The South Korean government should take immediate action and reform its land development laws to address the financial and mobility difficulties to landowners in Seoul’s strictly regulated greenbelt.
The greenbelt was introduced in 1971 during Park Chung-Hee’s authoritarian government. Then, Seoul’s swift growth called for land development control to ensure national security in case of a North Korean invasion, control urban sprawl and limit speculation.
Yet four decades later, the greenbelt is harmful and ineffective. Restrictive zoning has harmed residents and landowners with commuting expenses, infrastructure spending, devaluation of land and loss of property rights.
Maybe the biggest detriment of the policy is the uncompensated loss of property rights. For example, elderly greenbelt resident Mr. Park (a pseudonym) has wanted to sell his house for ten years because its staircase is too difficult for his wife to climb. Yet he cannot do anything but sit on his land, enduring a worsening quality of life.
Additionally, the greenbelt no longer serves a purpose. The threat of a North Korean ground artillery attack was a dominant motive for the greenbelt in 1971, yet today an air attack is much more likely– and the greenbelt would be useless in this context. Illegal shantytowns are also irrelevant today, as Seoul and its surrounding areas are highly developed and urbanized.
Environmental concerns and land preservation remain important issues, and the greenbelt policy has been somewhat successful in addressing them. However, the policy has also pushed land development further outside Seoul, meaning longer commutes, traffic congestion and air pollution.
Thought the greenbelt has been twice ruled unconstitutional, reform has been slow. So, citizens must take a stance and call for a reassessment of land, as well as compensation for greenbelt landowners. Only then will Seoul be free of this decades-old burden.