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Integrating climate change and urban regeneration: success stories from Seoul


Jiyoon Song ,

Korea Environment Institute, Sejong, Republic of Korea; Dresden Leibniz Graduate School (a joint interdisciplinary facility of the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development and the Technical University Dresden), Dresden, DE
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Bernhard Müller

Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Technical University Dresden, Dresden, DE
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Urban regeneration offers extensive opportunities for tackling climate change. However, in the Republic of Korea, successful examples of such policy integration are rare. Whereas many studies have analysed inhibiting factors of policy integration, the perspective of this paper is different. It investigates enabling factors that promote policy integration in the cases of climate change and urban regeneration policies under non-supportive politico-administrative framework conditions. Two good practice examples from Seoul (i.e. the neighbourhoods of Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong) provide a basis for analysing: (1)   which topics facilitated integration; (2) which stakeholders promoted the integration of climate change and urban regeneration policies and how; and (3) whether and how long-term community effects could be generated. A mixed-methods approach is used: document analysis, content analysis, interviews (n = 50) and process-tracing methods. The results show the significance of local promoters and their politico-administrative skills to frame distinct subjects comprehensively which facilitates support from different programmes. Second, open and flexible regulatory frameworks as well as the readiness of higher level authorities to learn from local experiments are conducive to innovation. Third, the institutionalisation and mainstreaming of new topics, e.g. climate change, is a precondition for creating lasting effects in urban regeneration areas.

Practice relevance

The study is relevant for urban regeneration practice because it highlights the role and qualifications of promoters of policy integration, the level of readiness to allow and learn from local experiments in urban living laboratories, and the necessity to mainstream new topics such as climate change as soon as they are integrated to generate lasting effects.

How to Cite: Song, J., & Müller, B. (2022). Integrating climate change and urban regeneration: success stories from Seoul. Buildings and Cities, 3(1), 874–894. DOI:
  Published on 11 Nov 2022
 Accepted on 26 Oct 2022            Submitted on 11 Apr 2022

1. Introduction: urban regeneration and climate change

Urban regeneration plays a crucial role in creating climate-friendly urban areas. It may promote climate mitigation and adaptation by many instruments, such as (1) the creation of open areas and green infrastructure, (2) effective use of inner-city land, (3) changes in land-use structure, and (4) changes in the building stock through retrofitting existing buildings (Balaban 2013; Balaban & Puppim de Oliveira 2014).

Urban regeneration is broadly defined as a set of visions and actions that aim to improve the economic, social and environmental conditions in urban areas. It is generally funded by governments and often takes the form of programmes that include not only physical improvements but also economic revitalisation, social justice, public engagement and environmental protection (Balaban & Puppim de Oliveira 2014; Couch & Fraser 2003; Healey 1995).

Numerous cities around the world have implemented urban regeneration programmes, policies and plans, emphasising the importance of incorporating climate change measures. For European municipalities, the European Union (EU) advocated integrating climate change measures into urban regeneration (Climate Adaptation Partnership in EU 2018).

The Republic of Korea’s administration has made urban regeneration a primary priority, investing a large amount of government funding in respective programmes (National Planning Advisory Committee 2017). Amongst cities in the Republic of Korea, Seoul is distinguished by its adoption of some of the most innovative, forward-thinking, and active urban regeneration policies and strategies (Cho 2015). Since the year 2000, the Seoul metropolitan administration has used the notion of urban regeneration in its urban redevelopment programmes. It has designated several neighbourhoods as ‘urban regeneration revitalisation areas’ (hereafter called ‘urban regeneration areas’). These are locations affected by depopulation, changes in industrial structure, indiscriminate city expansion, worsening of living circumstances and other factors (Republic of Korea 2019).

Recent Korean studies have recognised that the urban regeneration policy of the country has only marginally dealt with climate change and that there is no solid institutional foundation for a respective move towards stronger policy integration (Han et al. 2018; Wang et al. 2013). Nevertheless, even under these circumstances, two neighbourhoods in Seoul, i.e. Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong, have succeeded in integrating climate measures in their urban regeneration programmes over the past decade.

Urban regeneration in the two neighbourhoods unveils relevant enabling factors for climate policy integration in urban regeneration on the local level and its effects. This paper investigates the two good-practice examples from Seoul: (1) to identify topics which supported policy integration; (2) to analyse which stakeholders pushed policy integration and how; and (3) to learn about strategies to generate long-term community effects.

2. Literature review: gaps and success factors of policy integration

2.1 Policy integration: challenges and opportunities

The discussion on integrated policymaking and policy implementation is not at all new. The topics have been deliberated in the literature for many decades. As it is understood here, policy integration ‘concerns the management of cross-cutting issues’ in policy-making and implementation that go beyond:

the boundaries of established policy fields, and which do not correspond to the institutional responsibilities of individual departments.

(Meijers & Stead 2004: 2)

Thus, stakeholders have to get out of the box of their own sectoral responsibilities and thinking. Concerted action is needed to achieve convincing results.

However, the history of policy integration teaches us that this is not at all easy. There have been ample debates about facilitators and inhibitors of cross-sectoral coordination, cooperation and integration in different policy fields. Based on a multidisciplinary literature review starting in the early 1980s, Meijers & Stead (2004: 12) provide a comprehensive set of supportive and inhibiting factors. They identify at least seven groups to be taken into consideration, i.e. organisational factors, behavioural, cultural and personal factors, political factors, economic or financial factors, process or instrumental factors, contextual factors, and specific factors relating to the issue involved. Each factor can contribute to the failure or success of policy integration.

Persson & Runhaar (2018) provide a framework of factors that influence policy integration along the policy cycle, i.e. during policy development and policy implementation. Policy development entails:

making the initial case for the need for environmental policy integration during agenda-setting, problem framing, policy preparation, and ultimately decision-making in sectoral policy sectors.

Policy implementation entails:

how policies, and their integrated environmental objectives, are implemented in ‘downstream’ planning and project design on the ground.

