Building a capital from the ground up is a challenge for any nation. Moving the capital to a leaner, greener city and making it the centre of research, education and hi-tech industry - that is an achievement only South Korea can claim as it gives rise to Sejong City.
"Sejong City addresses the country's aim to develop a more geographically balanced economy and relieve the extreme density of Seoul," says
Yu Han-sik, the city's first elected mayor. "We are shaping Sejong not just as an administrative-oriented capital but as a multipurpose and world-class melting pot."
Officially launched in July as the nation's newest self-governing city, Sejong will have five functions. Apart from being the new seat of government, it will also be a showcase of the country's rich culture, science and technology capability, academic prowess and municipal symbols.
About 120km south of Seoul, Sejong is strategically situated within a two-hour commute from any point in South Korea. It connects to the rest of the country through the Gyeongbu line railway, the national highway and the nearby Cheongju International Airport. With a direct expressway from Seoul in progress, travel time between the two cities will soon be further reduced.
It may only be three-quarters the size of Seoul, but because it has been planned skilfully and specifically to become the next capital, Sejong will be able to maximise the land area into purpose-built divisions.
Sejong will host 36 government offices that will be moving from Seoul in three phases. Twelve institutions are scheduled to be completed this year, including the office of the prime minister. The remaining offices will be moved next year until 2014, by which time the estimated number of residing government officials will total roughly 10,500. The city is expected to grow its population to 700,000 by 2030.
"The city is designed and engineered by the world's best talents. It will offer residents and tourists the complete and holistic experience - from museums and shopping centres to specialised hospitals and premier universities," Yu says. "Sejong City is not just for the government. It should pave the way for cultural exchange, federal and regional administration, and organisations that will lead in high technology, education and other sectors."
Sejong will be home to 16 government-affiliated research and development institutes and more than 3,000 researchers. This is expected to boost the city's position as a cradle of science and technology. It will also foster closer collaboration with the region's academic sector, which is represented by some of country's most reputable academic institutions including Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, Hongik University and Korea University Sejong.
"We envision the city as an international science and business gateway - a mecca of all scientific developments," Yu says. "We welcome scientists globally to come here and push the envelope."
Emphasising its pledge to be an environment-friendly and sustainable city, Sejong will feature a green village powered by renewable sources including solar and geothermal energy. More than half the city area will be kept as vast open green and water spaces.
The city is also taking its aesthetic appeal to the next level, eliminating unsightly elements such as electric poles, street parking and billboard advertisements.
"This goes to show that to the finest detail, we are doing everything we can to make Sejong as beautiful and liveable as possible," Yu says. "It reinforces the commitment of the government, which has invested an unprecedented HK$154.74 billion in Sejong's development."
Catalysing an anticipated exponential growth, the investments offer promising opportunities for global investors, innovative hi-tech companies and academic institutions seeking to expand in Asia. With industrial complexes in Jochiwon, Jeonui, Sojeong, Nojang, Eungam, Cheongsong and Buyong, the city is ready to serve all sectors - from electronics manufacturers to food processors and service providers.
"We will provide opportunities, properties and conditions for foreign investors that are looking to do business in Sejong," Yu says. "Sejong will also create more incentives including taxation adjustments to encourage businesses to flourish with us."
The city will build more industrial communities alongside residential and commercial infrastructures, priming Sejong as a thriving metropolis and a home for people to enjoy a better quality of life.