Seoul’s Decentralisation Drive: Creating a City of Cultural Equality

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has a population of 10 million and is focusing on creativity, engagement and citizen happiness

Cultural Heritage

Seoul is widely recognised for its dynamism and economic success. Its high levels of education, numerous corporate headquarters, and world-leading digital communications infrastructure reflect its modernity. The city has experienced rapid development over the last 60 years, with its population increasing from 2.5 million in 1960 to over 10 million today. Large-scale residential areas in Seoul are well-connected by a developed public transportation system that facilitates communication and mobility. Nevertheless, it remains an ancient capital with a history dating back two thousand years. There are culturally significant buildings throughout the city, including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Embracing Change

For the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), current key priorities include the application of innovative technologies, expanding citizens’ participation, and preserving cultural heritage. While SMG supports national, macro-level cultural policy, it places a greater focus on citizenship, well-being, and local engagement. South Korea’s digital infrastructure is acknowledged as one of the best globally, and SMG sees this as an opportunity for the city’s artists to showcase their diverse creativity and harness the artistic potential of this hyper-connected digital infrastructure.

The Role of the Policymaker

The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) leads cultural policy through close cooperation with the Seoul Metropolitan Council and various bodies, including the Seoul Institute, which supports decision-making with research, data, and analysis. SMG’s cultural department is divided into seven different departments and oversees 70 cultural facilities, along with four affiliated organisations, including the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC). SMG develops and implements both short and long-term cultural plans, informed by a committee comprising citizens and experts who contribute to the development of cultural policy. Culture is deeply integrated into city planning as a two-way process—citizens can present their opinions at any time through 426 community centres in Seoul, and SMG actively works to incorporate them into its cultural policies.

The Future

Seoul’s major cultural facilities have historically been concentrated in the city centre, many of which were built as national institutions for hosting large-scale events as part of the post-Korean War reconstruction efforts until the 1990s. Since the turn of the century, efforts have been made to address this by building cultural facilities across the city. However, there is still a significant disparity in provision, with a greater concentration in downtown Seoul. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is in the process of establishing an investment plan for cultural infrastructure to minimise the cultural gap across the city’s five regions, ensuring that all citizens can access and enjoy culture and the arts at the local level. Initiatives such as branches of the Seoul Museum of Art and youth arts education centres are being developed in various autonomous districts outside central Seoul.

Images copyright © Getty Images/Canva; City of Seoul

Refine your search