(Persson & Runhaar 2018: 143)

They distinguish between internal and external factors. ‘Internal factors’ are those that are directly affected by the government in the policy integration process, e.g. political will, leadership and knowledge, while ‘external factors’ are those that are beyond the direct control of policymaking and implementing stakeholders, e.g. geographical focus, public awareness and support, and stakeholder support.

Many studies elaborate on policy integration gaps, i.e. reasons that make it more probable that institutions avoid than actively pursue policy integration. The perspective in this paper is different. Taking the cases of climate change and urban regeneration in the Republic of Korea, it looks at factors that may be regarded as decisive for successful policy integration, even under adverse or inhibiting framework conditions in a hierarchically structured government decision-making and implementation system.

2.2 Opportunities of climate policy integration in urban regeneration

The integration of climate change action in urban regeneration is receiving increasing attention from academic discussion and practice. Urban regeneration provides chances to develop innovative forms of adaptation and mitigation (van Veelen 2017). It can promote climate-friendly urban development in many ways, e.g. by (1) efficient use of inner-city land, (2) modifications to land-use patterns in inner-urban areas, and (3) modifications of the building stock through the renovation of existing structures and the uptake of nature-based solutions and the provision of green infrastructure (Balaban 2013; Balaban & Puppim de Oliveira 2014).

For instance, the renovation of buildings helps to reduce their vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Water can be retained on green roofs, and water-efficient appliances help against drought, insolation and ventilation against heatwaves (van de Ven et al. 2011). Mainstreaming climate change-related action within the framework of urban regeneration increases the potential to foster innovation, effectiveness, and efficiency of policymaking and expedites climate change adaption processes (Mees & Driessen 2011; Uittenbroek et al. 2013).

Moreover, nature-based solutions and green infrastructure may enhance ecological connectivity between urban regeneration sites. They also can promote energy-efficient building design and less wasteful use of building materials. Finally, they positively influence social justice and cultural diversity (Raymond et al. 2017).

2.3 Mainstreaming climate-proofing in urban regeneration

It is still not fully clear what makes the integration of climate change in urban regeneration effective, and how this can be quantified (Runhaar et al. 2018). Researchers pursue to pinpoint essential factors of successful integration of climate change and urban regeneration policies. For example, Runhaar et al. (2018) identify factors promoting integration, such as political factors, organisational factors, cognitive factors, resources and others.

Various approaches can be used for mainstreaming climate adaptation in urban regeneration. For example, Wamsler & Pauleit (2016) differentiate programmatic, managerial, intra- and inter-organisational, regulatory, and directed mainstreaming. Runhaar et al. (2018) analysed these categories and found that regulatory mainstreaming is one of the more frequently followed strategies:

more strict requirements for mainstreaming, set at the national or international level, will provide an important impetus for policy-makers and planners in non-climate policy sectors and at lower tiers of government.

(Runhaar et al. 2018: 1209)

Thus, institutional instruments, such as general regulatory requirements, which promote climate proofing in sectoral policies, respective urban planning and supportive financial incentives, seem to play a significant role in integrating climate measures into urban regeneration (Balaban 2013; Balaban & Puppim de Oliveira 2014; Cuevas 2018). Their significance as drivers for climate policy integration has been proven in many empirical studies. For example, by using the case of Albay, the Philippines, Cuevas (2018) highlighted that the absence or presence of laws, regulations and guidelines strongly affected the effectiveness of climate adaptation mainstreaming.

Balaban & Puppim de Oliveira (2014) further emphasised that the existence of an overarching urban development vision, political commitment, and willingness to implement binding and structural measures were significant enabling factors for making the respective urban regeneration neighbourhoods more climate-friendly, as shown in two cities in Japan, i.e. Minato Mirai 21 and Kanazawa City.

2.4 Role of local leaders in policy integration

Local stakeholders responsible for shaping urban regeneration action, such as political decision-makers, public officials and planners at the local level, tend to choose whether or not to take climate measures into urban regeneration projects and with what intensity. Thus, when implementing climate actions, leadership and stakeholder engagement make a significant difference in potential impacts. If the overall regulatory framework is weak, strong support from local stakeholders still may be a booster for the integration of climate action into urban regeneration (URBACT II Capitalisation 2015).

According to Roberts & O’Donoghue (2013), early advocacy and catalytic interventions of the ‘founding’ champions can be transformed into new policies and on-the-ground implementation (Roberts & O’Donoghue 2013). There are many diverse manifestations of mainstreaming, but they always include a combination of knowledge, capacity-building, resource mobilisation and governance improvements, underpinned by political will (Ayers et al. 2014). In this regard, the existence of powerful, open-minded and skilful community leaders seems to be a primary force for integrating climate action into urban regeneration.

Moreover, community leaders play another important role. Without their engagement and far-sighted action, it is difficult to sustain the desired impacts of climate efforts in urban regeneration in the long run. They may strongly influence long-term planning and climate action at the local level, and through their constant support and propaganda, innovative action may turn into broadly based social initiatives (Mather et al. 2011). Such actors persuade others to behave similarly, which may serve as a long-term accelerator for climate policies in communities (Roberts & O’Donoghue 2013).

2.5 Community involvement for generating long-term effects

To maintain climate action over longer periods, community involvement is crucial. According to several studies, community-based sustainability projects are essential for generating public engagement in addressing climate change and promoting sustainable lifestyles (Alexander et al. 2007; Axon 2016; Forrest & Wiek 2014; Geels 2002). Urban regeneration may play an important role here as a vehicle and a bridging strategy for climate change action as urban regeneration measures have a direct benefit for the population and are usually better and more easily understood than the rather abstract and less visible long-term risks of climate change. However, this requires convincing good-practice examples as well as active campaigning and persuasion, demonstrating the benefits of the integration of climate change action into urban regeneration.

There is a strong correlation between active participation, on the one hand, and awareness of and knowledge about climate risks, on the other. Moreover, engagement has a favourable effect on attitudes and behaviour (Khatibi et al. 2021). Therefore, it seems to be vital to encourage community participation in climate action through proactive campaigning, awareness-building and education. Once again, the engagement of community leaders and other influential local stakeholders seems to be a key success factor here, i.e. to accelerate local planning and implementation, institutionalise climate change-related topics with a long-term perspective and shape future community action (Roberts & O’Donoghue 2013).

