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[Editorial] 'Mega Seoul' idea

Ruling party seeks to incorporate Gimpo into capital. Sufficient discussion needed

Nov. 2, 2023 - 05:31 By Korea Herald

Kim Gi-hyeon, leader of the ruling People Power Party, said that the party will take procedures to incorporate Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province, into Seoul. Gimpo is a city adjacent to western Seoul.

Yoon Jae-ok, floor leader of the party, said that the party will positively consider incorporating other adjacent cities into Seoul if there is demand.

The argument for incorporating Gimpo into Seoul was made in the wake of Gyeonggi Province’s push to establish North Gyeonggi Special Self-Governing Province.

The argument is that Gyeonggi Province is geographically divided into two parts -- south and north -- along the Han River. The area north of the river is often unofficially referred to as north Gyeonggi, while the area below the river as south Gyeonggi.

Based on that logic, Gimpo's location is ambiguous, and it is difficult to classify it as being part of the north or the south. Though it is south of the Han River, it is currently classified as part of the envisioned North Gyeonggi Special Self-Governing Province, apparently because it is in the northern area of the province. It is also awkward to classify it as being part of south Gyeonggi.

Instead, Gimpo Mayor Kim Byeong-soo, also of the ruling party, proposed to incorporate the area into Seoul rather than into the North Gyeonggi Special Self-Governing Province, saying that 85 percent of the area's commuters work in Seoul.

The incorporation of Gimpo -- population 486,000 -- would open the way for the capital to grow into a megacity with a population of more than 10 million. Other adjacent cities would then likely follow Gimpo. Seoul has a population of 9.4 million registered residents. If the populations of Guri, Gwangmyeong and Hanam are added to Gimpo, the total population newly incorporated into Seoul will be over 1.2 million.

From a perspective that megacities can strengthen national competitiveness, there could be a point in incorporating Gimpo and other satellite cites into Seoul.

However, controversies will be unavoidable no matter what conditions are applied for incorporation. Incorporating based on residents’ consent is vulnerable to populism. It can cause unnecessary conflict among residents and incite instability in real estate prices. It can also invite major backlash from other regions wanting balanced development.

The ruling party’s push to incorporate Gimpo into Seoul will certainly jolt residents in the Greater Seoul area, which covers Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, populations 13.6 million and 2.9 million, respectively. It is expected to emerge as a key issue in battlegrounds of the area ahead of the general elections in April next year.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea has not clarified its position yet, but its lawmakers said that the idea is so out of blue. However, the People Power Party seeking to enact a special law for the incorporation of Gimpo into Seoul seems to have the intention of offering the idea as one of its election pledges if the Democratic Party opposes it.

In a democracy, political parties can express their opinions or policy ideas and let voters decide. However, the “Mega Seoul” idea is closely connected not only to the competitiveness of the capital, but also to other crucial issues such as balanced development and therefore the development of the entire nation.

So far, governments have maintained the policy of curbing population concentration in Seoul for the sake of a balanced development of the nation since the 1960s. Flipping this stance all of a sudden is a crucial matter that will change the foundation of national land development.

In this sense, incorporating Gimpo into Seoul should be examined carefully from a long-term perspective. Drawing up a master plan on the expansion of Seoul as part of a national strategy should come first. Improving the transportation infrastructure is a factor to consider when reviewing the idea of "Mega Seoul." If commute times are reduced, administrative borders will become less significant.

The starting point of discourse on the issue should not be an election or political gains but the economy and lives of residents. There should be no rushing of such a plan for immediate gains in the general elections. A hasty push and unconditional opposition should be avoided. A detailed review and sufficient discussion are needed.