by Yunjeong Han
Do you know Seoul? Yes, it is the capital city of Korea. The population of Seoul is 10,200,000 (2015), which is consisted of 25 districts. Seoul is one of the most populated city in the world. It is also one of the most polluted city in the world with Beijing and New Deli, according to ‘Financial Times’ report of Mach 29, 2017.
Seoul is very urbanized city. It means that it is the center of commerce and finance, not agriculture. People move very often, so they don’t know who lives next door. People feel loneliness, and they have none to ask help when it is needed. Seoul is also the center of education. There are 40 universities and colleges in Seoul, but most of graduates have no chance to take a job. Like most developed countries, Seoul suffers from low economic increase and high unemployment.
Now Seoul is in change. After the inauguration of Mayor Wonsoon Park in 2011, who is lawyer and social innovator, Seoul launched new policies like building village communities, inspiring town business and social enterprise, saving fossil-fuel energy, encouraging social innovations. Among them, the most important policy is building village communities, because it is the basic element for experiment of new life style, new economic system.
The village community, ‘Maeul’ in Korean, indicates not the administrative region. Beyond it, Maeul means network of people that supports everyone’s needs and community life. Seoul Community Support Center(SCSC), established by Seoul Metripoltan Government in 2012, helps village community building. The most important feature of Maeul is the residents’ initiative. The residents identify and resolve problems in their everyday life. They plan how handle their problems, and they take the lead and take action. The work of Maeul is moving away from existing patterns and administrative convenience. The administration supports them by giving financial aid, connecting with experts, etc.
But there is no environmental enlightenment. The concept of Maeul focuses on solving social problems like giving care for children, senior citizen, disabled person or making new relation and cooperation among people. It is deficient. What needed is changing thought, life style, system, furthermore civilization. This purpose can be achieved through the new relation with nature.
‘Transition City Eunpyeong’ is another kind of village community. This community refuses the financial aid of provincial government, because financial aid ignites the residents’ action, but it also lets the action stop after the aid ends. The residents help themselves to solve the problem and change the life. They practice the permaculture in Seoul. The villagers make community gardens in the public land, and manage the community organic restaurant with their agricultural product. They open educational program for permaculture. The leader, Soran, said, “Permaculture is not the agricultural technique. It is sharing value and philosophy.”
Eunpyeong is one of 25 districts in Seoul. The change in this region began in 2015. The district office provide 24,516m2 of public land to residents. The residents made the non-profit organization ‘Transition City Eunpyeong’. It is application of ‘Transition Town’ movement. This movement began at Kinsale, Ireland in 2005 for overcoming oil peak and climate change. Next year, Rob Hopkins, professor of Schumacher College, moved to Totnes in England and launched in earnest. He said, “The best thing Transition Town Totnes has done is bring people together.” Transition means changing the declining town into the ecovillage. Usual ecovillages are made in the rural areas, but transition town is in the urban area.
Transition City Eunpyeong is special, because it is in the metropolitan city. We can see the big apartment and high building next to community garden. They raise the rice and cotton in the most populated and polluted city in the world. They open the community school and teach about local seeds, organic plant, ecological architecture, wood carving, etc. These activities make the villagers connect and cooperate with each other. Their community restaurant consume the local food and employ the villagers.
This community has four strategies. First, it gives all villagers opportunity to teach and learn. Anyone can share her knowledge, and learn from other people. Learning is the effective way to relate each other. Second, there is no division between producer and consumer. Villagers buy and sell their necessities with each other. Third, they don’t make organization like coop to decrease unnecessary meeting and paper work. Fourth, they inspire young people to participate in activities and business. It supports their job experiences.
‘Transition Town’ movement is spreading fast in Korea. After the first ‘Transition City Eunpyeong’ began in 2015, many villages nationwide has declared to participate in the movement. This year, ‘Korea Transition Town Network’ launches and begins to exchange information. Famous peace and spirituality leader, Satish Kumar and Helena Norberg-Hodge visited Korea Transition Town in recent years. The most interesting aspect in Korea Transition Town movement is that it is related with alternative education. Many alternative schools and neighbor towns declared Transition Town in order that the graduate students will live and work in the town continuously. Many alternative school students had difficulties in adjusting to society after graduation. The future of Transition Town movement in Korea looks optimistic.