2.6 Research topic: success factors for policy integration

Based on the above considerations, the goal of this paper is to shed some light on factors promoting policy integration in a hierarchical multilevel governance system under non-supportive regulatory framework conditions. The case of Korea is considered: more specifically, its major agglomeration, Seoul, and two of its pioneering urban regeneration neighbourhoods where climate action was successfully integrated into overall urban development. This paper analyses: (1) which topics were chosen for the integration; (2) which stakeholders promoted the integration of climate change and urban regeneration policies and how; and (3) whether and how long-term community effects could be generated. The focus is on good-practice examples and supportive factors, decisive for their success.

3. Methods

Due to the complexity of the research topic, the study uses a mixed-methods approach, including document analysis, content analysis, interviews and process-tracing methods. It combines quantitative and qualitative methods and uses a single case study, Seoul, and two study areas, i.e. the neighbourhoods of Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong. The two study areas are generally considered good-practice examples of policy integration. Where necessary, they are confronted with two other cases analysed by Song (2022), i.e. the neighbourhoods of Garibong-dong and Amsa-dong, where policy integration has been weak.

Empirical evidence drawn from the two case studies helps to confirm the factors supportive of policy integration. The city of Seoul was chosen because the Seoul metropolitan government first adopted the concept of urban regeneration in the year 2000, and the city’s concept was regarded as a model of urban regeneration when the national government formulated the Urban Regeneration New Deal Policy as the primary policy agenda in 2017. Furthermore, Seoul, Korea’s most populous city, is extremely vulnerable to climate change. However, it took rather long until climate change and urban regeneration policies were actively integrated, and the experience in pioneering neighbourhoods played a role here.

The study areas were chosen in order to identify key factors of policy integration under non-supportive politico-administrative and regulatory framework conditions. Within the Seoul metropolitan administration, the four chosen neighbourhoods belong to four separate community governments. The two good-practice examples are deemed to use successful integration practices. The other two cases, which only play a rather marginal role here, represent an ‘urban regeneration only’-centred ‘business as usual’ among the pioneering neighbourhoods in Seoul.

The primary data of the paper come from two sources: documents and semi-structured interviews. Document analysis was conducted using a variety of documents obtained either online or from stakeholders of urban regeneration in the Republic of Korea, including respective laws and regulations, policy, guidelines, planning documents, especially the respective Urban Regeneration Master Plans,1 newspaper articles, press releases from governments, presentation documents from stakeholders, research papers conducted by the government and/or other stakeholders, journal papers, dissertations, websites, and books (Table 1).

Table 1

Urban regeneration policy documents for analysis.


National • Research for the Establishment of Basic Policy for National Urban Regeneration

• Public hearing on ‘Revitalisation of Urban Regeneration and Legislative Reorganisation’

• Special Act on the Promotion of and Support for Urban Regeneration

• Basic Policy for National Urban Regeneration

• Guidelines for the Formulation of Strategic Plans for Urban Regeneration

City • Guidelines for the Formulation of Urban Regeneration Master Plans

• The Seoul Strategic Plan for Urban Regeneration (2015)

• The Seoul Strategic Plan for Urban Regeneration (2018)

Community/neighbourhood • Jangwi-dong Urban Regeneration Master Plan

• Sangdo 4-dong Urban Regeneration Master Plan

• Amsa-dong Urban Regeneration Master Plan

• Garibong-dong Urban Regeneration Master Plan

Source: Compiled by Jiyoon Song, 2022.

From 6 July to 28 August 2020, the main author of this paper conducted 50 semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in urban regeneration and climate change policy in Seoul, Daejeon and Sejong in the Republic of Korea. The interview questions included a variety of aspects, such as the interviewees’ understanding of urban regeneration, their assessment of the level of integration of climate measures in urban regeneration, the roles of various stakeholders in developing respective visions, and programmes and plans, the motivation to incorporate or not to incorporate climate measures into urban regeneration policies, their opinion about drivers and barriers of policy integration, the general knowledge and resource availability related to climate measures, as well as their view on public awareness and support for climate change.

All interviews, except for one, were recorded and transcribed. The transcribed texts were imported into MAXQDA software for structuring and organising the vast amount of data, and for creating respective coding schemes. The interview segments were identified when applicable to be regarded as factors that affect the integration of climate measures into urban regeneration policies. The number of coded segments was organised based on the characteristics of factors and stages of the policy process. The list of categories that include factors and policy stages was prepared before beginning the coding process based on the conceptual framework of the overall study. The categories were drawn from three studies, i.e. Persson & Runhaar (2018), Runhaar et al. (2018) and De Roeck et al. (2018). An example of the content analysis is presented in Table 2.

Table 2

Example of content analysis and the number of coded segments.


Content analysis Another important problem is (1) the lack of integrated financial resources. So you can use them here and there. For example, (2) any ministries like the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport should be able to use the money from the Ministry of Environment, or vice versa. It should be like this, but (3) if it’s not my budget, it’s not my business. It’s a very common story. So, an integrated project management system is important, but an integrated project budget is also important.
(1) Lack of budgets
(2) Policy development stage
(3) Lack of cooperation with climate change departments/Ministry of Environment
(1) Resources
(2) Policy stage
(3) Organisational factor

Note: Number of coded segments is 168 in the policy development stage (151 internal and 17 external factors) and 454 in the policy implementation stage (282 internal and 172 external factors).

a The sources of direct and indirect quotes from interviews are presented as ‘INT’ and number.

Source: Compiled by Jiyoon Song, 2022.

For the analysis of climate policy integration efforts into urban regeneration, the overall study used the process-tracing approach, i.e. a research method for tracing causal processes using an in-depth single case study (Beach 2017). This method helped to increase the reliability of the commonly highlighted factors by interviewees. Information from a variety of policy documents and non-policy documents proves that the highlighted factors are relevant elements that affected the integration of climate measures into urban regeneration policy processes.

