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Looking into Ongoing Debates over Greenbelt Land

Recently, there has been a heated argument over the issue of releasing development restriction zones, which are also referred to as greenbelt land. Even though the government has initially decided to preserve greenbelt zones to protect the environment, on August 4th, they discussed releasing the restrictions on Taereung Golf Course to try to cool off the real estate market. Because greenbelt areas are related to the economic and social factors of cities and their surrounding environments, releasing these areas could raise some stakes in society. Moreover, a long-term management plan is needed as these natural resources are handed down to future generations. Through this article, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will introduce the controversy surrounding greenbelts and suggest some solutions that may help resolve the dispute.

What Are Greenbelts?

Background of Greenbelts and Their Purpose

Development restriction zones refer to the land designated to prevent urban sprawl and conserve the natural environment that surrounds nearby cities. These types of areas are also called greenbelts because they provide a healthy and compact living environment for citizens in addition to protecting the environment’s authentic conditions. Greenbelts are underdeveloped areas near cities usually comprised of parks, and this concept was initially introduced by the United Kingdom (UK) in 1938. During this time, the UK simultaneously experienced rapid urbanization and vast deterioration of their cities, which prompted them to consider placing their focus on urban regeneration. For over 50 years, various non-governmental organizations propelled campaigns to prevent limitless urban expansion and preserve their country’s rural areas. Consequently, the greenbelt policy was implemented, and this has since affected many countries around the world. The primary aim of the policy is to ensure citizens a proper living environment by preventing limitless urban expansion. Outer suburbs of the city frequently suffer the pressure of development and experience the adverse effects of expansion unless proper protective measures are set in place. Without the essential guidelines, the financial and social burden for city infrastructure grows and becomes hard to control. Therefore, the greenbelt policy is necessary to keep cities from growing exponentially. It also helps the Greenbelt at Taereung Golf Course ytn.co.kr city conserve its distinct features and aids in facilitating urban regeneration, as well as leading wild animals back to their respective habitats.

History of Greenbelts in Korea

In Korea, the greenbelt policy was first introduced in 1971, in order to protect areas experiencing destruction due to industrialization. This policy made the designation of development restriction zones possible. An area of 5,397 ㎢, 5.4% of an entire territory spanning from Seoul to 13 neighboring metropolitan areas, was designated as a greenbelt by 1997. In the early stages of the policy’s implementation, the purpose of the government was to stop the rising population of major cities. Later, the policy diversified to conserve the environment and block out surrounding areas. On greenbelts, the construction and repurposing of the buildings, alterations to the form and quality of the land, and the division of the space are all prohibited. If deemed necessary for managing the space and improving the convenience of residents, however, some developments may be allowed with the imposition of strict restrictions. Greenbelt areas were well-maintained without any change until July 1997, when presidential candidate Kim Dae-Jung rst proposed the release of greenbelt areas. As a result of Kim’s presidency, entire areas of small and medium-sized cities were released in 1999, alongside seven segments of land taken from metropolitan cities. These spaces were converted to sites for national projects and were used for the benet of housing, industrial, and tourism industries. Currently, about 30% of the nation’s greenbelts have already been released by the government, leaving approximately 70% of the original territory untouched.

Greenbelt at Taereung Golf Course (ytn.co.kr)

Controversy over Greenbelt Zones

Continual Disputes over Designation and Release of Greenbelts

Opinions both for and against the release of greenbelt land, supported by their respective reasons, have continuously been in a fierce standoff. After the government’s announcement earlier this year regarding the revised real estate policy, many discussions ensued with respect to the release of greenbelt land to build housing. This stirred a lot of controversies as many negative opinions were voiced out by those that hold opposing views towards the release of greenbelt land. On July 20th, President Moon Jae-in announced that, for the time being, greenbelt land would not be released, only for the government to restructure the plans on August 4th. In order to boost the supply of housing, they discussed releasing Taereung Golf Course in northern Seoul to construct apartments for 10,000 families. Even though the golf course is currently the only zone appointed to be released, many have raised their concerns. Discussions about greenbelt land existed during past administrations as well, leading the restrictions surrounding some areas to loosen. Many subareas within Gyeonggi-do and Seoul in particular, such as Naegok-dong and Segokdong, were released and developed into new districts. This sparks additional issues, however, because after the construction of a new apartment complex after the release of greenbelt land, real estate prices typically soar, increasing people’s anxiety and apprehensions about the prices of preexisting apartments. As such, greenbelt land has a deep connection to government policies, resulting in vehement disputes.

