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[SECOND IN A THREE-PART SERIES] Under Park, Seoul spreads winning innovations

Mayor is running an ambitious campaign of city-to-city diplomacy
Nov 08,2018
Representatives of the Canton of Z?ich, left, and representatives of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, right, discuss areas for cooperation during Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon뭩 visit to Z?ich on Oct. 3. [SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, right, and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau pose after signing an agreement to strengthen the six-year-old friendship and cooperation treaty between the two cities on Sept. 28 at Barcelona city hall. [SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]
The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced last year a three-year plan to lead an effort to connect cities and local governments throughout the world to share best practices on global issues. In this three-part series, the Korea JoongAng Daily follows the Seoul city government to destinations abroad as it makes new contacts and looks at the work of some international organizations in Seoul. -Ed.

Six years ago, at Barcelona city hall, then-Mayor Xavier Trias of the Spanish city met with a delegation from Seoul. The heads of the two cities signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation.

In September 2018, the leaders of the two cities met once again at the same location.

“The agreement from 2012 should have been followed up a while ago,” said Ada Colau, current mayor of Barcelona, in her address to representatives of Seoul and Barcelona at the Casa de la Ciutat on Sept. 28. “And so we are touched and thankful that Seoul has paid us a visit to sign a follow-up agreement.”

In 2012, the two cities agreed to cooperate on urbanization, smart city development, e-government, trade and investment as well as cultural events, the environment and sports.

The additional agreement in September was about expanding the cooperation into other fields, including direct democracy, civic participation, innovation, the sharing economy and inclusive growth.

Seoul has agreements to cooperate on various issues with over 60 other friendship and sister cities. The only distinction between the two titles is whether the agreement has been approved by the Seoul city council or not. Sister city agreements have been approved by the city council.

Both are not legally binding agreements, “but they provide the foundation for two cities to deepen their ties,” said Kang Young-kyu, a deputy director of the International Relations Division of the Seoul city government. “Cities sign the agreement with Seoul to either continue or begin projects together.”

Other cities, like New York and Beijing, have similar partnerships. The Seoul city government is to transform the nature of its relations with cities worldwide by 2020.

“If Seoul’s traditional form of city diplomacy has been about bridging friendly relations with another city, we hope to upgrade this relationship by having Seoul address the specific needs of another city in sharing its experiences and knowledge,” the city government said in its three-year City Diplomacy Plan issued in March last year.

Exporting Seoul’s expertise

The Seoul city government has exported 65 policies to 52 other cities in 31 countries since 2006. But the number really started to grow recently. There were only seven policy-sharing projects with other cities when Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon began his first term in 2011. About 80 percent of the policy-sharing projects with other cities began in the last five years, according to the city government.

“Different projects grow under different leadership,” said Jeong Jong-il, a deputy director of the Global Urban Partnership Division of the city government. “The mayor has been interested in this program since the beginning of his tenure.

“It was in 2012 that we began to have internal discussions on forming a division in the city government to focus on city-to-city cooperation,” he said. “So it was in 2014 that the Global Urban Partnership Division was created in the city government, and in 2015, the Seoul Urban Solutions Agency was establish to work solely on exporting Seoul’s policies abroad.”

Jeong said that many cities that explore Seoul’s policies tend to be its sister cities.

“There is no order here, as in, you don’t have to be a sister city to be able to explore Seoul’s policies,” Jeong said. “But the two are often tied.”

Buenos Aires, a friendship city with Seoul since 2012, sent two big-data experts to Seoul in January last year to learn about the city’s big-data system for commercial districts throughout the city.

The Seoul city government in 2016 created an online platform, accessible at golmok.seoul.go.kr, where prospective entrepreneurs can find out if opening a new store ― such as a Chinese restaurant, a karaoke bar, furniture shop, private academy or a convenience store ― in a certain area in Seoul is a good idea.

The big-data system records the types of businesses that do well in each district, as well as those that did not do so well. It analyzes the commercial pattern of customers in the area to provide prospective entrepreneurs this information.

It also provides information on foot traffic, the number of businesses providing similar types of services or goods and the number of households and office workers in the area.

The experts from Buenos Aires returned after a 10-day consulting trip and developed their big-data system to map the information on commercial districts in the city, which they called the Map of Commercial Opportunities. The system was selected as one of the five best projects in the e-business sector by the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society this year.

“Big-data systems, transportation policies, e-government systems — these are the most popular Seoul policies sought after by other cities,” Jeong said. “The cities find out about Seoul’s policies at international forums, or while they make official visits here, or when representatives of Seoul visit their city.”

Such was the case for Kampala, Uganda, and Delhi, India, two cities that recently signed agreements with Seoul to cooperate on various fronts.

“We first came to recognize Seoul’s smart city policies through the World Sustainable Smart Cities Organization,” said Jennifer Musisi, the mayor of Kampala at the Seoul Digital Summit conference hosted at Seoul City Hall on Sept. 19. Kampala signed an agreement with the Seoul city government that week on smart city development.

“The Cheonggyecheon restoration project in Seoul was centered on revitalizing a stream that had been covered for decades by a highway overpass,” said Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at the Urban Regeneration International Conference hosted by the Seoul city government on Sept. 13. “I am looking forward to close cooperation with Seoul on developing such kinds of streams in Delhi.”

Kejriwal’s visit followed a trip by a Seoul delegation to Delhi in November 2017, during which Park introduced him to Seoul’s water supply and wastewater policies. The two cities signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation during the Delhi delegation’s visit to Seoul in September, and pledged to work together on public housing and water supply policies.

A boon for business

There are four stages to most of Seoul’s policy-sharing projects.