4. Exploring the context: urban regeneration and the integration of climate change action

Modern urban regeneration in the Republic of Korea dates from the end of the Korean War (1950–53). However, systematic urban regeneration approaches are much younger. For a long time, urban regeneration was understood as redevelopment, i.e. as the creation of new towns and new urban areas after the total demolition of run-down neighbourhoods. Only towards the end of the first decade of the new millennium did state urban regeneration policies start to shift toward improving the existing urban fabric, infrastructure, and buildings through stepwise modernisation and rehabilitation. At the same time, top-down government approaches, which were strongly supported and influenced by government research institutes as well as universities, started to give more room to lower level initiatives and promote public participation and the active engagement of the local population in regeneration activities.

The urban regeneration movement in Seoul started in the early 2000s in Bukchon Hanok village. A novel approach to urban planning arose in which residents, community organisations and the Seoul metropolitan government maintained a cooperative relationship and worked together to address issues in the ‘villages’ (Choi 2003). In 2004, the Myeongdong District Unit Plan was established. It was based on resident participation through a resident council. Following these initiatives, the Seoul metropolitan government established a pilot project termed ‘Creating a Liveable Town Through a District Unit Plan’ in 2008, and the ‘Seoul Human Town’ in the early 2010s. The pioneering initiative sought to maintain and improve existing dwellings and strengthen community activities to create a better urban environment for all (Seoul Metropolitan Government, Residential Regeneration Division 2016). The approach gave priority to low-rise dwellings, enhancing residential environments and promoting urban regeneration on a human scale. Residents were expected to take over a pivotal role in developing their communities.

The successful approach of Seoul and findings from a national urban regeneration research and development project, which had been started in 2007 (Seoul Metropolitan Government, Residential Regeneration Division 2016), generated several changes in the overall regulatory framework. For example, in 2013 the government issued a new national law, i.e. the Special Act on Promotion of and Support for Urban Regeneration (Republic of Korea 2019), that set the legal and institutional framework for urban regeneration plans and projects.

Since 2014, thirteen neighbourhoods in Seoul were designated as urban regeneration areas, among them the four neighbourhoods, which are discussed in this article (Figure 1). They were given the task to formulate ‘urban regeneration master plans’ (URMP) to deal with existing challenges in their neighbourhoods. Residents and their demands were a major source of information and a starting point for developing solutions and generating factual improvements.

Pilot urban regeneration areas in Seoul, Korea
Figure 1 

Pilot urban regeneration areas in Seoul.

Source: Compiled by Jiyoon Song based on Seoul Metropolitan Government (2015).

The initiative was supported through public funds from the national government and the Seoul metropolitan government. The URMP with a perspective of five years defined projects to be publicly funded, seeking to ensure medium- to long-term viability of the respective urban regeneration activities. Private enterprises were formed as a consequence of urban regeneration budgets and activities. In the following years, the Seoul metropolitan government showed rather strong interest in the design of URMP on the lower levels of government, especially as the urban regeneration budgets of neighbourhoods usually strongly depended on metropolitan funding.

Taking the longstanding international and national discussions about climate change into consideration, it might have been expected that climate change mitigation and adaptation were seen as priorities to be dealt with in the urban regeneration plans. However, surprisingly enough, this was not the case. This is at least partly due to the boundaries of formal institutional responsibilities. Climate change and urban regeneration issues are the responsibilities of different ministries and departments at the national and metropolitan levels, and unless there is close inter-sectoral cooperation and coordination on the higher levels of government, it is difficult to integrate climate change and urban regeneration measures at lower politico-administrative levels.

Climate change policies and related plans are established at several levels of government in the Republic of Korea, including national, local and community. The national government establishes climate mitigation and adaptation policies. The document ‘Measures for Adaptation to Climate Change’, which specifies the ‘Framework Act on Low Carbon and Green Growth’, includes the country’s climate adaptation visions and sectoral plans. Moreover, it delegates the elaboration and implementation of the ‘Detailed Implementation Plan for Measures for Adaptation to Climate Change’ to city and community governments. In the case of Seoul, climate initiatives of the metropolitan government thus are highly interconnected with those of the communities and their neighbourhoods, which act within the framework of the vision and regulations established at higher levels of government. Consequently, in the beginning, the Seoul metropolitan government did not support climate initiatives within the framework of urban regeneration activities in neighbourhoods. Therefore, in urban regeneration policy, climate change was poorly addressed.

Consequently, for example, the Seoul Strategic Plan for Urban Regeneration, developed by the Seoul metropolitan government’s Urban Regeneration Headquarters, initially did not emphasise goals related to climate change. The strategic plan’s purpose was to express visions and broad orientations for urban regeneration in Seoul, particularly in urban regeneration areas. The plan, published in 2015, had a direct impact on the elaboration of URMPs in the designated regeneration areas. However, attempts to integrate climate policy issues into urban regeneration intensified in the wake of the revision of the plan, which was issued in 2018. At the same time, there were already the first successful pioneer initiatives underway in two of the four neighbourhoods under discussion in this article.

5. Results: Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong—forerunners of climate change integration

The four neighbourhoods discussed here, i.e. Jangwi-dong, Sangdo 4-dong, Amsa-dong and Garibong-dong, were among the first designated neighbourhoods to elaborate a URMP in Seoul. Before urban regeneration, they were low-rise residential areas with a lack of infrastructure, deteriorated residential structures, a lack of community cohesiveness and resident disagreements over urban growth. The neighbourhoods were seen as locations where the population was dwindling and ageing, and where physical structures were deteriorating, but where regeneration was still possible. The four areas were designated to undergo ‘neighbourhood regeneration’ from 2015 onwards. This entailed small-scale urban regeneration, such as the extension of infrastructure and the provision of shared services for inhabitants in residential neighbourhoods (Seoul Metropolitan Government 2015).

The population density of the four urban regeneration areas is extremely high (Table 3), i.e. two to three times higher than the average population density of Seoul (17,013 persons/km2). However, population figures are steadily declining. Buildings that are 20 years old or older account for 66–90% of all buildings in the areas, which is much greater than the legislative benchmarks of 50% or more for the designation of a neighbourhood as an urban regeneration area (Table 3).

