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Urban Containment Policies and the Protection of Natural Areas: The Case of Seoul's Greenbelt

David N Bengston, USDA Forest Service, North Central Research Station
Yeo-Chang Youn, Seoul National University, Department of Forest Science

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Abstract

Countries around the world have responded to the problems associated with rapid urban growth and increasingly land-consumptive development patterns by creating a wide range of policy instruments designed to manage urban growth. Of the array of growth management techniques, urban containment policies are considered by some to be a promising approach. This paper focuses on greenbelts, the most restrictive form of urban containment policy. The long-standing greenbelt of Seoul, Republic of Korea is examined as a case study. Seoul’s greenbelt has generated both significant social costs and benefits. Costs include higher land and housing prices in the urban area surrounded by the greenbelt, additional costs incurred by commuters who live beyond the greenbelt and work in Seoul, and increased congestion and related quality of life impacts. Benefits include the amenity value of living near the greenbelt, recreational resources, bequest and heritage values, fiscal savings due to increased efficiency in the provision of public services and infrastructure, and a wide range of life-supporting ecosystem services. After standing virtually unchanged for almost three decades, Korea’s greenbelt policy is currently being revised and weakened, largely due to pressure from greenbelt landowners and developers. Although there is no definitive answer to the question of whether Seoul would be a more or less “sustainable city” today without the greenbelt, it is certain that in the absence of the greenbelt, Seoul would have lost much of its rich natural heritage and essential ecosystem services.

Key words

urban sprawl; urban containment; greenbelt; urban sustainability; urban planning
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087