Sandokdoro Renaissance Project

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Main actors

City Government, National Government, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy, Community / Citizen Group, other, Local Government

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Project area

Neighborhood or district

Icons use case study duration


Ongoing since 2009/08

The project intends to revitalize a deprived neighborhood, while preserving its unique spatial, cultural, landscape and historical assets.

Busan Metropolitan City launched the integrated urban regeneration of a hillside town (Sandokdoro) in August 2009. The project intends to include people from all walks of life to preserve its unique spatial, cultural, landscape and historical assets while improving the neighborhood environment and revitalizing the area´s economy.

The first project area called “Empty Houses with Theme” was designed to turn some of the area´s abandoned houses into photo galleries, book cafés or small-sized exhibition halls. The second project area is called “Alleyway Regeneration”. Local residents and students are able to install their own works of art on every corner of the alleyways that curve their way through the neighborhoods. They also make maps that tourists can use to find the artwork as they look around the villages.

President Park Geun-hye awarded the “Sanbokdoro Renaissance Project” Grand Prize (President´s Award) at the 2013 Korea Regional Hope Expo, commenting the project is a good model for urban regeneration that preserves the culture and heritage of old villages.

Planning to be finished by 2020, the Village Creation Support Center will consult on and monitor four out of nine project areas in order to enhance the sustainability of the targeted villages. Existing projects will also be expanded to other villages on the hillside. 

Sustainable Development Goals

Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Metropolis Award

This project was awarded the 'Metropolis Award' in 2014 in the following category: First Prize.

Busan, South Korea

Size and population development
2011: 3,372,000; 1990: 3,778,000; 2025: 3,331,000; 2010-2015: -0,55%

Main functions
2nd largest metropole in South Korea ; port city

Main industries / business
Busan's main industry is shipping (largest port city in South Korea and the world´s fifth busiest seaport by cargo tonnage)

Political structure
Busan is governed by a Mayor-Council and represented by a National Assembly

Administrative structure
Busan is divided into 15 gu (administrative districts) and 1 gun (county)

Due to its geography, the hillside residential area of Sandokdoro is not easily accessible and lacks public and cultural facilities, as well as other amenities. Many factors, including the inconvenient living conditions, have resulted in a more rapid decline in population than other areas. The existing development model, focusing on physical development, made it difficult for the original low-income inhabitants to resettle in Busan after redevelopment. It also raised concerns about a possible breakup of the community.

The vision of this project is to work together to build a creative space for communication brimming with energy and vigor which is divided into three categories: 

Space regeneration: ecology, transportation landscape, living environment.

Living regeneration: restoration of the sense of community and revitalization of the local economy through community businesses.

Culture regeneration: discovery of historical and cultural programs and expansion of relevant infrastructure.

Sub-objectives of the project are the following:

- Creating a safer living environment and building a town that offers a convenient transportation network. Establishing a safer traffic system that puts pedestrians first in a town that is embedded with ubiquitous technologies and free from crime.

- The restoration of areas from environmental degradation and the expansion of greener areas by utilizing abandoned houses; additional green space will thus be created while the view and landscape of the town are preserved.

- The expansion of public space within the town and the increase of social capital through more active networking among residents.

- Supporting the residents so that they can become economically self-sufficient.

-Meeting the educational needs of the residents by offering them after-school programs, recreational and cultural programs.  

In August 2009, the Busan Metropolitan City launched a feasibility study on the Sanbokdoro Renaissance Project designed to regenerate the dilapidated hillside residential area.

In December 2009, further work was done to analyze the area’s surroundings and historic and cultural resources. In February 2010, the city government introduced a master plan for the regeneration project and in August, a survey was conducted among residents and experts while community partnership meetings were held.

In January 2011, a series of measures were taken, including the provision of resident education programs, business consulting services, the creation of story-telling public buildings, a community hall, road construction, etc.

In January 2012, a set of programs for the second year of the project were carried out, such as the opening of a town museum and an art gallery, the restoration of community wells, the hosting of the UNESCO International Workcamp and the rejuvenation of abandoned houses. To provide more systemized support, the Busan Metropolitan Council introduced the Ordinance on Supporting Town Buildings in July 2012, followed by the establishment of the Sanbokdoro Town Building Support Center.

In its third year, the Sanbokdoro Renaissance Project continued to improve the living environment of the target area by opening a community learning center, improving the pedestrian environment, organizing a community festival, forming a community choir and orchestra, operating town tour bus services and CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) lighting. In October 2013, integrated information services for welfare, tourism and traffic began.