Table 3

General characteristics of four neighbourhoods of Seoul in 2015.


Area (m2) 318,415 726,512 634,885 332,929

Population (n) 11,311 30,151 37,753 18,934

Population density (persons/km2) 35,523 41,501 59,464 56,871

Households (n) 4,579 12,597 15,640 6,357

Change in population, 2012–15 (%) –9.9% –1.1% –4.5% –7.5%

Sources: Compiled by Jiyoon Song based on Seoul Metropolitan Government (2017a, 2017b); Seoul Metropolitan Government & Dongjak-gu (2017); Seoul Metropolitan Government & Gangdong-gu (2017); Seoul Smart City Manager (2021).

Although the overall regulatory framework was not promoting the integration of climate change in urban regeneration activities, two of the neighbourhoods (i.e. Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong) took the initiative to integrate climate change measures into their urban regeneration approaches. The following are analysed below: (1) which measures were integrated into urban regeneration; (2) how this was made; (3) which impact this had on the communication and cooperation with the metropolitan government; and (4) which effects were generated.

5.1 Integrated climate action in urban regeneration

Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong were among the first neighbourhoods in Seoul where climate action was strategically integrated with urban regeneration. Thus, as good-practice examples, they became forerunners for other neighbourhoods to follow. The Jangwi-dong URMP incorporated a climate-related goal as one of three key objectives, i.e. the ‘establishment of an environmentally friendly community that leads to energy recovery’. The community aspired to become eco-friendly and to achieve carbon reduction. Rainwater management and urban agriculture were regarded as important to achieve this goal. Mini-vegetation gardens, rainwater collection, the improvement of deteriorated sewage lines, the formulation of a remodelling promotion plan and infrastructure maintenance in residential building renovation areas were other urban regeneration initiatives driven by collaboration among the different departments of the community government (Figure 2).

Climate action in urban regeneration areas, Jangwi-dong, Seoul, Korea
Figure 2 

Rainwater collector, rooftop garden and solar panel in Jangwi-dong.

Source: Photos taken by Jiyoon Song, August 2020.

In Sangdo 4-dong, one of the three major goals of the community was to protect the environment, e.g. through the creation of new green spaces, as well as energy reduction through environmentally friendly housing renovation and urban agriculture. Energy reduction and urban agriculture projects were related directly to climate resilience. Other activities included better maintenance of the Sang-do Neighbourhood Park, the creation of an ecological playground, and the promotion of urban forestry, e.g. landslide prevention. Moreover, the neighbourhood designated a middle school as an eco-school in 2017. The creation of rooftop gardens together with housing renovation projects for the underprivileged were also among the urban regeneration projects driven by the community government (Figure 3).

Climate action in urban regeneration areas, Sangdo 4-dong, Seoul, Korea
Figure 3 

Rooftop garden in Sangdo 4-dong.

Source: Photo taken by Jiyoon Song, August 2020.

If compared with the forerunner neighbourhoods, respective activities in the other two urban regeneration areas, i.e. Amsa-dong and Garibong-dong, lagged behind (Figures 4 and 5). The Amsa-dong URMP included an urban agricultural revitalisation project as a proposal to combine several urban vegetable gardening projects. However, the initiative did not refer to climate change but looked for a green focus of urban regeneration (INT29, INT31, INT33).2 The interview participants are presented in Table A1 in Appendix A. Besides the repair of an old sewage pipe, there were no further climate change-related activities within the framework of urban regeneration in Amsa-dong. In Garibong-dong a project for sewage line maintenance was included in the URMP. However, the plan did not include any projects or objectives linked to climate change.

Urban regeneration area, Amsa-dong, Seoul, Korea
Figure 4 

View of Amsa-dong.

Source: Photo taken by Jiyoon Song, August 2020.

Urban regeneration area, Garibong-dong, Seoul, Korea
Figure 5 

View of Garibong-dong.

Source: Photo taken Jiyoon Song, August 2020.

According to the Special Act on Promotion of and Support for Urban Regeneration (Republic of Korea 2019), every regeneration neighbourhood had to establish and manage a community centre as an anchor facility for the implementation of its URMP. The anchor facility was usually one of the primary activities to be implemented in urban regeneration areas.

The community centres house the Community Regeneration Corporation (CRC), the anchor facility’s operator. The CRC is a cooperative that aims to achieve long-term urban regeneration by bringing together different local initiatives. It can use part of the urban regeneration budget for a variety of activities oriented towards community development, such as capacity-building, providing seminars and lectures, and—very important for neighbourhoods with a weak social capital—for programmes and measures oriented towards increasing community cohesion.

5.2 Stakeholders promoting the integration of climate action

The Republic of Korea has a top-down government system with a strong emphasis on regulatory frameworks for action. Under such conditions, it is not self-explaining that specific neighbourhoods have become forerunners regarding the integration of climate change-oriented measures into urban regeneration programmes. Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong unveil certain factors, which are important in this context.

In the case of Jangwi-dong, the former head of the community of Seongbuk-gu where the neighbourhood of Jangwi-dong is located, Kim Youngbae, critically influenced the incorporation of climate measures in urban regeneration plans (INT44, INT45, INT47, INT49, INT50). Kim had considerable power during the period when the urban regeneration projects were designed because he had just been re-elected at that time (INT47).

Kim underscored the significance of urban regeneration governance. For example, he hosted meetings with a wider range of stakeholders when making important decisions for urban regeneration projects (INT47) and demanded incorporating suitable projects of any kind into urban regeneration (INT45). Moreover, he established a new evaluation system for civil servants to assign extra points to those who cooperated with other departments in Seongbuk-gu. This provided incentives for cross-sectoral thinking and action, and the Seoul metropolitan government later adopted the system (INT13). Kim was directly involved in urban regeneration projects, such as giving instructions about urban regeneration to the urban planning team and meeting frequently with residents (INT45).

