New city Songdo, the Green New Deal Policy, revival of Chung-ge-chun seemed to show that Korea is now also jumping in the line of making green eco-cities. However, recent four river ecological problem and pollution of Han River have made people reconsider the overall ecological problem that is residing in the cities of Korea. Unlike other European countries that prioritize the eco-friendly culture and energy saving, Korea is still the number one country among the OECD countries in water use and energy use.
In the middle of growing interest of eco-cities in Korea, the visit of Jeremy Riftkin to Korea on 15th of October is catching world's attention on the reasons behind his visit. Riftkin is a well-known futurist who emphasize in developing green energy and sustainable city. With his visit to Korea, "South Korea Energy Forum" will open in Seoul, discussing ways for South Korea to participate in the renewable energy industry and energy grid era.
Worldwide, there are constant efforts to establish a new energy era, which can both contribute to the green environment and the economy. Therefore, Korean society is paying a closer attention more than ever before to the visit of Jeremy Riftkin and the upcoming energy forum. Korea is now starting to feel the importance of building a sustainable society and developing greener cities. People's attention towards the conference is publicizing? highlighting? the social issue of green energy and sustainable economy in South Korea, and it also shows that Korean society is recognizing its role in the global trend green movement.
Going Green, Not an Option but a Necessity
One phrase that attracts the attention of architects today would probably be "Green". Today, the media and society started to raise the need to build green city that has the cleanest and most efficient energy, transportation, and building infrastructure. As the climate change has become random and the pollution growing worse, the need and standard of "Green" has become more and more strict, especially in most European nations. Unlike most cities, they strive to build a green economy, reducing the carbon and even the water usage. In those cities, environmental policies are important, and the public metro system is also highly important in terms of reducing the carbon emission.
Unlike European countries that strive to make a zero-emission green city, Professor Kim Se Yong (Architecture) says Korea still has a long way to go. "Korea is suffering from budget problems to building green cities. Although in terms of technological advancement Korea is ahead of European countries, renewable energy such as bio gas, geothermal energy, and solar power all costs a lot of money to build the facilities." says Kim. In addition to the monetary problems, people's consciousness in saving energy and green life is significantly lower than other countries.
There are several representative cases of ecological cities in Europe that give guideline to building Korean eco-city. Their main goal is to build a sustainable city that includes ecological urban planning of water usage, electricity, and even the life style of people. The system, environmental policies and even eco-conscious citizens are showing an impressive growth of these cities by increasing environmental life style, resulting in as a low carbon economy. The following representative green sustainable cities are bolstering its effort to maintain its position as a green leader.
Sweden Stockholm, Strives to Reach Zero Carbon Emission
Stockholm in Sweden is one of the most mentioned cities when talking about an eco-city. Winning the European Green Capital 2010 award, Stockholm showed its emission reduction significantly to 30-40 percent. Stockholm has once announced that they will make a fossil fuel free city by 2050. A change to a future with zero CO2 emission started from a motivation to adapt to the changing climate as well as to reduce the human impact on climate. It focuses more on reducing the amount of carbon emission with a responsibility as a metropolitan area, making sure that the city is sustainable and attractive for people to live in.
The system of mitigation and adaptation takes place in different sectors. Addressing energy, waste, water, and even urban planning, the system is well set in all sectors of the city. However, it is just the system built in the town that makes the village eco-friendly. The citizens living in Stockholm are highly known for their eco-conscious behaviors. It is said that there is a recycling room in every building which makes the food wastes converted into 'biogas', also known as the purest environmental fuel. The gas that are made from the food wastes are used in everyday lives of citizens even in running the town's buses.
The system and the economical usage of power and green energy is not the only thing Stockholm brags about. There is more than just carbon to Stockholm. It is the quality of people's life and the minds of the town planners. With more than 26 city parks, parkland, forest and lakeshore beaches surrounding the city, people are provided with a central feature of an eco-life. People are not just focusing on the carbon emission or the energy itself but is more gearing towards the core of people's well-being life. The buildings in the town are not outrageously high-tech nor fancy, but they are constructed to reflect the notion of beauty through simplicity and are all thought out with a harmony with its environment.
