Seoul Future Heritage

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Main actors

City Government, Community / Citizen Group, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2012

The Seoul Future Heritage project was born out of a shared sense of concern and regret as the memories and emotions tied to modern Seoul rapidly disappear amidst the city's dramatic urban transformation. Traditionally, cultural heritage has been identified and chosen by experts who prioritise its historical, academic, and artistic significance, an approach that often neglects the general public's perspective. In contrast, the Seoul Future Heritage project takes a different approach by placing the people of Seoul at the centre of the decision-making process, focusing on the elements of their city that they believe are most worthy of preservation and remembrance.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Seoul , South Korea

Size and population development
The city of Seoul covers a total surface area of 605.21 square kilometres. In 2016, the population was recorded at 10.29 million, with a density of approximately 17,000 people per square kilometre. The sprawling metropolitan area boasts a much larger population at 25.6 million. The population of the city has been decreasing since the early 1990s, due to the high cost of living, urban sprawl to satellite cities and an aging population. (source: world population view)

Population composition
Seoul has a homogenous population, as the majority of residents are Korean. There are, however, small minorities of expatriates, Japanese, Americans and Chinese living in Seoul. The two major religions in Seoul are Christianity and Buddhism. Other religions include Muism (indigenous religion) and Confucianism.

Main functions
Seoul, officially Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. The city is located on the Han River in the north-western part of the country, 60 km inland from the Yellow Sea and is surrounded by a mountainous and hilly landscape. The city contains five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the cultural, economic, and political centre of South Korea.

Main industries / business
Seoul is the business and financial hub of South Korea and is ranked as one of the largest metropolitan economies in the world. The traditional, labour-intensive manufacturing industries have been continuously replaced by information technology, electronics and assembly-type of industries, however, food and beverage production, as well as printing and publishing remained among the core industries. Seoul hosts large concentration of headquarters of International companies and banks, including 15 companies on the fortune 500 list such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai. Seoul is among the world leaders in internet connectivity, and has the world's highest fibre-optic broadband penetration and highest global average internet speeds of 26.1 Mbit/s.

Sources for city budget
Seoul draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, fees, fines and operating revenues.

Administrative structure
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is the executive branch of government and the Seoul Metropolitan Council is the legislative body. The administrative structure contains three tiers: city (si), district (gu), and village (dong). The mayor of the metropolitan government and the mayors of the districts are elected to four-year terms. Serving under the mayors at both levels are vice mayors and directors of bureaus, offices, and divisions. The villages into which each district is divided provide services to the residents within their administrative areas. The Seoul Metropolitan Council is headed by a chairman and two vice chairmen and includes standing committees, special committees, and a secretariat; it has more than 100 members, who serve four-year terms. Most council members are elected to represent their respective district; 10 other members are elected on the basis of proportional representation.

The lives of people in Seoul have changed dramatically in many different directions in the modern era. However, a considerable part of Seoul’s modern culture has failed to be acknowledged as valuable cultural heritage due to its vast diversity in timing and content, despite the valuable information it holds for understanding the lives of modern and contemporary times in Seoul.

The Registered Cultural Heritage System introduced in 2001, was an effort to deal with this issue, but it is a passive system following the uniform legal and systematic standards from the rigid viewpoint of experts. This system operates in accordance with the Cultural Heritage Protection Act, not differing greatly from the conventional measures.

Of course, public regulation is deemed necessary to some extent to preserve the public values of cultural heritage that we all should be able to share. Nevertheless, the case of modern and contemporary cultural heritage is different; its preservation value is still forming and it confronts practical utility. Therefore, the voluntary will of the owners and managers of this cultural heritage as well as public engagement is crucial.

Given this, the Seoul Metropolitan Government(SMG) implemented the Seoul Future Heritage project in 2012. This project aims to inform the owners and managers of cultural heritage of its unique value and inspire a sense of pride in taking proper care to preserve it themselves. The project also puts effort in recreating the memories and sentiments of modern times shared by the public and provides an opportunity to express gratitude and to take part in supporting the owners and managers of the Seoul Future Heritage.

Meanwhile SMG is also carrying out a variety of cultural programs to deliver the memories and sentiments of modern Seoul to future generations, thereby helping them recreate this heritage as their own cultural code. The Seoul Future Heritage project is expected to bridge the gap between generations in understanding heritage and to expand the cultural base of Seoul.

