaries and rigid management resulted in continued public complaints, and residents in the development prohibited areas increasingly demanded that the development bans be lifted. The necessity for such designation is widely agreed and accepted. Many different opinions have been voiced arguing for preservation, removal, or adjustment of the system.

Proponents of the system argued that development bans should be maintained as they were critical tools for limiting urban development and protecting the living environment. On the other hand, the opponents pointed out that the designation process was not democratic and that bans could make the lives of local residents extremely inconvenient. They claimed that easing the regulations was not sufficient to fundamentally resolve the issues. Voices who supported adjustment of the areas accepted their importance but desired unintended consequences to be adequately resolved.

The government supported adjustment to ensure the effectiveness of growth management. If required to meet the demands of the city, the government would take appropriate action to partially remove the ban from some areas or ensure meticulous management of areas with high preservation value. Priority has been given to relieving certain areas from development bans, such as the location of group settlements, and responding to the public complaints. Some development prohibited areas have seen limited relaxation of their bans to allow for the construction of national public housing complexes, thereby satisfying the national demand for leasing of such units and resolution of other relevant complaints.

The following approaches are necessary to facilitate adjustment of the development bans and sustainable management:

First, the approach taken should be in accordance with the city’s plans for growth management. In other words, the areas that remain under the development ban will need to be carefully managed to ensure that their environment remain protected and that any damage should be undone to allow for restoration of an area to its original state. Second, any land that is no longer farmland or cannot be used for farming due to nearby development projects should be used for profit-making purposes by local residents, such as the development of eco-villages, flower or weekend farming. Permitting such financially-beneficial activities, although limited, should be considered in conjunction with the preservation of the area. Third, areas where development bans are eased will need detailed instructions to ensure sustainable management in the future.

In accordance with these items, the role of the public sector will need to be strengthened. Priority areas should be managed in an eco-friendly manner, and be in balance with the surrounding natural environment, and any settlements with roads or parks that need improvement should be allowed to make such improvements. Those areas where settlement improvements have not yet taken place after adjusting the scope of the ban will need the public sector to make advanced investments for public facilities. As for the management of national public housing complexes and Bogeumjari housing, it should be noted that many of the districts for such national programs are located on and near the Seoul city boundaries, and it is necessary to come up with plans to prevent conurbation (such as through the creation of greenbelts of a certain width in the development of such districts). Lastly, small settlements scattered in development prohibited areas can be removed and reconstructed to restore the damaged environment. Any settlements that need improvement will also need assistance from the public sector to improve, for example, roads or parks. The public sector will also need to consider the scale of the local economy and provide public services that can be jointly accessed by three – five settlements.


  • Gwon Yong-wu, Yu Hwan-jong, Lee Ja-won,1998, “Study of the Seoul Metropolitan Area”, Hanul Academy.
  • Gwon Yong-wu, Park Yang-ho, Yu Geun-bae, et al., 2014, “Our Dear Homeland”, Social Critics Co., Ltd.
  • Kim Seon-wung, Goh Junho, Song Inju, 2011, “Urban Management Evaluation and Improvement of Development Prohibited Areas in Seoul”, The Seoul Development Institute.
  • Kim Hyeon-su
  •  in Seoulgement provement of  Injua, 2014, The Seoul Institute Issue Report: “Issues & Challenges with Deregulation in Development Prohibited Areas”, The Seoul Institute.
  • Korea Planners Association, 2009, “Urban Planning Theory”, Boseonggak.
  • Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2010, “Study on Efficient Management of Overlapping/Complex Urban Facilities”, Seoul Metropolitan Government.
  • Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2012, “Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Urban Plan Improvement”
  • Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2013, “Establishment and Operation of the Living Sphere Planning in Seoul”
  • Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2014, Main Report, “Basic Seoul Urban Plan for 2030”
  • Yang Jae-seob, Jang Nam-jong, Kim In-hee, 2011, “Study on Implementation of the Urban Plan for Seoul & Similar Cities” The Seoul Development Institute.
  • Yang Jae-seob, Kim Sang-il, Lee Jae-su, Kim Seon-wung, et al., 2010, “Guidelines for the Urban Planning System for Seoul & Similar Cities for Advanced Urban Management”, the Seoul Development Institute.
  • Im Hee-jee, et al., 2007, “Urban Planning & Design of Seoul”, The Seoul Institute.

Relevant Laws

  1. Act on Planning & Use of National Territory
  2. Urban Planning Ordinance of Seoul, Seoul Metropolitan Government
  3. Act on Maintenance & Improvement of Urban Areas and Dwelling Conditions for Residents


  • http://www.index.go.kr/potal/main/EachDtlPageDetail.do?idx_cd=1003 (e-National Index)
  • LH Lot Sale/Lease Application System, Korea Land & Housing Corporation
  • Public Housing website, Korea Land & Housing Corporation
  • Website of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport
  • Seoul Urban Planning Portal Site, Urban Planning Bureau, Seoul Metropolitan Government
  • Seoul Statistics Information, Seoul Metropolitan Government

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