Kim had a strong interest in rainwater management. On his initiative, Seongbuk-gu became the first community government in Korea to establish a rainwater management team. Together with this team, Kim succeeded in 2015 to implement a rainwater management system in Seongbuk-gu (Park 2015). In 2015, Seongbuk-gu and Seoul National University hosted a ‘Rainwater Citizen Forum’, and Kim showed his willingness to implement the concept of ‘Creating A Rainwater Community’ in Jangwi-dong through urban regeneration funds. Thus, the initial vision of Jangwi-dong urban regeneration in March 2015 was a ‘Sustainable Water Cycle City’ (Hong 2015).

An interviewee who prepared the URMP in Jangwi-dong argues:

Seongbuk-gu itself was more interested in the Rainwater Collector Project than other districts [community governments. …] Because the head had a strong will in the eco-friendly field, he pushed for a rainwater collector. […] As far as I know, Seongbuk-gu is the first community to carry out the Rainwater Collector Project. And it was a time when the head of Seongbuk-gu promoted the Rainwater Collector Project, strengthened it, and set it as one of the policy directions of the Seongbuk-gu. Even before we started it in Jangwi-dong, there were a lot of rainwater collector projects in Seongbuk-gu.


In the case of Sangdo 4-dong, both the Seoul metropolitan government and related departments in the community of Dongjak-gu, where Sangdo 4-dong is located, showed an early interest in creating an energy-saving village district. The Urban Planning Department in the Seoul metropolitan government found that the activities in Sangdo 4-dong could be linked with the energy-saving activities in Seongdaegol area adjacent to Sangdo 4-dong. The Clean Environment Department of Dongjak-gu, which was in charge of these activities, suggested that the activities could be carried out under its authority and should be included as a cooperative project.

Consequently, Kim So-young, who was the leader of the energy-independent district project in Seongdaegol, played a significant role in the process of the Sangdo 4-dong URMP. She acted as the representative of the so-called Green Group in the residents’ council for urban regeneration in Sangdo 4-dong. Kim So-young participated in the process of urban regeneration from the early beginning as the representative of the group and taught courses about energy-independent villages, integrating energy measures into urban regeneration.

5.3 Learning from neighbourhoods

Overall, governments at the different politico-administrative levels in Korea are characterised as fragmented and top-down structured. However, in the case of urban regeneration, the Seoul metropolitan government showed a remarkable learning capacity and openness to two-way inter-sectoral and multilevel communication and cooperation. For example, the concepts of the Rainwater Village Creation Project and the Energy-independent Village Project were initiated by community governments, and these initiatives turned into active collaborative projects for Seoul’s urban regeneration areas on a broader scale.

Based on successful collaboration experiences, the Seoul metropolitan government developed a specific category of urban regeneration projects, which were oriented towards climate change. This indicates that the metropolitan administration was interested and able to learn from the experiments and novel results in forerunner neighbourhoods and communities related to the integration of climate change and urban regeneration. As a result, the Seoul metropolitan government later urged other neighbourhoods, such as Amsa-dong and Garibong-dong, to include energy-related projects in urban regeneration programmes.

The Seoul metropolitan government established its Urban Regeneration Headquarters in 2014 (Park 2014).3 Although inter-sectoral collaboration proved to be difficult, it put several procedures for cooperation with other sectoral headquarters in the city in place. One of the results of such cooperation, i.e. with the Climate Change Headquarters of the metropolitan government, was the ‘Urban Regeneration Linked Energy-independent Village Project’ as an attempt by the two departments to create a multi-sectoral programme.

This approach was perceived as highly innovative. The two departments concluded a formal agreement to collaborate on the Urban Regeneration Linked Energy-independent Village Project while they were both involved in it. An interviewee who was in charge of organising the project in the Seoul metropolitan government highlighted the difficulty of this integration effort in the existing fragmented organisation system, stating:

When doing the Urban Regeneration Linked Energy-independent Village Project, strangely, the two Headquarters had an agreement in the same government. They were both under the Seoul metropolitan government. While watching that they shook their hands and took pictures during the agreement ceremony, I was wondering if it had to be like this to move [to work on the cooperative project].


Similarly, in 2016, the metropolitan government announced a ‘Rainwater Village Creation Project’ to be administrated by its Water Circulation Policy Division. The idea and impetus for this activity came from the neighbourhood level. Two years earlier, in 2014, the district of Seongbuk-gu launched the ‘Creating A Rainwater Community’ project in its neighbourhood of Samdeock Maul. The project presented practical examples of citizens being able to solve global water problems at the local level through the installation of rainwater facilities, the development and monitoring of rainwater education materials, and related educational activities (Green Education Center 2015).

In 2015, a ‘Rainwater Management Comprehensive Plan’ was elaborated in Seougbuk-gu (Seoul Metropolitan Government, Climate Environment Headquarters 2019). Due to the success of these activities, the Seoul metropolitan government chose Jangwi-dong as the location of the Rainwater Village Creation Project in 2016, providing funding for building rainwater facilities. Thirty rainwater facilities were installed by the end of 2018. Since 2017, the Rainwater Village Creation Project, although operated by the Water Circulation Policy Division in the Seoul metropolitan government, also started to be implemented in other designated urban regeneration neighbourhoods.

5.4 Participation of residents and support for climate-friendly urban regeneration

It is said that one of the reasons for the successful integration of climate-related activities in urban regeneration in Jangwi-dong was related to rainwater collection and gardening as these are activities that are repeated every day in the daily life of residents. Thus, such activities can make them constantly aware of environmental necessities and climate change. In contrast, if climate change activities are only one-time events, the interest of the residents can be easily lost. Only continuous activities raise awareness (INT47).

Another example of continuous active resident participation and efforts to improve resident awareness is related to the group called ‘Descendants of the Sun’ in Jangwi-dong. This group continues its activities, such as making eco-friendly products and educating elementary school students through after-school activities after two years of involvement in the Energy-Independent Village Project (INT47, INT49). A few residents who first gathered in the form of the residents’ council developed personal skills and knowledge as they received environmental and resident leadership education through the urban regeneration project (INT46, INT49). There are about 20–30 residents involved in Jangwi-dong’s eco-friendly activities, energy-independence village activities and gardening (INT47).

