Case Study: Informal Settlements and Rights in Conflict
This inquiry case focuses on the complicated decision-making process of urban development in Seoul, South Korea. How can a controversial slum development project like the Guryong Village development, which involves multiple groups and characters, be best planned and implemented from a public official’s view? Seoul has experienced rapid urbanization since the 1960s, and the emergence of Gangnam, the wealthiest region in the country, began in the 1970s. Guryong Village is the largest, and one of the few remaining, informal settlements in South Korea, antithetically situated on the fringe of Gangnam. The intended audience for this case includes public officials, students, and community service professionals.
Rising from the ashes of the Korean War in the 1950s, Seoul, South Korea has experienced rapid urbanization since the 1960s. The emergence of Gangnam, the wealthiest region in the country, began in the 1970s; by contrast, Guryong Village, the largest and one of the few remaining informal settlements in Seoul, is located in the southernmost part of the Gangnam District, surrounded by a large green space. The village occupies approximately 260,000 square meters, with about 1,100 households occupying 350 units. Close to 60 percent of the settlers are older adults earning less than KR100 million (about US$920) per month, which is about one-quarter of the national household income average.
In 2013, approximately 90 percent of the land in the Guryong Village was privately owned by 112 individuals, none of whom are villagers.1 Jung, a former real-estate developer, owned 49 percent of the land at the time, having begun to purchase it in the early 2000s with the goal of private development; he had even petitioned government agencies multiple times but failed to win their approval.
Since the 1970s, the village has been a continuous subject of development plans, mainly due to safety (e.g., flood and fire) and health and sanitation (e.g., sewer and trash) issues, but the discordant and complicated relationship between government agencies—Seoul’s and Gangnam District’s—has hindered decision-making. Each jurisdiction supported different options to obtain and develop village land while trying to protect the interests of both the villagers and the landowners.
Given these competing parties, three options emerged regarding Guryong Village’s future:
1. Taking all of the village land for public development (which is favored by the district)
2. Taking a major portion of the land and readjusting the rest for public and private development (which is favored by the city)
3. Maintaining the status quo (which is favored by a minor portion of the villagers).
Recommended citation: Kim, Jongwoong. 2018. “Informal Settlements and Rights in Conflict: An inquiry case of Guryong Village Land Development in Seoul, South Korea.” Case study. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.