Efforts needed for balanced population distribution
Published : 2013-09-02 21:15
Updated : 2013-09-02 21:15
The proportion of Koreans who live in cities fell for the first time in more than half a century last year, according to a report released by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Friday. The figure was down by 0.08 percentage point from a year earlier to 91.04 percent in 2012. It was the first such decrease since 1960, when related data began to be compiled.
About half of Koreans lived in urban areas in 1970 and the proportion continued to increase to 81.95 percent in 1990, 88.35 percent in 2000 and 91.12 percent in 2011, in parallel with the country’s industrialization and economic growth. The pace of urbanization decelerated sharply in the mid-2000s, with the ratio of urban residents having increased by a mere 1 percent in recent years.
In contrast, the number of urban dwellers moving to rural areas has grown steadily due mainly to a rising flood of retirees who want to seek a second life in the countryside. It seems that returning to farming appeals to many of the baby-boomers born in 1955-63, who are now reaching retirement age, as a way of making a living in their later years as well as achieving their wish to get away from bustling urban life. The falling price of properties in cities also appears to be prompting them to sell their houses and settle in rural villages.
This population movement brings many benefits for the economy by adding jobs in agriculture, galvanizing rural communities and distributing resources more efficiently on the national level. A survey by a local research institute suggested the relocation of an urban resident to a farming village would result in economic benefits worth 1.69 million won ($1,520), including increased productivity and reduction in costs of dealing with urban problems such as traffic congestion, sewage and air pollution. The decrease in urbanization, as some experts note, could also lead to reduced crime in large cities.
It should be reminded that these effects, which would entail a heightened sense of happiness among the public, can be assured only when urbanites moving to rural areas successfully adapt to their new lives. They should be equipped with professional skills and sophisticated plans, recognizing that a simple wish that is not backed up by thorough preparation will put them in quite a severe predicament.
Proper support programs by central and local governments are also needed to help them succeed in farming life. From a long-term view, enhancing health care and educational conditions will hold the key to inducing more urbanites to settle in rural villages.
While it is necessary and desirable to promote the demographic flow from urban to rural areas, attention should also be paid to the need to prevent deterioration in the living environment in cities amid the extended economic sluggishness. Effective measures ought to be worked out to enhance residents’ participation, coordination among different administration units and utilization of local characteristics in implementing urban renovation programs.