Now, in its fourth year, Busan City Government is working on additional regeneration programs including the expansion of public toilets, the creation of story-telling trails and the training of urban regeneration experts. As part of the efforts to increase residents’ incomes, they can now offer home stay or lodging services.

The implementation of the project was based on discussions and decision makings of administrators, experts and the residents themselves. Any resident could be part of the meetings in order to discuss issues related to the town. Over 550 rounds of meetings have been held in 33 villages. Resident Councils have indeed been involved in town projects from the planning to the completion and operation stages. 

People of all ages and walks of life have engaged in resolving problems such as addressing unemployment, improving the living environment and promoting local tourism. It helped strengthening the capabilities of the residents, thereby increasing their self-governing activities for the local community. 

Total City government (KRW 45,911 million)

National government (KRW 2,138 million)

Gu/District government (KRW 549 million)

The Busan Metropolitan City government is responsible for planning implementation improving systems and budget for this project.

Cultural and art programs are operated by private organizations, contracted by the city government. A consortium was formed between the central government, local universities and businesses to educate local residents. Academic associations and research centers that have signed MOUs provide experts who are dispatched to villages to support various programs.

- Each local support center is operated by Imago (knowledge sharing community); Rosario Caritas (social welfare organization) and the Busan Development Institute (R&D Center) which all have contracts with Busan City government.

- The consortium of Busan Metropolitan City, Ministry of Employment and Labor and Silla University is working to provide business consultation and increase job and business creation. Cittaslow Korea Network Inc. Ass. And Centrum Business Center have also been working together on the project.

- When expertise on urban design is required, the Urban design Institute of Korea and the Architecture and Urban Research Institute handle the project and provide urban planning training courses for government officials and the general public that cover architecture, city management, policy proposal, project development, city and landscape design and publishing.

- Each village has its own town planner and coordinator in order to support citizen-oriented town planning and projects. Planners are professors, NPO activists and experts specialized in the areas of architecture, humanities, design arts, social welfare or civil engineering. 

Thirty unit projects and thirty eight unit projects were completed in 2011 and 2012 respectively. 

1. Urban impact: New construction and improvement for the convenience of the residents

The economic polarization between the eastern and western parts of Busan is one major feature of the city: the majority of impoverished households and hillside residential areas are indeed concentrated is the western region where the former city core was once located. With the gradual relocation of the city´s downtown core to the east, the old downtown area rapidly declined and poor residents remained in the densely populated western region of Busan.

Sanbokdoro - which is the less-developed hillside area targeted by this project - used to host shanty towns and decrepit houses. Through the implementation of the project, new roads, sidewalks and stairs have been constructed  as well as a new monorail, parking lot, rest places (public squares and public parks). Improvement work has been carried out on existing alleyways and on abandoned houses. Landscape lighting has also been installed thus reducing crime in the back streets.

These efforts led to increased convenience in walking and driving to and from the neighboring villages. The overall neighborhood environment has also been remarkably improved. 

2. Economic impact: A cultural and artistic impulse serving the city´s appeal

Instead of forcing an increasing number of poor residents out, thus destroying the long-standing community living there, this project didn´t approach the slums from a negative perspective. The essence of these regeneration efforts was to incorporate story-telling and artistic expression into the physical environment of dilapidated areas to creatively utilize the space while preserving the identity of the town. And it succeeded, since Gamcheon Culture Village has become widely known as a success story because of its revitalized local community and economy:

- Abandoned houses once regarded as unpleasant fixtures have been turned into economically viable spaces creating profit for the town.  The workroom, town café, restaurants, community farm and information center thus appearing have led to the creation of 570 jobs so far (274 in 2012 and 296 in 2013).

- Memorials and cultural facilities were dedicated in memory of celebrities who once lived or have any connection with the town. 10 studios for artists and 3 photo zones were established while 30 Korean Culture & Tourism guides were selected. Murals were painted and installation artworks were set up onto retaining walls which were once regarded as poorly maintained, filthy areas. As a result, the number of tourists per year increased from 30,000 in 2011, 100,000 in 2012 to 420,000 in 2013, thereby injecting KRW 45billion (USD 42,5 million) into the local economy. The residents themselves have been actively involved in the regeneration efforts by joining various cultural classes, publishing an oral history of the town and forming a mini orchestra and choir to present concerts.