Pros for Releasing Greenbelt Land

1. Expansion of Housing Supply and Developing New Areas

Development of restriction zones have aggravated the pain of low-income groups by limiting the supply of available housing sites and prompting the rise of housing prices. In order to repress periodic increases in housing prices, a stable relationship between supply and demand is necessary. Areas in the proximity of greenbelts are already full of housing and industrial units. Moreover, redeveloping abandoned sites under rigid regulations is far from easy. Considering all the circumstances, releasing sections of greenbelts would be a very effective solution. Releasing greenbelt areas is a process much faster than redevelopment, and it would ensure the rights of nearby residents. In addition, it would boost the economic power of the district. With enough employment and housing, the area would become self-sufcient, increasing local value. As a result, it could contribute a “plus effect” that increases the infrastructure and size of the city.

2. Protecting the Rights of Private Property

In greenbelt areas, using privately-owned land for either agricultural or industrial use is prohibited by the greenbelt law. In other words, even though landowners have paid full costs for land ownership, the greenbelt policy deprives them from utilizing their own property. This kind of problem occurs due to the lack of discussion between landowners and the government. When the greenbelt policy was implemented, most of the areas were designated by the force of the government. Individual property rights were taken away, forcing landowners of greenbelt areas to mentally and physically struggle as they sacrificed their rights under the guise of public interest. By releasing greenbelt areas and allowing for urban developments in these areas, landowners would be able to recover from their initial economic losses.

Cons to Releasing Greenbelt Land

1. Impossibility of Solving Real Estate Problems

There is not enough greenbelt land to supply the massive demand for more housing, and this can lead to the emergence of unpredicted side effects. In the short term, housing prices may seem to fall as new residential complexes are built, increasing the supply. In the long run, however, prices will rise just as quickly because of the expected population influx heightening urban density. Recently, the number of greenbe lt trades has been increasing, evoking speculations from the public. Because the release of greenbelt zones results in both the loss of many green areas around cities and the attraction of speculative investments, other solutions such as regeneration projects seem much more sustainable.

2. Conserving Environmental Conditions of the City

Greenbelts provide neighboring cities with large amounts of fresh oxygen and also help purify the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide and sulfurous acid gas. Global warming is a severe issue that needs to be addressed immediately, and the pollution levels of Korean cities rank high in the world. In this situation, the need to keep greenbelt areas is inevitable. Moreover, greenbelts help to protect from natural disasters which include heavy rain. If green be lts were all t urned into asphalt roads, the ground would be unable to absorb rainwater, leading to frequent fooding. Lastly, greenbelts play a crucial role as habitats of wild animals. Greenbelt areas are naturally occurring, and this is necessary for the survival and diversication of wild animals. Therefore, keeping greenbelts is important for the preservation of environmental conditions.

Future of Greenbelts

Whether greenbelts are beneficial for sustainable cities is an ongoing question. The pros and cons of the greenbelt policy are standing up against each other quite fiercely. Korea’s greenbelt policy is now at a critical crossroad, and it is difficult to see what may come next because both environmental protection and urban development are essential. Sustainable development refers to the pursuit of progress with the welfare of future generations in mind, and our government holds the responsibility of aligning greenbelt management with this particular principle.

1. Setting Systematic National Territorial Policy

From time to time, the government utilizes greenbelt zones when there is a need for extra land, and this kind of decision appears to contradict their own legislation. Rather than using suburban areas as short-term solutions, reestablishing a territorial policy based on scientific evidence and efficient use of existing city space could be a possible alternative. This can be implemented by analyzing the spatial formation and architectural space intensity with the help of fuzzy architectural spatial analysis. This can prevent the abuse of greenbelt areas, thus strengthening the sustainability of the land.

2. Making Policies to Improve the Life of Residents in Greenbelt Areas

Restricting developmental measures in greenbelts has worsened the situation of residents and brought up the subject of property rights invasions. Because of harsh restrictions, the gap between people in greenbelt and non-greenbelt areas continues to escalate. As ignoring economic loss and complaints from residents and landowners of greenbelts will only make it difficult to keep these areas intact, improving the quality of life through either the expansion of infrastructure or sufcient economic support is imperative. Additionally, cooperation with the local governments must ensue. Discovering and supporting projects adequate for each region would help in enhancing the quality of residents’ and landowners’ lives.

3. Suitable Management of Greenbelts

Some greenbelt areas are not properly managed, being destroyed after designation and regarded as abandoned areas. To keep their original purpose, appropriate management and regular inspections are necessary. Even when some areas are released from being greenbelt zones, they still require special management. The government should thoroughly monitor whether developments are being done under eco-friendly guidelines and watch out for illegal developments and speculative investments at all times. If some greenbelt zones should be released, longterm goals must be met through social agreement.

Keeping greenbelts for a sustainable city is important. (thinksustainabilityblog.com)

Despite the ups and downs of city planning policies within social development, the greenbelt policy was carried out fairly well, and this can be attributed to Korean citizens’ strong determination and effort. At the same time, however, greenbelts are also recognized as potential spaces for development, and the debate persists. Rather than prioritizing the country’s present needs, greenbelts should be conserved for future generations. Both policy improvements and nationwide sympathy are crucial for the future of Korea.

홍수민  hc991230@g.skku.edu

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