A city for people, not for cars, Brazil Curitiba
Like other eco cities, Brazil also actively began to address the importance of a sustainable urban development in 1966 with a plan that outlines a future integration between urban development, transportation, and public health. This plan has successfully been realized in modern Curitiba, having the urban development surrounded by green spaces all around the town. Thanks to its ceaseless effort, Curitiba, Brazil is now the highest recycling city in the world by 70 percent.
The education and the lifestyle of residents in Curitibas are what made the city green and sustainable. People are very much aware of the ecological education and are mostly willing to use public transportation for a greener city. The bus usage takes more than 45 percent of the population, and it has led private automobile usage to drop to 22 percent. Since the bus system is highly developed, and high-capacity of buses has made it able to reach the majority residents in town. What is surprising is that all central areas are closed to private cars to prevent traffic congestion. These road closures have led to dynamic economic growth for local shops and development of community places for the pedestrians. It even has the largest downtown pedestrianized shopping area in the world.
As all other eco-cities, the public health and education plan in this city has been substantial. Curitiba maintains the lowest air pollution in Brazil and over 300,000 trees in the city help reduce natural flooding. They dedicate a lot of resources and invest in the environmental education in primary school, which has resulted in environmentally conscious citizens.
Germany, Freiburg, a leading city for Green Economic Growth
The city of Freiburg started its eco-friendly urban plan from back in the 1970s, sensing the seriousness of pollution and climate change. Based on the sustainable policies, Germany constructed Freiburg as a sustainable city by actively committing to its target areas of energy, transportation. This has led the city to focus on the three points: energy saving, new technology, and renewable energy sources. The city was able to acquire today's success as an eco-city thanks to citizen's engagement, the largest motivator for success. The citizens of Freiburg have constantly created a campaign for local nuclear power opposition and sustainable solutions to the energy needs? necessity? of the city. A network of environmentalists, research organizations, and businesses were established, helping the agenda of a sustainable city.
Taking advantage of Freiburg's location, the educated residents and political priorities invested in the environment and economy. This has led Freiburg to be a solar capital. Using the high solar electricity, Freiburg hosts such innovations as the world's first football stadium with its own solar power plant and the world's first self-sustaining solar energy building. When it comes to both ecology and economy, Freiburg has been extremely successful in the fields of research and marketing of renewable energy. The science research team is still striving more on working on the solar industries and Freiburg is embracing many research institutions in Europe.
Waste Management of Freiburg is also highly noticeable. Paper products are mostly made out of the recycled materials. They have installed a financial incentive programs such as discounts for collective waste disposal, to avoid waste increase and consumption. The green movement in Freiburg is a natural part of daily life. Their latest green movement effort has been the "passive house" which became sensational news in Germany. It uses ingenious ducting and insulation to remove the need for heating and air conditioning of any kind. The construction of passive house had led to reduction of energy loss by 90 percent. Likewise, they strive to come up with more ideas to save energy and making the city greener.
First Step: Reflecting Ourselves
From the examples of eco-cities from foreign countries, it is important that the citizens put value in Ecologism and communitarianism. It is their recognition and understanding of the nature and the surrounding that makes the society so different and long lasting. The concept of Ecologism is more than being eco-friendly; it goes further to the compositions of communitarianism. This means that while in the past people were more focused on the relationship of a person and the other person, the broader meaning of communitarianism extends to individual and the individual; individual and the nature; and any other entity that exists in our environment.
The concept of Ecologism got the attention globally in the 1950s when the world faced crisis regarding nature and learned the reality of extinction. Back in the past where the philosophy and living standards were entirely centered to human, nature was something that we should conquest and dominate; thus feeling as a different entity. However, as now the paradigm has turned over to learning the cycle of life from nature, Ecologism is becoming part of the centered frame of people's cognition.
