Seoul's Strategic Transformation: Mayor Oh Se-hoon Harnesses K-Culture to Propel the City into a Global Business Hub

"Seoul's Renaissance: Mayor Oh Se-hoon Harnesses K-Culture and Global Alliances to Propel the City into a Business Hub"

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon finds himself in a unique position, benefiting from the global popularity of South Korean "K-culture" exports like BTS, Blackpink, Squid Game, and Parasite, which have organically marketed the vibrant city of 10 million to international audiences. However, Mayor Oh is not resting on the laurels of this cultural wave. The 62-year-old former lawyer and lawmaker is on a mission to not only capitalize on Seoul's newfound global appeal but to transform it into a premier tourist destination and an Asian hub for international firms.

In pursuit of this vision, Mayor Oh recently undertook a goodwill tour of North America, making noteworthy appearances such as throwing the first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays game and participating in New York City Climate Week. His engagement included a meeting with the C40 Climate Leadership Group, a global network of progressive city leaders, on the sidelines of the U.N. Climate Ambition Summit.

Mayor Oh's background as a lawyer includes a significant achievement in establishing the "right to sunlight" in South Korean history, influencing city planning to ensure adequate space between buildings. As the Mayor, he continues to champion green policies, promoting tap water over bottled water, setting ambitious recycling targets, and minimizing wastage.

In an exclusive interview with TIME at Seoul City Hall, Mayor Oh delved into his experiences bonding with New York Mayor Eric Adams over a whisky, the necessity of nuclear weapons for South Korea, and the potential for a run at the nation's top leadership. The recent visit to North America, according to Mayor Oh, was exceptionally fruitful, marked by significant discussions on climate action with global leaders, including the Mayor of London, and the establishment of friendly cooperation with Mayor Adams. Their camaraderie, bridging political affiliations, solidifies their commitment to caring for vulnerable groups in society, symbolizing a united front in the pursuit of common goals.

"Seoul's Vision: Mayor Oh Se-hoon's 3377 Strategy and the Three Pillars of a Business-Friendly City"

Mayor Oh Se-hoon's vision for Seoul is encapsulated in the "3377" strategy, a targeted plan to attract 30 million inbound tourists annually, each spending 3 million Korean won ($2,300) over a seven-day stay, with a 70% revisit rate. Beyond the economic benefits of tourism, Mayor Oh emphasizes the broader impact on Seoul's global reputation, driven by the wave of interest sparked by K-culture. The goal is not only to enhance Seoul's allure but also to elevate the overall national brand of South Korea.

To make Seoul truly business-friendly, Mayor Oh focuses on three essential elements: technology, talent, and tolerance. While the city is renowned for its smart infrastructure and boasts 54 universities, talent is abundant. The third element, tolerance, centers on fostering an open and welcoming mindset toward foreigners. Mayor Oh emphasizes the importance of creating an attractive city where people not only work but also find fulfillment and enjoyment.

The commitment to safety is a cornerstone of Seoul's appeal. The city has installed an extensive network of CCTV cameras, totaling 150,000, along main roads and alleyways to ensure public safety. The integration of AI in these cameras enhances their functionality, automating the detection of crowd sizes and contributing to accident prevention. Mayor Oh assures that such incidents will be mitigated through advanced technology.

Addressing ongoing challenges, Mayor Oh touches on the recent controversial installation of a shrine, deemed illegal under Korean law, leading to fines. While expressing disappointment, he highlights the city's consistent efforts to support bereaved families, assigning dedicated public officers for assistance and maintaining ongoing communication.

In essence, Mayor Oh's strategy goes beyond conventional measures, aiming not just to attract tourists and businesses but to cultivate an inclusive, innovative, and resilient Seoul that stands as a beacon for global admiration and collaboration.

"Mayor Oh Se-hoon's Vision: Bridging the Wealth Gap, Empowering Education, and Balancing Social Welfare"

Mayor Oh Se-hoon is determined to challenge the widening wealth gap in Korea, emphasizing that national wealth should benefit everyone, not just the affluent. Recognizing the societal responsibility to care for vulnerable groups, Mayor Oh highlights initiatives like "Seoul Learn," an online educational platform. In Korea, access to quality education often requires enrollment in expensive private academic institutions. Seoul Learn addresses this disparity by providing free access to educational content, materials, and textbooks for students from families in the bottom 25% income bracket. The program also connects them with university student mentors, resulting in significant academic advancements and increased university admissions.

Mayor Oh is committed to breaking the cycle of wealth concentration and ensuring shared prosperity. He acknowledges the need for a balanced approach where the rich and poor progress together, fostering social inclusivity and equal opportunities.

Addressing recent protests, Mayor Oh defends the city's decision to prohibit subway protests by the Seoul Association of the Disabled (SADD). He emphasizes that the decision was a response to intentional disruptions, causing more than 90 subway blockages in the past year and a half. While initially responsive to SADD's calls for improved mobility rights, the city had to take a firm stance to protect the livelihoods of innocent citizens who depend on reliable public transportation.

Despite the challenges, Mayor Oh acknowledges the difficulty of achieving the important goal of social welfare, especially with the rising trend of single-person and two-person households, constituting over 60% of Seoul's population. The mayor recognizes the need for innovative solutions to address the changing lifestyles of young individuals who opt for single or two-person households, often relying on delivery services.

In Mayor Oh Se-hoon's vision, Seoul is not just a thriving metropolis but a place where social equity, education, and inclusive policies converge to create a city that benefits every resident.

"Mayor Oh Se-hoon on Trust, Defense, and Future Aspirations"

Mayor Oh Se-hoon expresses trust in the United States and the Biden Administration, emphasizing the longstanding alliance between the two countries. However, he acknowledges the transient nature of U.S. presidencies, changing every four years, which adds a layer of uncertainty to international relations. Mayor Oh underscores the importance for every country to have the means to defend itself, particularly in light of North Korea's nuclear capabilities. In his view, the possession of nuclear weapons can serve as a deterrent in a complex geopolitical landscape.

Reflecting on his tenure as the fourth-term Mayor of Seoul, Mayor Oh highlights his strong aspirations to complete numerous projects for the city. While he has served a little over 10 years due to his election in a by-election, his commitment to enhancing Seoul's development and addressing the needs of its residents remains unwavering.

When asked about the possibility of running for president in the future, Mayor Oh remains uncertain, leaving the decision open-ended. His focus remains on fulfilling his responsibilities as the Mayor of Seoul and contributing to the city's progress and well-being. The future, including any potential political endeavors, is a chapter yet to be written in Mayor Oh Se-hoon's dedicated public service journey.

In conclusion, Mayor Oh Se-hoon's perspectives on trust, defense, and future aspirations provide a glimpse into his commitment to Seoul's well-being and his considerations for the broader geopolitical landscape. Expressing trust in the United States and the Biden Administration, he acknowledges the need for every country, including South Korea, to be capable of defending itself, especially given the uncertainties that come with changes in U.S. presidencies. Mayor Oh remains focused on his role as the fourth-term Mayor of Seoul, expressing strong aspirations to complete numerous city projects and address the evolving needs of its residents. As for the possibility of running for president in the future, Mayor Oh leaves the door open, emphasizing his current dedication to serving the people of Seoul. The concluding sentiment is one of dedication, adaptability, and an unwavering commitment to shaping the future of Seoul under Mayor Oh Se-hoon's leadership.