In the case of Sangdo 4-dong, residents’ participation increased through the urban regeneration programme. This becomes obvious in an area called ‘waste mountain’ in Sangdo 4-dong. The area was an abandoned private property covered by hazardous construction waste such as asbestos, which was expected to bring about serious negative health impacts to people residing nearby or passing through. As the property belonged to a private owner, the government did not see itself in charge of cleaning up the waste. Thus, people who were working as representatives in urban regeneration started to raise a campaign and collected signatures from 10,000 residents to request support to clean up the construction waste from the community government.

Residents’ participation increased as the urban regeneration projects were implemented. After the completion of the urban regeneration projects, a community regeneration corporation, called Sang-sa-rang, was established in the neighbourhood. This corporation continued to work on an urban regeneration agenda working together with residents. Even nowadays, residents and the corporation are still taking care of roof-top gardens that were implemented with the help of urban regeneration funds, cleaning streets and public spaces in the neighbourhood, and consulting residents regarding housing remodelling.

6. Discussion and conclusions: success factors for policy integration

The Republic of Korea’s top-down-oriented government system is only slowly moving towards a more participatory one, giving bottom-up local-level initiatives a greater role in policy formulation and implementation. However, many stakeholders, such as public officials and residents, still only take action in an integrated, cross-sectorial and cross-level way when there are supportive regulations and/or specific incentives to do so. Otherwise, they have been and are rather inactive because of limited public awareness of climate change and little bottom-up pressure to take action. Community governments usually only incorporated climate measures in their policies when they are asked to do so by higher governments.

Also, city and community governments that would like to incorporate climate measures in urban regeneration projects are dependent on general regulations and incentives. Nevertheless, more recently local governments have successfully started to make proposals to higher levels of government to review or change the regulatory framework and to provide incentives, which are supportive of policy integration. For example, the Seoul metropolitan government proposed the revision of regulations to the national government to regulate carbon emissions of private buildings in Seoul.

The two good-practice examples discussed in this paper, i.e. Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong, demonstrate that there has been some space to allow and encourage local urban living laboratory experiments. Stakeholders showed capacities to act proactively and innovatively at the local level even under rather adverse or non-supportive politico-administrative conditions. Several factors have been responsible for this and are discussed below.

First, the existence of prominent, well-versed and skilful promoters made a difference. In the case of Jangwi-dong, an influential politician at the community level urged the administration to cooperate more intensively in an inter-sectoral way and pushed for the integration of climate change into urban regeneration in his jurisdiction within a participatory framework mobilising the local population. In Sangdo 4-dong, it was a prominent environmental activist and people’s representative who managed to promote a close bottom-up linkage between energy efficiency and urban regeneration. In the other two cases analysed here, i.e. Amsa-dong and Garibong-dong, there were no comparable actors, and local leadership did not show an interest in environmental or climate change-related topics.

Second, the topic and the way it was framed were relevant. In both cases, Jangwi-dong and Sangdo 4-dong, the local promotors had a special interest in environmental and climate change-related topics, and they were able to frame them in a way so that they fitted several support programmes.

In Jangwi-dong, the local leader, besides being a promoter of inner administrative cooperation and public participation, was especially interested in rainwater management. He skilfully connected this topic to the local urban regeneration programme, which helped to generate additional funds for establishing a pilot rainwater neighbourhood in his community. Soon after this the Seoul metropolitan government issued a ‘Rainwater Village District Programme’ for the creation of eco-friendly districts on the higher level. Local innovative action, political skill to combine distinct programmes, which complemented each other well, and the learning willingness and capacity of the higher politico-administrative entity were decisive for the successful dissemination of policy integration measures.

In Sangdo 4-dong, a community leader and environmental activist engaged in empowering residents to be involved in community activities related to climate change. Her topical interest was oriented to energy efficiency on the local level, and she skilfully managed to combine different programmes to acquire funds from higher authorities to support local innovative activities. Furthermore, she was successful in convincing the Seoul metropolitan government to follow her approach.

Both leaders, based on their specific interests, used the urban regeneration programme and its opportunities to implement their own community agendas. They framed priority topics, such as water management, energy efficiency, green public spaces and urban agriculture, as climate change-related topics and integrated them into local urban regeneration activities. Open-minded higher authorities such as the Seoul metropolitan government used the experience made in such urban living laboratories to revise their own approaches and to enrich their strategies with new elements which had proven to be successful on the local level.

A third success factor was the institutionalisation of environmental topics as urban regeneration priorities with a long-term perspective beyond the existence of a specific programme. The integration of environmental and climate change topics in the urban regeneration programme created constant and broad awareness among the local population of the relevance of climate change and its interconnectedness with urban regeneration. New water management practices and energy-efficient urban development were institutionalised as innovative actions through their integration in urban regeneration programmes. Constant dissemination, participation and education as well as support for the creation of new businesses working in the field of climate change-oriented urban regeneration helped to raise the commitment of the local population. Incentives for inter-departmental and inter-level cooperation contributed to broader, integrated and longer term strategic perspectives. The willingness and capacity of higher level authorities to learn from local experiments were instrumental for the dissemination and successful application of experience in other neighbourhoods.

What can be learned from these results and what is relevant for practice in Korea and elsewhere? First, creative and experienced promoters play an important role in policy integration. They can frame topics in a new way so that they fit different programmes at the same time and have the potential to produce synergies. Second, it is less political will but intrinsic motivation and political skill that facilitate policy integration in a non-supportive politico-administrative environment. If stakeholders believe in new topics and new ways to shape respective activities, it is probable that they also find ways to combine different policies and implement related activities in an integrated way. Third, top-down policies need to be open and flexible enough to allow local experiments in urban living laboratories. Fourth, the willingness and capacity to learn from local experiments are meaningful for shaping new ways of managing and implementing cross-sectoral policies. And fifth, it is necessary to institutionalise and mainstream new topics to achieve lasting effects as institutionalisation guarantees attention and encourages participation of the local population.


1To help readers understand the context better, this paper uses the term ‘urban regeneration master plan’, which is used by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (, instead of ‘urban regeneration revitalisation plan’, which is stated in the official translation website of Korean laws ( 

2The sources of direct and indirect quotes from interviews are presented as ‘INT’ and number. 