Even in Korea, Ecologism has been integrated with politics. The previous government of Lee Myong Bak proposed the green new deal policy. Following the trends of the developed countries, the big concept of this package policy was to make new jobs from green industries. It was an innovation when it first came out, shedding light on the integration of environment and economy and was looking forward to providing synergy effect on both of the realm. Also, it was showing the world that Korea is stepping with the current Ecologism philosophy and has big interest in environment. However, the balance between the two has not been well made and criticisms over this policy still continue.
One of the examples that is still facing controversy is the Four Rivers Restoration Project. The purpose was to restore damaged ecosystem and accomplish green growth, but there were criticisms that by building dams and sewages it actually harms the ecosystem. As for the consequence, there is now Pectinatella Magnifica appearing around the river which many consider as a negative sign for the ecosystem. The Four Rivers Restoration Project that was invested 22 trillion won is not as successful as the preceding example of rivers Maine and Rodach in Germany.
The biggest problem with Korea's plan to make eco-city is that it puts too much capital in making the city greener. This is against the fundamental feature of eco-city, since eco-city highlights saving. Professor Kim Se Yong (Architecture) said, "Even Songdo city that is acknowledged as the prime green city of Korea is not really a desirable model of Korea's future eco-city. Unfortunately, like other places in Korea, it has put too much infrastructure in the stage of developing the city. I believe this is because we are constantly aware of how the city looks like on the outside; instead of fulfilling the true meaning of eco-friendly."
Kim continued, "When I am asked about direction for the eco-city policy, I usually say that the best solution begins from the citizen's habits and living green. I see some positive insights especially nowadays. There are a lot of promotions and education actually done to inspire living green." Koreans nowadays use up to 250 liters of water daily. In the 70s we used not more than 80 liters. And the European countries have a goal to maintain water usage only around 150 liters of water. This shows how much water resources we are taking up unconsciously. These numbers also remind us that not only the policies but individual's effort is necessary for sure.
Education, the Ultimate Key?
To the countries, especially, where they went through harsh domination from developed country or war, survival and capitalism were the top priority in building and developing the modern country. Korea was no exception. Back in Korea's ancient times, its tradition valued living equally with nature in harmony. Nature was not the means to conquer and develop but was acknowledged as part of their community. However, under the influence of capitalism and fast economic development, everything changed to motivation by profit and understood worth as monetary values.
Therefore, even education, which takes a great part in the essential role of establishing ideology to people, maintained its purpose as a tool for success. However, when alternative schools and private schools became freer by the government's ruling system, they pressured their education philosophy of Ecologism in their school system. It was not the public schools but these alternative schools and private schools that began the new movements towards how we should think about our lives and nature.
Summerhill School in the United Kingdom (U.K) and Waldorf School in Germany are one of the most famous alternative schools around the world that teach students how to live in natural ways coping with the environment and different entity. They instruct children surrounded by the nature as opposed to artificial or man-made system and forms. These types of education are later coined as the ecological education since the fundamental aspect of Ecologism is following the natural cycle.
The reason these schools work perfectly fine with making sure that their education philosophy is proceeding is because their system is adopted that way too. They rule out exams and competitions and make students free from the regulations and develop self-reliance. These students become voluntarily part of the learning environment by actively expressing their feelings and opinions and using five senses-becoming sensitive and acute to the surroundings. Most importantly, the students in these schools are always interacting with the nature. They make handicrafts from nature and learn to live a life naturally.
In Korea, alternative schools are not for problematic students like in the past. There are many schools that were built based on these education philosophies such as Gandhi School and Green Forest Waldorf School. Their purpose of teaching includes learning the harmony with the universe and coexisting with the nature. Teaching children to interact and express their own feelings and learn to cooperate with others including nature. They find the environment that surrounds them as part of their own identity and also learns the meaning of existence and living from the cycle of nature. In terms of whole-person education or emotional education, Korean alternative schools and private schools are adapting these new paradigms of education.
