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Seoul city profile | city data
  • After rapid, industry-led growth over the past sixty years, the city of Seoul is now focusing on creativity, engagement and citizen happiness
  • Its new culture plan, ‘Seoul Culture Vision 2030,’ aims to use cultural participation to tackle broader social issues
  • Self-employment or freelancing has become increasingly popular in Seoul, particularly in the creative sector. In response, the government is increasingly focusing its policy on supporting the careers of self-employed artists.

City data: Key facts

  • Geographical area: 605.2 sq. km
  • Total population: 9,814,049
  • GDP (PPP) million: US$ 410,963

Seoul is well known for its dynamism and economic success. Its high levels of education, numerous corporate headquarters and world-leading digital communications infrastructure reflect its modernity. It is a city that has experienced rapid development over the last 60 years, with its population increasing from 2.5 million in 1960 to over 10 million today. Its large-scale residential areas are connected by a well-developed public transportation system that facilitates communication and mobility. But for all this, it is still very much an ancient capital, with a history stretching back two thousand years. There are cultural buildings of historic importance throughout the city, including four designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) leads on cultural policy through close cooperation with the Seoul Metropolitan Council and a number of other bodies, including the Seoul Institute, which supports decision making with research, data and analysis. The cultural department of SMG is arranged over seven different departments and has jurisdiction over 70 cultural facilities, as well as four affiliated organisations, including Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC). SMG develops and implements both short and long-term cultural plans. This is informed by a committee consisting of citizens and experts who contribute towards the process of developing cultural policy. Culture is very much embedded in city planning as a two-way process – citizens can present their opinions at any time through 426 community centres in Seoul, and SMG works to directly reflect them in its cultural policies.

For SMG, current key priorities are the application of innovative technologies, the expansion of citizens’ participation, and the preservation of cultural heritage. While SMG works to support national, macro-level cultural policy, it has a greater focus on citizenship, well-being and local engagement. The country’s digital infrastructure is acknowledged as one the best in the world, and SMG see this as an opportunity for the city’s artists to demonstrate their diverse creativity, and exploit the artistic potential of this hyper-connected digital infrastructure.

Seoul’s major cultural facilities have tended to be concentrated in the city centre. Many of these were built to be national institutions and intended to host large-scale events, as part of reconstruction following the Korean War up until the 1990s. Since the turn of the century, there have been active attempts to address this with a programme of building cultural facilities across the city. However, the level of provision is still far greater in the downtown region. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is establishing an investment plan for cultural infrastructure so that the cultural gap across the City’s five regions can be minimised and that all citizens can enjoy culture and arts at the local level. For instance, a branch of the Seoul Museum of Art and a youth arts education centre are being created in various autonomous districts, outside of central Seoul.