The recent presidential election held in March showed the immense power of young voters in their 20s and 30s, resulting in an unexpectedly tight match between the two candidates. Before the June 1 local elections, local governments have actively promoted employment, entrepreneurship, consultations, and networking policies targeting youth.
Seodaemun-gu, a district symbolizing youth, is known for having an outstanding welfare system with the current mayor, Mun Seok-jin, at its center. As his term of office is coming to an end, Ewha Voice took a close look at Seodaemungu’s youth policies initiated by Mun.
Mun has implemented diverse youth policies since he took office in July 2010. Referred to as Seodaemun Daddy Long-Legs, he prides himself on having high policy sensitivity, which refers to the ability to constantly keep track of social issues, sympathize, and provide solutions. As the mayor of a district with nine universities including Ewha, he has especially focused on supporting the dreams of students, new university graduates, and young job seekers.
According to Mun, he has tried to take part in the youth community in person and communicate to figure out their actual needs. Since 2017, the district has been providing a network for youth to interact and discuss necessary policies. The suggestions they made, including club activities, education, and a forum for youth housing were reflected in the actual businesses.
“Through the media, I became indirectly aware of the hardships of people who have fallen into the dead zone of welfare,” he said. “This was how we preemptively started the first supporting business for Young Carers, youths under the age of 34 with the burden of family care, together with the Ministry of Health and Welfare.”
Faced with disparities in education amid the global pandemic, Mun has been devoted to improving educational policies. In keeping up with the changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Seodaemun has been operating a convergence education center with high-tech facilities and has created a smart learning environment for the schools in the district.
“This was based on the belief that it is the responsibility of the local government to provide equal opportunities for education regardless of the income level,” Mun explained. “These efforts were recognized internationally, and Seodaemun was selected as the first chair city at the Alliance for Asia-Pacific Learning Cities (APLC), which consists of 65 cities that are leading future-oriented progress through lifelong education.”
Along with educational support, the district has also made considerable achievements in its eco-friendly policies. It was the first in Seoul to introduce low floor electric town shuttle buses to reduce carbon emissions from public transportation. In order to spread the eco-friendly behavior among the residents, a low-carbon practice group was also formed.
The youth policy that received the most enthusiastic response, according to Mun, was the public rental housing project. A large population of youth resides in Seodaemun but are living in poor housing conditions. In order to lower the burden of high housing prices, Mun has been providing diverse types of rental houses since his term. Among them is Gyeonuilga, which was built for those who wished to live with animals. The residents showed high satisfaction with the safe environment for raising companion animals. This year, Seodaemun is planning to provide stable housing for creative and enterprising youth who have founded startups.
Even after his twelve-year term ends, Mun hopes the district will continue to pay attention to the youth in blind spots so they will not be forced to give up their dreams.
“There is one thing I wish for the youth: to work hard for their own future based on the job, housing, and welfare provided by the central and local governments,” Mun said.
At Ewha, there are many students residing in Seodaemun, near the school. Ewha Voice interviewed two students majoring in International Studies: Kim Ju-hyun, who is living near Boxquare, and Cha So-mi, who is a resident of the dormitory.
Both students pointed to the usability of local facilities and high levels of user engagement, along with an easy commute as the advantages of living in Seodaemun. But there also seemed to be some areas of inconvenience. Kim faced problems such as relatively high rent and noise, while Cha wanted a cleaner environment.
When asked whether they have benefited from the policies provided by the district, both responded they have not, either because they were unaware of them or did not feel the need to look them up. In the future, Kim hopes more policies acknowledging youth difficulties will be implemented regarding internships and workplaces. Cha also expressed her hope that welfare policies will be better promoted so that students can benefit to the fullest.
Based on the groundwork that Mun had laid, Seodaemun is ready for its new mayor. In any case, with the local government’s efforts and the youth’s dreams combined, Seodaemun is a district with a bright future ahead.