3Since the current mayor, Oh Se Hoon, started his term in the Seoul metropolitan government in April 2021, the new organisational structure no longer includes an urban regeneration-related department/headquarters. 


The authors acknowledge the academic support provided by the Dresden Leibniz Graduate School and the Leibniz Institute for Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden, where this work was carried out as a part of doctoral research. This study is based on the results of the dissertation of Jiyoon Song on ‘Integration of Climate Measures into Urban Regeneration, using the Case of Seoul’. Whereas policy integration gaps in the given cases were widely discussed in the dissertation, this paper focuses on good-practice examples and supportive factors, decisive for their success.

Author contributions

JS developed the research framework and conducted the research as part of her PhD dissertation at the Dresden Leibniz Graduate School. She was responsible for writing the first draft of the paper, co-developed its final concept and co-authored the final version. BM supervised the dissertation and advised on the structure, analytical framework and overall content of the paper. He co-developed the final concept of the paper and co-authored the final text.

Competing interests

The authors have no competing interests to declare.

Data availability

Information about the data is presented in Appendix A. Interview transcriptions have not been made public due to ethical issues.

Ethical approval

The interviewees agreed to voluntarily participate in the interviews for the research about the integration of climate measures into urban regeneration. The interviewer informed them that their identity would remain anonymous.


The authors acknowledge the financial support provided by the Dresden Leibniz Graduate School and the Leibniz Institute for Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden, where this work was carried out as a part of doctoral research.


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Appendix A

Table A1

Information on interviews and interviewees.


National Land & Housing Institute • Monitoring urban regeneration projects nationwide INT1 14 July 2020

Korea Environment Institute • Established Measures for Adaptation to Climate Change with the Ministry of Environment INT2 28 August 2020

• Performing research and development (R&D) project about developing indicators to assess resilience in urban regeneration areas INT3 25 August 2020

• In charge of operating the Korea Adaptation Center for Climate Change INT4 15 July 2020

Land & Housing Institute • Formulating ‘Basic Policy for National Urban Regeneration’ and ‘Guidelines for the Formulation of Strategic Plans for Urban Regeneration’
• Research on urban regeneration regulation, policy and strategy
INT5 30 July 2020

• Formulating ‘Basic Policy for National Urban Regeneration’ and ‘Guidelines for the Formulation of Strategic Plans for Urban Regeneration’
• Research on urban regeneration regulation, policy and strategy
INT6 14 July 2020

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport • In charge of formulating ‘Basic Policy for National Urban Regeneration’ and ‘Guidelines for the Formulation of Strategic Plans for Urban Regeneration’ INT7 5 August 2020

Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements • Research on urban regeneration regulation, policy and strategy nationwide INT8 17 July 2020

INT9 17 July 2020

Korea Housing & Urban Guarantee Corporation INT10 16 July 2020

City Seoul metropolitan government • Formulating ‘The Seoul Strategic Plan for Urban Regeneration’ INT11 19 August 2020

INT12 8 July 2020

INT13 15 August 2020

Seoul Urban Regeneration Committee • Decision-making for ‘The Seoul Strategic Plan for Urban Regeneration’ and the urban regeneration master plans (URMP) INT14 22 July 2020

INT15 20 July 2020

Seoul Urban Regeneration Support Centre • Supporting plan development, establishing a database of promotion areas, supporting education and monitoring INT16 13 July 2020

INT17 27 July 2020

INT18 29 July 2020

The Seoul Institute • Research on urban regeneration regulation, policy and strategy in Seoul INT19 9 July 2020

Garibong-dong Community government • Formulating and implementing the URMP INT20 6 July 2020

Master planner • Establishing the URMP INT21 3 August 2020

Urban planning company INT22 18 August 2020

Urban Regeneration On-site Support Centre • Supporting the implementation, public relations and education for residents, revitalising the neighbourhood community
• Collecting residents’ opinions, negotiating residents’ conflicts, bridging between public and private
INT23 13 July 2020

INT24 12 August 2020

Residents’ Council • Participated in the process of urban regeneration plans and projects
• Engaged with community activities through urban regeneration
INT25 18 August 2020

INT26 1 August 2020

INT27 12 August 2020

INT28 20 August 2020

Amsa-dong Community government • Formulating and implementing the URMP INT29 7 July 2020

INT30 13 August 2020

Urban Regeneration On-site Support Centre • Supporting the implementation, public relations and education for residents, revitalising the neighbourhood community
• Collecting residents’ opinions, negotiating residents’ conflicts, bridging between public and private
INT31 23 July 2020

INT32 21 July 2020

INT33 21 July 2020

Residents’ Council • Participated in the process of urban regeneration plans and projects
• Engaged with community activities through urban regeneration
INT34 28 July 2020

INT35 21 July 2020

Sangdo 4-dong Community government • Formulating and implementing the URMP INT36 20 August 2020

Master planner • Establishing the URMP INT37 24 July 2020

Urban Regeneration On-site Support Centre • Supporting the implementation, public relations and education for residents, revitalising the neighbourhood community• Collecting residents’ opinions, negotiating residents’ conflicts, bridging between public and private INT38 1 August 2020

INT39 8 July 2020

Residents’ Council • Participated in the process of urban regeneration plans and projects
• Engaged with community activities through urban regeneration
INT40 20 August 2020

INT41 21 August 2020

INT42 10 August 2020

Jangwi-dong Community government • Formulating and implementing the URMP INT43 7 August 2020

Master planner • Establishing the URMP INT44 13 August 2020

Urban planning company INT45 4 August 2020

Urban Regeneration On-site Support Centre • Supporting the implementation, public relations and education for residents, revitalising the neighbourhood community
• Collecting residents’ opinions, negotiating residents’ conflicts, bridging between public and private
INT46 29 July 2020

INT47 6 August 2020

Residents’ Council • Participated in the process of urban regeneration plans and projects
• Engaged with community activities through urban regeneration
INT48 26 August 2020

INT49 10 August 2020

INT50 10 August 2020

Note: INTxx = interview number.

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