Solving Diverse Common Social Problems of Seoul through Design

The 2017 Internatonal Forum on Design to Solve Social Problems has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Seoyoung Byun (Director of Design Policy Division, Culture Headquarters, Seoul Metropolitan Government)


Seoul is an old city where people first began living 6,000 years ago. During the Joseon Dynasty, the capital was enclosed by four gates, but under Japanese rule, the Japanese government established the Governor-General for 36 years of colonial rule. Afterwards, during the Korean War, Seoul was bombed and the city was turned to ashes. Despite all these difficulties, Seoul joined the OECD in 1996 through rapid economic growth that is called the miracle of the Han River, and in 1988 Seoul introduced itself to the world by hosting the Olympics. Such economic development brought benefits, but on the other hand, it brought the negative problems that go with large cities such as environmental pollution, overcrowding, traffic problems, and social problems. In terms of design, signboards that cause visual pollution in the city center, unplanned skylines, and environments covered with obstacles remain yet another challenge for Seoul to solve.


Accordingly, in 2007, Seoul actively promoted an urban design policy that combined design with the metropolitan city administration. The first move of this urban design policy was to change the hard city into a soft city for the sustainable urban development of Seoul, from a function and efficiency-oriented city to a human-centered city, from a car-oriented city to a pedestrian-oriented city, from a speed-oriented city to a bicycle-oriented city. The city was selected as the World Design Capital in 2010. 

However, despite these active efforts, citizens still experienced many social problems in their daily lives, such as crime, school violence, and violations of human rights. There were also criticisms that it did not help citizens to live happily and safely in the city. Accordingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Government sought a change in the direction of public policy based on the results of the existing policy, and began to approach the social problem design of Seoul through new attempts to help solve the social problems faced by citizens.

As the first project of design to solve social problems, we started the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) projects in consideration of the fact that insecurity of crime is the biggest part of the stress felt by citizens and that prevention in advance is the best because crime is difficult to tackle after the fact. Starting with the CPTED project, we are interested in various social issues and are promoting social problem-solving design projects such as the school environment improvement team, school violence prevention design, stress relief design, and the design governance project.

First, CPTED is a design that prevents crime opportunities in advance by improving the public environment through design in areas where there is a high risk of crime. As a result of analyzing the crime risk in Seoul, it was found that theft and violence occurred at 95%, on the street at 62%, and at nighttime at 41%, resulting in an annual social cost of 20 trillion KRW. Therefore, it was concluded that if the vulnerable factors were removed, incidents in public space could be reduced and the resulting social cost could be reduced. In order to develop various prototypes for crime prevention design, the Seoul Metropolitan Government analyzed the areas of Seoul by characteristics and applied effective crime prevention designs to each region, such as areas where reconstruction had stopped, areas where one-room houses were concentrated, areas where foreigners lived, and areas where traditional markets were located. In order to measure the effectiveness of the project, a preliminary project evaluation is being conducted through the Korean Institute of Criminology, a national research institute.
In the case of Yeomni-dong, Mapo-gu, where this project was first carried out, the major crimes were reduced by up to 22% and all crimes by up to 32% in the area where reconstruction had stopped. The effect of this first case was the starting point for the promotion of public design policy called social problem-solving design, which not only received international recognition by winning the grand prize at the Asia Design Awards, but also showed that design can be a means to solve social problems. The selection of the CPTED project was first carried out by receiving applications from autonomous districts for areas vulnerable to crime. Since cooperation among residents is the most important factor of success, areas with great effect when improving through design are selected in consultation with experts first in cooperation with autonomous districts based on regional characteristics.

