THE BLOG
11/14/2014 01:19 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

A Week in Seoul

While most University of Delaware students were cramming for midterms and celebrating homecoming, I was fortunate enough to participate in the week-long 15th Seoul Case Study Program this past October. Four U.S. universities, the University of Delaware, Cornell University, the University of Central Florida, and Portland State University, traveled to the world city to learn about urban policy and management. This program, designed for graduate students, is a joint partnership between the University of Seoul and the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG). The University of Seoul's International School of Urban Sciences (ISUS) runs this program three times a year.

The five official days of the program were packed with briefings and site visits. Each morning we had two speakers, usually SMG officials, to discuss topics such as urban planning, environmental policy, housing policy, E-government, urban design, aging policy, and transportation policy. Seoul provides an excellent case study of these topics due its rapid urbanization and development. After a delicious lunch (usually bibimbap, a traditional dish with rice, vegetables, raw egg, and chili pepper paste), we traveled to our site visits, which ranged from historic palaces of the Joseon Dynasty to Seoul's City Hall.

Some of my favorite briefings and site visits included learning about how the city government used urban design to transform a community perceived to be dangerous. The city incorporated design elements such as increased LED lights, closed circuit TV cameras, and public community-painted murals. They also used a physical trainer to design exercises that can be performed in public to increase the sense of community and contribute to the otherwise "unsafe" area. I was especially impressed with the level of public engagement and collaboration involved in the project from asking citizens where and why they feel unsafe to involving them in physical transformation of the space. Additionally, the Mapo recycling center and the World Cup Park were sights to see.

I enjoyed learning about Seoul's exceptional recycling efforts, which include incentivizing recycling by charging citizens for the weight of their trash and incinerating garbage to generate energy and create recycled products like bricks. The World Cup Park, adjacent to the recycling plant, is an ecological park that was built on top of a landfill as part of a citywide effort to restore green space for the citizens of Seoul. We were lucky enough to visit there at sunset for a breathtaking view of the city skyline and the Han River.

While I learned a lot about a variety of urban policies, there are some key themes I will take away from the case study to apply to communities in the United States. Seoul's willingness to initiate pilot programs such as cooperative housing between elders and college students to exchange low rent for simple tasks is exemplary. Although risks are important to take into account, pilots provide a good way to test a concept out before broad implementation. Also, Seoul's prioritization of citizen engagement to build consensus is important to rebuild damaged trust between citizens and the government, something that can definitely be improved upon in U.S. communities. I can also now apply a global perspective to my field. While understanding the barriers and limitations to some applications, it is extremely useful to talk to people in different environments to see what has or hasn't worked. In our global community, we can all do more to share ideas and best practices.