However, there are still some developments to be done. Choi Seo Yun (Department of Education) explains, "Many of the European countries are well developed in the field of ecological education. They accept the curriculum as part of their lives. However, it is different in Korea. In some cases, programs are adjusted rather as aristocratic education programs. The social system that focuses on success of an individual is too much absorbed in our society that the essence of ecological education-equating the principle of nature with art of life-is lost in many cases."
The biggest reason that makes the circumstance so different in Korea is because there is not much environment to get in touch with for children. Thus, children do not have the experience of interacting with the nature and this situation continues even when they are grown up. The meaning of Ecologism can be put as the main ideology of our society when people find themselves as part of the community, the community that encompasses every living thing even including the nature. Even when education does the fundamental role of inspiring and changing how people think, it can only work well when the overall system is shifted and adjusted for.
Choi said in a disappointment, "Ecological education cannot be limited to teaching. It is a much broader and sophisticated idea. One thing is for sure: it is definitely related to emotions so it should be felt. Just as we understand maternal instinct from mothers, learning to cope with the environment should be understood in a similar way. Unfortunately, these experiences are very limited especially when living in the city like Seoul."
Looking Forward to Greener City
Changing the minds of people and life style were always acknowledged as taking a lot of time and effort. However, there are big shifts happening in smaller units of the society despite the drawbacks that Korea have. Since 1994, Sunmisan village in MapoGu, in the middle of Seoul City, was settled as the ideal community village in Korea. From the child care center, now it has made other spaces such as community café, Community Theater and community restaurant. These community and cooperation was triggered by the hopes to save Sunmi Mountain.
There were two difficulties that the residents faced. The first one is when the government tried to cut off the trees and make a water reservoir. The government argued that it needs the facility once the city faces water deficiency. The water reservoir would help supply water stably for the citizens. However, the residents nearby the Sunmi Mountain called for holding a public hearing, and found out there were other plans such as developing the area with apartments. This effort made it possible to stop the unjustified city plan and save the environment.
However, the fight against the pro-developing the mountain area has not ended. The residents are facing the second difficulty with Hongik foundation. The Hongik elementary, middle and high school has taken down some parts of the Sunmi mountain and built the school. Also, they have left some area for building the dormitory for foreign professors instead of using the land on campus. The residents have taken the case to Seoul city governors for inspection. The city hall raised the hand for the residents but the fight is not over yet.
The people who are mainly developing Sunmi Mountain are only seeing the interest and money from a narrow view. They might not understand why the residents here fight for a small mountain. However, it is much worthy if looked from the other perspective. It is not just a standing nature but the space for learning to children and an important signature for the whole community. It has stayed with the residents for a long time and they believe that it is their responsibility, and more, obligation to maintain the nature as it is
The chairwoman of the Woolim consumer cooperative, the biggest cooperation in the Sunmi Valley, and also an active participant of saving Sunmi Mountain, Kim Woo said, "As we won against the government and saved our place, the whole neighbors gained confidence which is a great vitality for the community to maintain. The bond that the mountain has created to us is becoming tighter, in a good way."
Shfting the city atmospher to eco-friendly right away is not an easy job. However, it is notimpossible. The residents living nearby the Sunmi Mountain is only one of the examples. Big change start from small groups. Even from small works done by college studnents can change the perception about nature of many. Going beyond the concept of using less water and energy, making the place around you greener would be good start. This movement is on the way from colleges in Seoul.
Moreover, the good news is that there are some arrangements and plans made to build the city Seoul greener. On September 4, Seoul city prepared an open forum for the future of United States Army Garrison Yongsan (USAGY). Once the USAGY is moved to Pyeongtaek, the space is planned to be created as a huge ecological park. Thus, the open forum was for the citizens to discuss about how the Yongsan Park should be built and be managed in the future.
By having the careful voices of the citizens and experts, the prospect of the park has a positive view. Even though not much is known about the land and soil yet, with the participation to protect the ecosystem, it is showing that there are greater interest in eco-friendly living among the public. As the people of Seoul are more exposed to the area with nature, the perception of these urbanized people should likely be changed and have a warm and caring heart for the nature.