Gunsan City’s Old Downtown Regeneration Project

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Main actors

City Government, Regional Government, National Government

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Project area

Inner City

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Ongoing since 2007/02

Heritage preservation and cultural tourism support an urban regeneration program.

Gunsan City’s Old Downtown Regeneration Project relies on the participation of residents to build community pride which in turn improves the quality of life for all citizens. The project has established the Gunsan Modern History Museum and preserved cultural heritage in 172 locations. The Gunsan City Regeneration Support Centre supported by the residents’ council has initiated a number of community led projects and conducts lifelong education courses for citizens. The Centre has established urban plans for the improvement of both the residential and commercial environment, enacted related laws, expanded parking lots, buried utility lines underground, and created thematic streets by working with artistic organisations. Additionally, the Centre has supported start-ups to help revitalize the local economy, provided specialist consulting to local businesses, established guesthouse cooperatives, and help revitalized traditional markets.

This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team (

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Gunsan, South Korea

Size and population development
The population of Gunsan recorded in October 2017 is 275,530 comprised of 139,513 males and 136,007 females with a density of 740/km2. There are 63 Islands of which 16 are inhabited and 47 uninhabited.

Main functions
Gunsan (Kunsan) is a city in North Jeolla Province in South Korea and covers an area of 377.72 km2. It is located on the south bank of the Guem (Kŭm) River, upstream from its exit into the Yellow Sea and is 231km from the capital city Seoul.The Saemangeum Seawall (Saeman’gŭm), a 33 kilometre-long dyke linking Gunsan with Byeonsan (Pyŏnsan) Peninsula National Park to the south, was completed in 2010; the world’s longest seawall at the time of its opening, it made possible the reclamation of some 40,100ha of low-lying farmland and freshwater lakes. Kunsan Air Base operated by the United State Air Force is located 7.5kilometres from the city.

Main industries / business
Historically it is known as a fishing village and rice-shipping port with much of its commercial activities centered on processing, storing and transporting rice gown of the Guem River plain. Gunsan has emerged as high-tech manufacturing industrial city and an international seaport with a strong agriculture industry. The City has been declared a free trade zone to encourage both domestic and international investment.

Administrative structure
Gunsan has a Mayor and Deputy Mayor and a large city council with 1,447 public officers. The city is comprised of 1 eup (similar to a town), 10 myeons (divisions of a town), 16 dongs (neighbourhoods) and 125 ri (villages).

The old downtown area of Gunsan City retains remnants of exploitation from the Japanese colonization period (1910~1945). With the opening of Gunsan Port and the colonization by Japan, a commercial district and Japanese residence area were formed. Following the liberation, the old downtown area became a hub for administration, commerce and finance. However, due to the development of a new city centre and subsequently a lack of urban infrastructure, the old commercial district rapidly declined. In 1993, the national government removed a number of heritage buildings to eliminate the remains of Japanese colonial rule, however Gunsan City decided to preserve them for education purposes for future generations and to utilise them as a tourist opportunity.
The Old Downtown Regeneration Project aims to provide a better environment for both residents, tourists and businesses. From 2009 to 2014, projects to build a modern cultural city were implemented and completed. In 2014, Gunsan City was designated as one of the leading urban regeneration cities by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The regeneration focused on the improvement of citizens’ living conditions and quality of life, instead of overall redevelopment and reconstruction. Citizens, specialists, artistic organizations, and the city government worked together towards that goal. Commencing in 2007, Gunsan City has operated lifelong education programmes to strengthen the capabilities of its citizens.
The project consists of four main axes:
  • capacity building for local communities. Adopting the approach that residents should be included in the planning and development of the project, various community councils were formed by social class, age, etc. to solicit ideas, opinions, and feedback. Residents of the old downtown area formed a residents’ council and launched the Urban Regeneration Support Centre with administrative support from the local government, and established the Urban Regeneration College, a lifelong education institution providing capacity-building opportunities for residents. 
  • preservation of modern history and culture. 172 buildings and structures in the old downtown area that retain the history of exploitation during Japanese rule (1910~1945) have  been preserved for education of future generations. A database of for these buildings was developed during the period of 2009-2014 and a preservation and maintenance plan was adopted in 2015 to protect them. Additionally, neighborhood facilities were improved in tandem with the implementation of cultural tourism projects. 
  • improvement of the residential environment. As the city centre was built from an urban plan during the Japanese colonization period, the old downtown area is crowded with dilapidated residential buildings and derelict commercial districts. Additionally, due to the shortage of rain water and sewage disposal systems, residential and business conditions in the old downtown area were in a state of decline. As the number of tourists to the area increased due to the cultural regeneration project, local residents demanded improvement to their residential environment and laws were revised to relax regulations on construction, and a residential conditions improvement project was implemented. 
  • local economy invigoration. To ensure the continued development of the commercial district after the residential environment improvement project, the Gunsan City government collected ideas and feedback from the Urban Regeneration Support Center and other industry experts and implemented additional projects including expanded parking lots, repaired night lighting facilities, placed electric wires underground, and designated car-free streets. Moreover, in order to support start-ups and revitalize traditional markets, the city government implemented the Active Local in Gunsan project to encourage the development of collaborative projects and for participants to learn how to allocate profits and receive mentoring before they start their businesses on their own.

In 2014, Gunsan City applied and received funding via the Urban Regeneration Area programme administered by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. The total budget is approximately $65 million, half are state subsidies, and the other half are funded by the Provinces and Gunsan City. 

The declining old downtown area has turned into a vibrant, booming district crowded with tourists, new stores and startups. The most significant outcomes of the Old Downtown Regeneration Project includes the citizens’ satisfaction with lifelong learning opportunities and pride in their own achievements, and an improved quality of life. 
Gunsan City established the Gunsan City Urban Regeneration Support Centre in May 2015 (251 members), an organization that collects opinions and feedback from residents, to promote business efficiently and democratically. The Gunsan City Urban Regeneration Support Centre has been operating the Urban Regeneration University since 2017 in cooperation with local universities, and over 300 citizens participated and presented opinions, a total of 27 of them were reflected in the measures to promote the urban regeneration project.
By combining urban regeneration with tourism, the Gunsan City government has created an urban regeneration model that satisfies both the demands of residents and tourists. In 2013 the number of tourists was 220,000, this has increased to 3,670,000 in 2017 and has contributed to the rise of start-ups, accommodation facilities and restaurants, facilitating the appearance of businesses in various sectors and the inflow of a younger population to the area. 
The once depressed old downtown area has turned into one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions with the number of tourists rising by over 30% annually.

The increase of tourists associated with the success of the regeneration project could lead to unexpected outcomes such as the local economy being encroached upon by inflowing external capital, a loss of community resilience, and gentrification.

The urban regeneration project of Gunsan City, which converted a dilapidated, neglected old downtown area into a booming district through the collaboration of citizens, city government, and specialists, has become a role model for local governments in South Korea.
The participation and support of experts was also crucial. These people from various sectors offered advice and conducted citizens’ education programmes and operated as intermediaries between citizens and the city government, diligently delivering residents’ ideas to city administrators.
Gunsan Modern History Museum :
Urban Regeneration Support Center :

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