By Feature Editor Ms. Esi Han
As I entered the premises of Seodaemun-gu District Office, I was immediately struck by the warm and welcoming atmosphere exuding from the officials. The historical significance of the location was evident even within the walls of the district office, where the deep-rooted heritage of Seodaemun blended harmoniously with the surrounding mountains. This seamless integration of nature and administrative functionality was truly a remarkable achievement.
During our conversation, the mayor of the district office consistently emphasized his profound appreciation for the citizens of Seodaemun-gu. He spoke with genuine gratitude for the cooperative and warm-hearted nature exhibited by the residents. This sense of community collaboration was deeply ingrained in the district's identity, and as the district's leader, he held this spirit in the highest esteem.
The mayor's commitment to the well-being of the residents of Seodaemun district was a recurring theme throughout our discussion. His policies and initiatives were meticulously designed to enhance the quality of life for the citizens. As he elaborated on the major policies, I was struck by the depth of his understanding of the district's needs and his proactive approach to addressing them.
One of the significant projects he highlighted was the integrated development project encompassing the Eugene Shopping Center and Inwang Market. This visionary endeavor aimed not only to transform the district's skyline but also to revitalize the local economy and foster community growth. His emphasis on resident participation and communication highlighted his dedication to inclusive decision-making, ensuring that the community's voice was heard and valued.
Moreover, his efforts to rejuvenate the Sinchon commercial district were noteworthy. The decision to revoke the "Car-Free Street" designation was a strategic move to reinvigorate the area and boost local businesses. The analyses and data he provided regarding the positive impacts of this decision showcased his commitment to evidence-based decision-making.
As our conversation progressed, his vision for the Sinchon Global College Culture Festival became even clearer. The festival wasn't merely an event but a carefully curated platform to unite diverse university students, offering them enriching experiences and opportunities for personal and academic growth.
Additionally, his recognition of Seodaemun-gu's international community underscored his commitment to inclusivity and diversity. The festival's role in harmonizing with foreign residents and facilitating cultural exchange was a testament to his global perspective and dedication to fostering a harmonious environment.
In essence, Seodaemun Ward’s rich historical legacy, captivating natural beauty, and the resolute dedication of its officials exemplify the true spirit of community. The upcoming Sinchon Global College Culture Festival, with its emphasis on unity, cultural enrichment, and global collaboration, mirrors the very essence of the district's ethos and values. As I embarked on this interview, it became abundantly clear that Seodaemun-gu was not just a place, but a vibrant and dynamic community united by shared values and aspirations, led by a visionary head who genuinely cared for the well-being and prosperity of its residents.
As an editorial writer, I had the privilege of visiting Mayor Lee for an interview, and ahead of delving into the content, I would like to express my warm regards. Given this context, I am eager to present the details of my interview with Mayor Lee as follows:
Question: As the elected head of Seodaemun-gu District Office during the 8th popular election, I acknowledge the paramount significance of the integrated development project encompassing the Eugene Shopping Center and Inwang Market. Could you please elucidate the transformative trajectory that Seodaemun is poised to embark upon and provide an in-depth exposition of the comprehensive strategy for its promotion?
Answer: The multifaceted evolution surrounding the Eugene Shopping Center in Hongje-dong and Inwang Market symbolizes our commitment to establishing a skyline-defining skyscraper exceeding 50 stories, poised to become an iconic landmark in the northwest, rivalling the renowned COEX complex in Gangnam.
Addressing the primary obstacle that often impedes swift redevelopment and reconstruction endeavors—the entanglement of misinformation and community discord—we have initiated a strategic approach.
To navigate this complex terrain, we have enlisted the expertise of a redevelopment specialist from Seoul City Hall to serve as the deputy head of the district office, alongside a distinguished leader from the urban maintenance bureau. Additionally, a private redevelopment expert has been appointed as the general planner, bolstered by the establishment of the dedicated Sintong Development Division, a department wholly dedicated to orchestrating development initiatives.
In our pursuit of a redevelopment blueprint rooted in participatory decision-making by residents, we have established a consistent platform for engaging citizens since February of this year. This channel serves to disseminate precise project-related information and solicit informed opinions. The culmination of these concerted efforts is evident in the residents' endorsement of the "Seoul Station Area Revitalization Project," solidifying their direct support for the advancement of Inwang Market and the Eugene Shopping Center.
Significantly, this undertaking has been earmarked as a prospective location for the Seoul Metropolitan Government's station area revitalization initiative, scheduled for this year.
Additionally, to facilitate the formulation of a redevelopment strategy through resident participatory decision-making, a dedicated platform for resident engagement has been consistently operational since February of the current year. This platform serves the dual purpose of providing accurate information regarding the development methodology and soliciting residents' perspectives. Moreover, a series of interactive communication sessions has been instituted, comprising small-scale communication forums (attended by a total of 40 individuals as of July 17), broader communication assemblies (conducted on four occasions with a cumulative attendance of 300 participants as of July 19), and collaborative union assemblies (organized six times with a total participation of 130 individuals as of July 17).