“We first share Seoul’s policies. Then, if a city is interested in one, we provide a consulting service on how Seoul’s policy may be applied in the city,” Jeong said. “Following that, we come up with a basic plan customized for the receiving city. It could range from public transportation and railroads to water supply or e-government.

“The third stage is to test the plan’s feasibility,” Jeong said, “and the last stage to actually establish the system in the city.”

Usually two to three private entities are involved in a project. Their tasks range from providing consulting services to working with a local company to establish a customized version of Seoul’s system. For instance, the city government worked with Korea Smart Card Corporation from 2012 to 2017 to provide consulting services on integrating the payment systems for public transportation fares in Bangkok, Thailand, a Seoul sister city since 2006.

“We provided the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning of Bangkok consulting services on establishing and managing a centralized payment system for public transportation fares for the bus, train and subway,” said Kwon Oh-joong of the global business division of Korea Smart Card Corporation.

After a consulting service is provided, it is up to the receiving city government to decide whether to continue to work with the Seoul city government to work on integrating Seoul’s policy into the city’s systems.

“Because not every project goes into the fourth stage, it is hard to gauge by visible means how much impact Seoul has had on other cities’ policies,” Jeong said. “But what we are focusing on is not necessarily exporting Seoul’s policy in the same shape and form that it is in Seoul into other cities, but cooperating with other cities and sharing Seoul’s experiences and best practices, so as to not only boost Seoul’s standing as an international city but also to provide practical help to other cities.

“In helping them, we are helping ourselves, in a sense,” Jeong said. “Because a lot of these projects involve Korean companies, and they expand their businesses by working with us.”

Other examples of Seoul-based hardware and software solutions exported abroad include a big-data night bus system introduced in Kiev, Ukraine. The Kiev city government requested Seoul information on its big-data system that analyzed the most popular bus stops that, if run after midnight hours, would help Seoulites get home after a long day of work or a late-night partying. They’re called Owl Buses in Seoul.

Kiev found out about them at a World Bank conference in March 2016. The Seoul city government and the National IT Industry Promotion Agency analyzed the foot traffic of Kiev citizens via the records on their cellphone usage and public transportation cards during late-night hours and proposed a night bus route in the city. Kiev has since then applied some night bus routes suggested by Seoul and said it may apply more in stages, according to the Seoul city government.

Old friends

Seoul intends to use mayoral trips abroad and visits by city representatives to Seoul to continue to share best practices in urban development.

“It is our plan to identify target cities and to select destination cities for the mayoral trips abroad,” the city government said in its City Diplomacy Plan. “This way, the trips will yield feasible results, with Seoul sharing its best practices and know-how with other cities.”
As with any relationship, it takes a lot of time and effort for two cities to keep up their good camaraderie and cooperation. In the case of Barcelona, a group of city representatives took part in a mayoral forum on e-government in Seoul in 2008, and the two cities signed an agreement to cooperate in the sector in 2009.

Seoul’s first mayoral trip to Barcelona followed the next year. Then-Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon visited the city to observe some of its urban renovation projects, including Port Vell, a waterfront area renovated in the 1990s.

Mayor Park visited the city in 2012, when the two cities signed the friendship city agreement to cooperate on urbanization and smart city development. He visited again this year to expand the areas of cooperation.

Throughout last year, Park was in Paris in March to attend the C40 Mayors Summit to discuss cities’ roles in climate change; in Vienna the same month to study cases of public housing policies related to the Karl Marx-Hof and Gasometer projects; in the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam in May as the president’s special envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean); in Ulyanovsk, Russia, in June to chair a conference on smart cities solutions; in Rome and the Vatican in September to commemorate 230 years of Catholicism in Korea; and in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Delhi and Bonn, Germany, in November to attend conferences on urban development and climate change and bridge ties with respective cities.

“What happens usually is that we get requests from international organizations or local governments abroad requesting that Mayor Park attend an event or chair a session,” said an official from the city government’s media relations department. “Once some of these attendances are sorted out, we plan the agenda of his trip with possible locations near the host city that are related to urban development projects or other city policies that Seoul is pursuing at the time.”

Seoul also received quite a number of guests last year, including the presidents of Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka, the mayors of São Paulo in Brazil, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Tehran, Panama City, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, Paris and Wellington in New Zealand, the princess of Belgium, the governor of Jakarta, deputy prime minister of New South Wales, governor of the U.S. state of Wisconsin, minister of finance of Sweden and the governor of Ulyanovsk in Russia.

Seoul isn’t the only city putting emphasis on face-to-face networking with other city leaders. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti traveled out of California one out of three days during the first three months of his second term, the LA Weekly reported in September 2017.

Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo is often in the media spotlight during her trips to other cities. She traveled to Los Angeles in September to discuss the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 and in Los Angeles in 2028 and the two cities’ goals of cutting carbon emissions.
Hidalgo was also in Tokyo in February of last year. This was her second trip to the city during her tenure in office, and she discussed the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 as well as how to share best practices for sporting events and discuss cooperation on clean transportation. The two cities’ friendship treaty dates back to 1982.

Many heads of governments, whether they’re local or national, seem to be in agreement when it comes to the importance of keeping in close contact with a partner abroad.

“Meet once and you’re a stranger, twice and you’re familiar and three times you’re old friends already,” Korean President Moon Jae-in said in an interview with China Central Television prior to his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

The same mechanism may be at work in Seoul’s diplomacy with other cities — but it is also hoping to keep these exchanges young wherever possible. For the 30th anniversary of the sister city agreement between Seoul and Tokyo, young adults from the two cities met in Tokyo in August for a forum on the role of youth in city-to-city diplomacy.

“Networks among the youth across cities can transcend the political and diplomatic boundaries between countries,” Park said. “They are our future. They will lead the cities and nations into tomorrow.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]