3. Revival of communities through the active involvement of villagers

Villagers have increased their capacity to affect change:

A total of 33 resident councils were organized where professors, non-profit organizations and artists are participating as town planners and activists. Resident councils which were originally formed to participate in town planning processes have developed into cooperatives and non-profit corporations. Residents themselves have opened eight new community businesses, run six cooperatives as well as two incorporated associations.  They have raised funds to become financially independent and address problems facing their communities. They are now planning to host various festivals and events while also operating local gardens that sell fresh produce. In addition village finances are used to fund local house repairs for the under-privileged.

A variety of education programs have been provided to the residents including a community business start-up school, town regeneration academy where 1,101 residents have participated thus far, business consulting services and the Sanbokdoro Forum. As a result, 9 start-ups are now up and running as community business activities are booming again. In addition 22 shops which were driven out of business reopened providing further momentum to the once stagnate local economy.


An online resident participation system featuring advanced tools for providing feedback was also introduced:  the residents can review town-related data and material online and then post their own ideas and suggestions in order to contribute to their town´s development by using the website or smart phones application. By developing urban regeneration map services using a web-based GIS mapping application, information about the town and updates on projects are now regularly provided to residents online. Thanks to this technology, residents have been able to establish the foundation for an online decision making system, where they can share their ideas and provide feedback on project implementation and on the future decision of their towns.

Residents can obtain welfare information town news and other information through 17 media boards set up across the villages. For the elderly people who are not familiar with smart devices, RFID cards were distributed to help users get customized information when scanned on media board screens. 

Newly-developing countries often experience over-urbanization. The rapid transformation of urban functions do not only leads to spatial changes but also to social problems such as population outflow, aging, and economic recession. Countries choosing to focus on urban redevelopment often concentrate on a physical approach to reconstruction and are thus more likely to rely on private, versus public capital. However, this strategy doesn't improve the quality of life for people living below the poverty line and damages historical and cultural assets in old neighborhoods.

In the beginning, responsibility for the Sanbokdoro Renaissance Project was split between various departments. Now, only one organization oversees the project which is an important step forward. Also, instead of being initiated by government or large-scale companies, small-sized urban regeneration projects are mainly implemented by local communities and social enterprises.

Busan promoted the value of sustainable city regeneration and village preservation around the world through the UNESCO International Workcamp in the Sanbokdoro area in 2011, 2012. The city also joined the “Supporters of Cittaslow” for the first time in order to reflect the philosophy and ideals of Cittaslow on the village regeneration projects.

Furthermore, since 2012, Busan Metropolitan City has been sending officials to Africa and Southeast Asia to pass along the knowledge of how to successfully implement such projects. Several programs are currently being run including the ‘Reinforce the Capacity of Local Administration’ in Uganda, ‘Local Administration Management Course’ in Tanzania, ‘Sound Financial Status through Partnership between Public and Private Sector’ in Sri Lanka, and Training courses for officials from Tsinghua University located in Beijing. Busan is currently working on international exchange programs for urban regeneration design models including the Gamcheon Culture Village with Japan and China.

This multifaceted approach has been proven to solve the decline of the inner cities in newly developing countries.

<ALJAZEERA, 2013. 3. 18.>
South Korea slum revamped with arts Hillside shanty town has become a tourist attraction, gaining nearly 100,000 visitors last year.
South Korea’s rapid economic boom has left much of the country looking like a concrete jungle. Now architects are pushing a new development style, which aims to preserve the old while introducing new concepts. Al jazeera’s Harry Fawcett reports from Busan, where the shanty town of Gamcheon has been turned into arts neighbourhood.
<Le Monde, 2013. 5. 15.>
Gamcheon, l’art au coin de la venelle
"Le village en Lego", le "Machu Picchu coréen", le "Santorin coréen"... Gamcheon, c'est un peu tout ça, un quartier à déguster comme il s'offre au visiteur, un village-bonbon multicolore avec ses maisons carrées, vertes, jaunes ou bleues alignées en "terrasse" sur les hauteurs du port, entre lesquelles on circule par un enchevêtrement de venelles.
<CNN, 2013. 7. 29.>
Gamcheon: Is this Asia’s artsiest town?
The first-time visitor quickly notices the pretty pastel houses and curious sculptures placed at intervals throughout the town -- but the quaint facades and works of modern art signal merely the tip of the fascinating story behind a little known hillside labyrinth in Busan known as Gamcheon village.

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Camille Toggenburger
Berlin, Germany

Camille Toggenburger

Individual | Community manager | Policy Transfer Platform

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