Can Seoul become the world's most attractive city?

Wed Apr 21, 2010 10:17am EDT
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By Jonathan Hopfner

SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - Appearances may not be everything, but they're dominating discussions on the future of South Korea's sprawling, 10-million-strong capital Seoul.

Long a domain of excessive concrete and drab apartment blocks, Seoul is embarking on perhaps the most ambitious facelift in its 600-year-history, aimed at catapulting it into the top ranks of global cities in terms of architecture and image.

The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) has praised Seoul's ongoing transformation, naming the city its Global Design Capital for 2010.

But critics wonder at the cost of the change and how much of what distinguishes Seoul will be destined for the wrecking ball.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, a telegenic politician up for re-election in June and seen as a possible contender in the 2012 presidential race, has staked his fortunes on the design plans he hopes will bring more business and tourism to the city.

"Cities worldwide are entering an era of competition," Oh told Reuters. "We need to have not only the technological and cost competitive edge, but more than anything, the competitive edge in attractiveness."

Under Oh's watch $100 million of the city's budget has been dedicated annually to initiatives such as the Han River Renaissance, which has spruced up the river bisecting the capital with dazzling evening light shows and fountain-spouting bridges.

The project will culminate in the construction of an arts facility on a river islet with a massive symphony hall and opera house, capped with an undulating, photovoltaic-ready roof.   Continued...

<p>The Songdo International Business District in Incheon, west of Seoul, is seen in this aerial photo, February 23, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won</p>