Seoul Future Heritage is based on a proposition process open to the public, who hold the memories and sentiments of modern times in Seoul. As a result, the Seoul Future Heritage is selected from those that (a) are not designated and registered as national or local cultural heritage, (b) remind the people of the modern footprints of Seoul and (c) is agreeably worthwhile to be passed down to the future generations as local features or landmarks.

In depth research on the institutional framework of Seoul Future Heritage project also took place. Starting with Seoul Future Heritage Masterplan drafted in 2013, a comprehensive plan for the preservation and utilisation of Seoul’s future heritage, SMG came up with specific measures for using future heritage as resources for tourism and regional revitalisation.

In December 2014, the Seoul Future Heritage project began a certification system of chosen cultural heritage by providing an official plaque to install at the site, in the hopes of increasing the owner or manager’s pride and sharing the cultural value with the general public. The plaque is only installed with the consent of the owner or manager on the outside of the heritage asset at an easily recognizable and fitting location.

In 2015, SMG adopted “Seoul Metropolitan Government Ordinance on Preservation, Management and Utilisation of Future Heritage” as a legal basis for Seoul Future Heritage related policies and projects according to the Seoul Future Heritage Masterplan 2013. In 2017 new enforcement regulations were introduced to provide guidelines for implementing future heritage policies and projects, as well as other matters specified by the ordinance.

To raise public awareness and encourage voluntary efforts to preserve the Seoul Future Heritage, SMG have developed a variety of promotional channels and civic engagement programs, including an exclusive website on the Seoul Future Heritage, TV shows and feature articles in newspapers, art exhibitions and cultural events, walking tour programs and public User Created Content competitions. Civic forums were also held in 2013, 2017 and 2023 to discuss the barriers and challenges of the Seoul Future Heritage project and collect ideas on how to fix them.

Seoul Future Heritage Archive, a data gathering project is also in progress. This project aims to systematically archive relevant documents and other materials, support follow-up academic research, and effectively cope with possible damage or loss of Seoul Future Heritage. In 2019 the Seoul Future Heritage Hall was opened including a public engagement corner, where visitors can leave comments about the exhibition and suggest new Seoul Future Heritage candidates. The visitors’ opinions and suggestions become reference material when discussing policy improvement and exploring new heritage assets.

The Seoul Institute, established by SMG in 1992, published a series of books on walking tours around the Seoul Future Heritage called “Walking into the Sentiments of Seoul” in 2018, based on academic research to implement the Seoul Future Heritage project together with SMG. The books introduce walking tour routes that most efficiently connect multiple future heritage assets in the downtown area. More information on the books can be found at Seoul Research Data Service(, an online platform of the Seoul Institute. From the spring of 2024, an audio guide based on these books is also available for young people and tourists familiar with online environments, using their mobile phones while on-site. 

The Seoul Future Heritage project does not provide direct financial support to the owners or managers’ preservation efforts; instead, it promotes the cultural heritage and aims to increase the owners or managers’ pride. The Seoul Future Heritage project will adhere to this method.

Even though the 'no direct public assistance' principle was implemented in light of the issues with the conventional system, Seoul Future Heritage is easily subject to damage or destruction due to changing social and economic conditions such as development projects or gentrification and it has been criticised by the press. To prevent this, public subvention for small-scale repairs up to 20 million KRW is provided, as long as the assistance does not affect the owner or manager’s voluntary willingness to protect their cultural asset. The beneficiaries are required to maintain the asset in question for at least three years after receiving SMG’s support.

Non-governmental organisations were also given public assistance for their projects to shed new light on the values of future heritage and encourage the general public to take part in similar projects. NGOs with relevant experience and/or a network of activists were eligible to apply for this 90% matching fund. As of 2021, a total of 32 organisations benefited from 54 different project items.

In cases of important architectural assets that are at risk of damage or for the promotion of future heritage, SMG has purchased and repurposed them into community cultural facilities for the people of Seoul within a minimal range, ensuring the project's purpose is not compromised. The residence of the children’s song writer Geukyoung Yoon in 2014 and the Church of Chebu-dong in 2016 were purchased and reopened to the public.

Overall, the total budget over a period of 10 years amounts to approximately 20 billion KRW (14.6 million USD).