Gasan-dong, Geumcheon-gu is a densely populated area with small factories and narrow and dark roads. There was a fear of crime because the area was dark, but when streetlights were installed, the lights shone through windows and the conflict between residents continued due to the problem of the light interfering with a good night's sleep. Accordingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Government installed LED line lights that illuminate downwards and are motion-sensitive, leading to a positive response from residents. They were then offered as an example of crime prevention design in similar areas. In addition, there are often cases where an area in which basic order is broken gradually turns into a dangerous area. Accordingly, by tidying up the neglected garbage occupying every corner of alleyways and installing a garbage dumping prevention system, basic order was restored and the crime area was resolved. Abandoned and derelict spots are common in any area. We feel fear and unsafe in these places. In Gasan-dong, Geumcheon-gu, there was an old car park that had been left abandoned for a long time. By transforming this space into a meeting place and a safety activity base space that local residents could use, such as a children's playground and a senior citizen center for the elderly, crime could be prevented.

There is a widespread installation of CCTV due to a misunderstanding of CPTED. The crime prevention design promoted by the autonomous district mainly takes the method of installing CCTV, but no additional CCTV has been installed in the crime prevention design project promoted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The reason is that the more fundamental solution is to inspire citizen participation and prevent crimes rather than installing additional CCTV and using it to trace criminals after the crime has occurred. Therefore, crime prevention design mainly focused on design that informs of existing CCTV. The key strategies of CPTED are that if there is a lot of visibility and people take an interest in each other, criminals perceive a low probability of crime success due to reduced opportunity and perception that local residents are in good solidarity. Therefore, when implementing a crime prevention design project in other institutions and autonomous districts, it can be said that a balance between the hardware for environmental improvement, software for community revitalization, and humanware for improving residents' awareness of crime safety is essential for success. 

Next is the cognitive health design project. What we have been paying attention to is the change in society due to aging, which is progressing worldwide. In particular, according to the UN report, the number of elderly people aged 65 and over in Korea currently accounts for 14%, and it is expected to be 20% of the population, meaning Korea will become a super-aged society by 2026. This is directly related to the rapid increase in the number of dementia patients. According to data from the Seoul Metropolitan Center for Dementia, more than 60% of dementia patients live at home rather than in facilities or hospitals, and according to expert opinions, symptoms may worsen due to complex and unsafe living conditions. The cognitive health design project is a public design project that focuses on social issues caused by the change of the times.
In 2014, cognitive health design was applied to families with dementia patients for the safe cognitive health of the elderly living with dementia. As a result of evaluating the effectiveness of cognitive health design after a certain period of time, it was found that the ability to carry out daily life improved by 36% in large households and 77% in couple households. In order to prevent burns due to difficulties in distinguishing between hot and cold water, delicate and safe cognitive health designs such as attaching stickers to the faucet were applied. The indoor residential environment cognitive health design guide developed through this project received a great response not only in Seoul but also in six cities and provinces nationwide, and the Korea Veterans Welfare and Medical Service is applying it to map environment improvement projects through MOUs with our city. Subsequently, cognitive health designs such as wayfinding and improving living environments not only in the indoor residential environment but also outside the house were applied to help cope with dementia. In particular, the cognitive health design project for the residential environment was carried out by selecting and promoting characteristic areas such as low-rise residential areas and rental apartment complexes in consideration of the various residential environment characteristics of Seoul.
In a rental apartment in Yeongdeungpo-gu, there was a place that caused confusion among the elderly with several entrances with the same design. Cognitive health design was applied to reduce confusion by applying different colors to each entrance. In addition, the apartment pond was additionally adorned with the things that the elderly liked the most and the happy memories they made by drawing with artists. In addition, the underused exercise space provided a place for seniors to exercise and communicate with their neighbors by installing a signpost to guide them.  

Design research to help youth grow healthy is also conducted. It is school consulting and school violence prevention design. We thought about ways to help teenagers grow up healthy through design.Considering that schools are the places where teenagers spend most of their days, we thought about how gray and white school uniforms would affect teenagers at a sensitive time in their emotional development.The Seoul Metropolitan Government paid attention to the school environment of teenagers, the most sensitive and dynamic period of life, and wondered what could help students develop pleasant school life, creativity and learning skills. In response, colors suited to the function of the gym, music room, and laboratory were applied, and the storytelling from the workshops in which designers, illustrators and children participated was applied to the school space. A notable example is a case that applied in middle school. Wall painting with optical illusions seen in art subjects was applied to the hallway to fully expand their visual and emotional imagination, and in other middle schools, colors and graphic elements were used for wayfinding.