As a culmination of these comprehensive initiatives, the concerted endeavors have yielded tangible results, leading to residents' unequivocal support for the progression of the Inwang Market and Eugene Shopping Center redevelopment, formally designated as the "Seoul Station Area Revitalization Project." This significant consensus was established during the third resident communication forum convened on June 13.
Furthermore, the fourth communication assembly, convened on July 19th, played a pivotal role in gathering consents for the Seoul Metropolitan Government's station area revitalization initiative. Within this session, the agenda encompassed not only guiding participants in submitting the required consent forms for this initiative but also encompassed the unveiling of a strategic overview portraying the anticipated bird's-eye view. This insightful presentation significantly contributed to accelerating the project's progression by enhancing its clarity and aligning its purpose with renewed precision.
Significantly, this undertaking has been earmarked as a prospective location for the Seoul Metropolitan Government's station area revitalization initiative, scheduled for this year. Our collective aspiration is to finalize the meticulous designation and maintenance blueprint by the year 2024.
Q: Your detailed insights into the redevelopment project are invaluable. Thank you for shedding light on Seodaemun's transformative journey. The decision to revoke the "Car-Free Street" designation in the Sinchon commercial district is a noteworthy step toward revitalizing this vibrant locality. Could you provide an update on the progress of this initiative and elaborate on the community's response to this change?
A: Since its establishment in 2014, Yonsei-ro has been designated as a public transportation-only zone, restricting access to regular vehicular traffic. Unfortunately, this designation inadvertently contributed to a decline in the vibrancy of the Sinchon commercial district,
A comprehensive analysis undertaken by the Seoul Credit Guarantee Foundation in 2022 unveiled a concerning five-year survival rate of merely 32.3% for businesses within Sinchon-dong, significantly lower than the district-wide Seodaemun-gu average of 40%. Moreover, the year 2021 witnessed a significant downturn in the commercial landscape of Sinchon-dong, with 91 more establishments closing than opening, indicating a worrying trend.
In response, we launched a pilot program on January 20th, set to run until the end of September, with the aim of reintroducing regular vehicular traffic to Yonsei-ro. From June to September, an exhaustive assessment of the commercial district's performance is being conducted, laying the groundwork for a potential comprehensive reinstatement of vehicular traffic.
The current traffic situation has demonstrated notable improvement, supported by data reported by Nice Genie Data. In the first quarter of 2023 alone, Sinchon's average monthly sales reached an impressive 50.1 billion won, surpassing the figures of 45.7 billion won in 2022, 38.5 billion won in both 2021 and 2020, and 48 billion won in 2019.
Furthermore, an analysis of card payment data by the Korea Economic Daily and BC Card revealed substantial increases in credit card payments within Sinchon. Specifically, from March to May, credit card payments and number of transactions surged 12.1% and 14.3% respectively compared to the same period in 2019. Noteworthy is the remarkable 69.5% increase in cafe payments, alongside significant rises of 32.9% in restaurant payments and 30.2% in drinking bars.
Given these encouraging indicators, we hold firm confidence in the seamless execution of the full reinstatement of vehicular traffic. This conviction is bolstered by the tangible impact of lifting the public transportation zone and the ongoing constructive dialogues with the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
Han: Your comprehensive update on this initiative is greatly appreciated. Thank you for sharing the progress and community's response.
Q: Are there additional initiatives being pursued in the Sinchon and Ewha Womans University area to restore their eminence as distinguished commercial districts in Seoul?
A: Our efforts are presently directed towards providing robust support to the Sinchon Lee Dae commercial district, which has encountered significant challenges within the broader Seodaemun-gu district.
As part of our policy interventions, we made pivotal adjustments to the Sinchon district unit plan in March. This revision aimed to diversify the range of recommended industries around Ewha Womans University. In addition to traditional sectors such as clothing and miscellaneous goods retail, we now encompass restaurants, performance venues, academies, and clinics. Moreover, in collaboration with property owners, we have proactively negotiated rent reductions ranging from 30% to 50%, cultivating an environment conducive for economic rejuvenation.
To rekindle interest in the Sinchon Lee Dae commercial district, we orchestrated pop-up stores featuring acclaimed chefs such as Hong Shin-ae and Yeo Kyung-rae. This initiative, launched on June 24th with the first session accommodating 240 participants, followed by a second session attended by 500 individuals, has effectively directed attention back to the commercial area.
(6. 24 (Sat) 12:00-21:00 - 1st session successfully concluded with Chef Hong Shin-ae, drawing 240 attendees [sold out] / 7. 7. (Fri) 16:00-20:00 - 2nd session triumphantly completed with Chef Yeo Kyung-rae, engaging 500 participants [sold out])
Our commitment extends to financial support as well. To stimulate sales within the Sinchon area, we issued special gift certificates totaling 3 billion KRW on April 5th. Additionally, in collaboration with the Seoul Credit Guarantee Foundation, we initiated unsecured special guarantee projects amounting to a total of 7.5 billion KRW (in partnership with Woori Bank), aimed at aiding small business owners in dire need of financial resources. Furthermore, as part of the Seoul Metropolitan Government's local brand commercial district reinforcement project, Sinchon has secured project funding of up to 1.5 billion KRW over a three-year period. This collective endeavor underscores our aspiration to establish Sinchon as an esteemed and representative commercial hub within Seoul.
