South Korea once enjoyed a tight-knit society, built on a powerful foundation of kinship, marriage and place of residence. But during the explosive economic boom of the 1970s to 1990s, those bonds began to fray, especially in the capital of Seoul. During the expansion, millions left their towns and villages to seek better opportunities in Seoul. From 1960 to 2011, the population quadrupled from 2.5 to 10.5 million.
Most of the newcomers moved into high-rise apartment complexes, where neighbors were anonymous and personal ties nonexistent.
In 2011, newly-elected Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon concluded that the situation had reached crisis proportions. Park announced a new Community Building Policy (CBP) and, in April 2012, created an advisory board of citizens, activists, city councilors and administrators. In August 2012, he launched a city-funded nonprofit dubbed the Seoul Community Support Center (SCSC) to facilitate the public/private development of neighborhood initiatives. By early 2014, SCSC had funded 776 projects out of nearly 2,000 proposals. Despite initial skepticism from citizens, hundreds of neighborhoods had benefited from sports leagues, mothers’ groups and other shared activities. But SCSC had encountered obstacles as well. It was often difficult to discern whether proposals truly advanced common interests or merely served the needs of a small group. Repeat applications from the same individuals triggered skepticism. Moreover, more than once the government had been obliged to intervene to resolve murky bookkeeping issues and restore financial transparency to its sponsored projects.