The idea of Seoul Future Heritage materialised in 2012 in the form of a public competition called “Discovering the Future Heritage in Seoul”. Following that, projects to explore and investigate potential future heritage have been carried out annually, leading to a total of 499 cultural assets accredited in 2023. These 499 Seoul Future Heritage assets are broadly divided into two categories: tangible and intangible. The tangible heritage category is further divided into (a) mobile, (b) immobile and (c) natural assets and the intangible heritage category is also divided into 3 types; (a) living culture, (b) artistic activities and (c) others.

Meanwhile, some of the Seoul Future Heritage assets have been designated and are managed as cultural heritage protected by laws and regulations, including one National Monument, three National Registered Cultural Heritage and three Registered Cultural Heritage of Seoul. Additionally, four Seoul Future Heritage assets have been given the title of Best Architectural Assets. It is significant that the Seoul Future Heritage discovered by the public is also academically acknowledged as valuable heritage assets.

In 2022, the contingent valuation method (CVM) was used to estimate the economic value of Seoul Future Heritage. CVM is a technique used to assess the value that people place on non-marketed goods in terms of their willingness to pay (WTP) in monetary units. The payment was set as 'taxes', commonly used in the valuation of public goods or services, and the paying entities were 'households' with income. According to the survey, the estimated willingness to pay taxes for the Seoul Future Heritage over the next five years was approximately 122.4 billion KRW (89.7 million USD).

The question of which part of the heritage should be preserved proved to be controversial over the course of defining the Seoul Future Heritage as memories and sentiments shared by the public. It was a question of whether to keep them in their original forms thereby retaining their cultural value, or to preserve the cultural values only. This controversy arose from the fact that the Seoul Future Heritage is not a cultural property strictly protected by laws and regulations. The Seoul Future Heritage project took a different approach from the conventional way of cultural heritage preservation, focusing on the value itself rather than the physical shape of the object in question, with the aim of retaining shared memories and sentiments.

An institutional framework was also needed for preserving the shared memories and sentiments of Seoul Future Heritage. We began by examining the problems in the Cultural Heritage Registration System related to the cultural heritage from the modern period, which are similar to those faced by the Seoul Future Heritage project. These problems were (a) the owners or managers’ lack of understanding, (b) the abuse of measures as a means to acquire public support, and (c) the process being based on the expertise of specialists.

To build public consensus, SMG is promoting the backgrounds and details of the Seoul Future Heritage project and actively communicating with the public on its official website, social network services and through public hearings. Additionally, it provides public engagement events and programs for people to experience the Seoul Future Heritage, consequently bringing them closer to daily life.

As previously mentioned, the Cultural Heritage Registration System has sometimes been abused for public assistance, contrary to the intention of stimulating voluntary preservation efforts. To avoid this, the Seoul Future Heritage project does not provide direct assistance to the owners or managers’ preservation efforts; instead, it promotes the cultural heritage and aims to increase the owners or managers’ pride.

The current cultural heritage protection system focuses on exploring and sorting out historically, academically and artistically valuable cultural heritage based on expert opinions. In contrast, the Seoul Future Heritage project takes interest in the general public’s point of view, as they are the ones who actually own, manage and enjoy the cultural heritage. Protecting and preserving the Seoul Future Heritage ultimately depends on the citizens of Seoul. The role of administrative offices and specialists is to provide advice to them to preserve the cultural values.

Even though cultural heritage is still often considered a barrier to development and its preservation is sometimes viewed as an infringement of property rights, this project helps the owners or managers of future heritage change their mind, by boosting the pride and a voluntary effort to preserve it. Cultural heritage that would have disappeared in the past can be recognised as valuable.

It also changed the notion of cultural heritage from being expert-driven to placing the people of Seoul at the centre of the decision-making process, focusing on the shared memories and sentiments with people in the present time. As a result, new types of cultural heritage that could not be discovered in the rigid conventional system can be explored. Furthermore, the active promotion and utilisation of future heritage opens people’s eyes to 'the right of the people to enjoy cultural heritage', which had previously been a passive subject of protection and management.

The Seoul Future Heritage project has inspired many other municipalities that lack diversity in cultural heritage and face challenges in increasing cultural attractiveness. Now, a total of 11 local governments, including SMG in Korea, have enacted ordinances on the preservation and utilisation of future heritage.

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Hyunsuk  Min
Seoul , South Korea

Hyunsuk Min

Individual | urban planner

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