Q: Thank you for highlighting these impactful measures. Your explanation of the ongoing initiatives adds depth to our understanding. Your consistent advocacy for the subterranean placement of the Gyeongui Line railroad is noteworthy. Could you provide insight into the background and context behind this endeavor?
A: Seodaemun is characterized by its verdant landscape, featuring five prominent mountains and two rivers. This distinctive setting, coupled with the presence of nine distinguished universities, positions the district as an educational and natural haven. However, this convergence of natural beauty and educational institutions has naturally led to the concentration of development, thus constraining available space for expansion.
With a sprawling size of 165,289.256 m², which will transform into a spacious urban area once the railway is relocated underground, our vision is to create a dynamic corridor that caters to the youth demographic. This vision comes to life by ingeniously repositioning the Gyeongui Line railway underground, conveniently situated in front of Yonsei University in Sinchon. This undertaking aligns seamlessly with our commitment to fostering the growth of critical infrastructure, including joint research complexes, innovation hubs for young entrepreneurs, startup enterprises, performance venues, sports facilities, parks, and parking facilities.
With this objective in focus, the district has convened two substantial meetings this year with the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Mr. Won Hee-ryong. These discussions aimed to garner support and understanding for the rationale behind the undergrounding of the Gyeongui Line, as well as to outline the foundational plan for a comprehensive three-dimensional complex development. Media outlets have reported extensively on these deliberations, further underscoring our commitment.
In a significant development, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has recently indicated its intent to enact specialized legislation pertaining to subterranean urban railways within the current year.
Considering the prevailing circumstances, we hold a resolute belief that through proactive consultation with both the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, coupled with the attraction of private investment, we can expedite the realization of this visionary project.
Q: Your commitment to this visionary project is evident. Thank you for providing the context and insights into the underground railway endeavor. I understand that you have plans for a festival tailored to the youth population, in resonance with Seodaemun's identity as a hub of nine universities.
A: Nestled snugly in Seodaemun-gu, a district that proudly holds the titles of both a "university city" and a "youth city," it stands out for hosting a remarkable cluster of 9 universities, securing its place as the borough with the highest number of autonomous districts in Seoul.
Remarkably, the Sinchon area alone accommodates five prominent universities, with Hongdae and Sogang University in Mapo-gu also situated in close proximity. In light of this context, we are excited to announce the upcoming Sinchon Global College Culture Festival scheduled from September 15th (Friday) to September 17th (Sunday) of this year.
The Global University Culture Festival is poised to offer a diverse array of activities, including a national parade, immersive cultural experiences, expansive global food markets complemented by competitions, enlightening lectures featuring industry leaders and experts, dedicated platforms for emerging startups, promotional booths for renowned national and international artists, as well as captivating film festivals. This comprehensive spectrum of events aims to resonate with the vibrant spirit of Seodaemun's youthful demography and contribute to the dynamic cultural tapestry of the district.
Q: Your anticipation for the upcoming festival is infectious. Thank you for providing a glimpse into the dynamic offerings for the youth population. Can you please recommend a notable destination to explore in Seodaemun-gu in an official manner?
A: As an integral component of the Jicheon Renaissance initiative, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is actively involved in the development of an urban environment that is sensitively attuned to the waterfront, reflecting the distinctive Seoul style. In line with these concerted endeavors, it is my privilege to bring attention to Cafe Falls—a captivating coffee establishment inaugurated by Seodaemun-gu on April 1st of the current year.
Cafe Falls enjoys a strategic location in close proximity to the Hongjecheon Artificial Falls, affording visitors an exceptional prospect to partake in tea or unwind while immersing themselves in the scenic allure of the waterfall amidst the vibrant urban milieu. The cafe extends a warm welcome to all patrons, granting them the liberty to augment their indoor or outdoor experience by bringing their preferred beverages. Moreover, the venue boasts an expansive expanse encompassing an approximate area of 2314.04959m2, thus fostering a dynamic ambiance that serves as a conducive backdrop for cultural and artistic performances, alongside exhibitions.
The consistently robust footfall of approximately 30,000 visitors on a monthly basis at Cafe Falls can perhaps be attributed to its meticulous craftsmanship. Of this impressive count, nearly 10,000 visitors take pleasure in the diverse range of coffee and beverage selections offered. It is particularly noteworthy that the cafe operates under the direct oversight of the district office, with the entire proceeds derived from its operations being designated for the support of student scholarships. This harmonious confluence of leisurely indulgence, artistic engagement, and community upliftment unequivocally positions Cafe Falls as an outstanding jewel within the evolving landscape of Seodaemun-gu.
Interviewer: Your recommendation offers a unique perspective on Seodaemun-gu. Thank you for sharing this remarkable destination. With this, I'd like to extend my sincere gratitude for your time and insights throughout this interview. Your valuable contributions have provided a deeper understanding of Seodaemun's initiatives and aspirations. Wishing you continued success in your endeavors. Thank you once again.