This project is recognized by the Office of Education as an effective project for students' learning and life, and is said to invest more than 3 billion KRW and apply color consulting to other schools in the city.  Accordingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to provide school color consulting guidelines based on the existing applied design. Finding problems, solving problems through design, and spreading successful cases are ways to promote social problem-solving policies proposed by our design department.

Next, I think school violence is something that is seen as a serious problem for teenagers. School violence has long been recognized as a major problem worldwide, and various general programs have been developed and applied. However, the seriousness of the problem is not decreasing, with the proportion of violence increasing from physical violence to mental violence, which changes with the times, and being carried out in various ways without restrictions on location. Therefore, we recognized that it was time to understand and approach school violence prevention, and tried to prevent school violence in advance by forming an exemplary youth culture with the local community through design. First, we investigated the emotional culture of teenagers and their concerns, classified the types of school violence through close dialogue with expert groups and students, investigated and analyzed the causes of these problems, and developed a school violence design suitable for regional characteristics.
In the case of Banghwa Middle School, unlike other areas of Seoul, there were more students with free time after school hours when most others spend their time at private academies. In this case, many students wandered around nearby parks due to a lack of cultural space. We recognized that what they needed was a healthy play culture to interact and play, and the parks were reborn as playgrounds to improve their empathy. Dokkaebi Yeondang, a community of local residents, manages and operates this play space, and continues to operate school violence prevention programs and youth culture programs for local students.

According to a recent survey, more than 90% of adults regularly feel stressed. Stress has become inseparable in the lives of citizens. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is carrying out a stress-free design project that reduces stress by recognizing the seriousness of this phenomenon and improving various factors that hinder citizens' mental health through design. As a result of examining the stress of each generation, it was determined that teenagers were also under a lot of stress due to educational relationships. Adolescence is vulnerable to stress, but the means to relieve it are limited. In particular, it is very important to recognize what causes their stress and how to relieve it. Accordingly, as the first pilot project of stress-free design, it was promoted to reduce stress in adolescents' school life. In this project, we focused on discovering children who are not aware of the risk of stress or how to get professional help. The design applied to this project is intended to naturally conduct stress tests in space and access counseling spaces while resting, and later test results are delivered to counseling teachers for individual expert help. It consists of a self-stress free zone where you can meditate, listen to music, and therapy by using the classroom left in the school, and a social stress free zone where you can talk, play, and learn with your peers.
In addition, the social problem-solving design of Seoul is developing through various trials and errors. The Seoul Metropolitan Government promised to listen to the lives of citizens and develop public design by thinking and solving them together.

The area of social problems is very wide. Accordingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Government saw that citizens could expand its scope by directly proposing and implementing the design they needed. The design governance project, a citizen-led design project, began, in which citizens directly propose problems they have experienced in their daily lives and various subjects solve them together. It is a project that prepares an online platform for design governance projects, receives proposals from citizens from time to time, selects implementation tasks, and develops and implements designs in necessary fields by citizens and designers together. All processes conducted through design governance projects are shared through the website and can be freely applied for by anyone. According to a representative project promoted last year, a clothing reform guidebook was produced in consideration of the physical characteristics of children with cerebral palsy, a bib and knee cover, a special product used by them, and a system to continuously develop and supply necessary designs by connecting demand with specialized companies. In another case, in order to reduce accidents between pedestrians and bicycles, sensors were installed on streetlights in consideration of both cyclists and pedestrians, and each other could be warned by brightening or blinking according to the movement of pedestrians and bicycles. It is currently installed on the Banpo Interchange bike path.

Starting with the crime prevention design project, the social problem-solving design projects promoted became a driving force in bringing about a paradigm change and expansion of the area of the Seoul public design project. Now, public design policies are changing citizens' daily lives and incorporating design into culture beyond improving the external design of the city. There may be difficult tasks and trials and errors in solving social problems in cities, such as new life-changing perspectives and new attempts to change daily life, but we will continue to promote them as an area of new public design while thinking and solving them together with citizens.

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