The Rapid Industrialization of Seoul City and its Implications


For more than 600 years, Seoul has been the capital city of Korea. It was not until the 1970s, however, that the city became the modern, urbanized, intensely populated, and largely industrialized city that it is today. As Korea went through dynamic economic reforms and rapid industrialization during the 1960s under a military regime led by President Park Jung-he, Seoul became the virtual manufacturing center and heart of the nation’s industrialization and development process.1 As Seoul provided greater opportunities for employment, much of the rural population that had labored in the agricultural sector moved into the city. As a result, Seoul quickly became overpopulated and the focus of the Korean economy shifted from agriculture, forestry, and fishing based to a manufacturing and services based economy.2 Since the 1970s, Seoul has become the key driver of the Korean economy and the home of 10.3 million people, about one-fifth of the Korean population of 48,606,787.3 Today, the crowded and highly dense city faces a variety of problems that accompany rapid industrialization and urbanization, which has been driven by the ‘path-dependency’ of the nation, its people, and the Korean government’s urban and development planning.4 Having exceeded its maximum capacity, Seoul faces the threat of cascading failures of critical infrastructures, as well as pollution and environmental problems.5 In order to mitigate the urban problems, it is critical to revisit the history of the development process of Seoul in order to learn what went wrong. By doing so, the country may be able to redirect Seoul towards more sustainable development and a decentralization of the dense population and industry centers. Korea must improve its regional balance, by promoting sustainable development, planning, and design projects in other regions of the country.