Seoul mayor sees similarities with UAE

The Life: Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, talks about the many similarities the city shares with Abu Dhabi - and why popster Psy is a great ambassador.

Park Won-soon says Psy is a sign of the times. Christopher Pike / The National
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Park Won-soon was elected mayor of Seoul in October 2011. Mr Park gave the keynote speech at the Dubai Award for Sustainable Transport (Dast) last week, before visiting Abu Dhabi. Here he speaks about the many similarities the cities share - and why popster Psy is a great ambassador.

As well as the Dast awards, what else have you done on your trip?

I wanted to find out how we can cooperate. I found we had a lot of similarities especially in terms of geopolitical location: Dubai and Abu Dhabi have a critical position in south-west Asia and [the UAE] is also a hub at the centre of Europe, Africa and Asia; we are also very similar sandwiched between Japan and China. I looked at [the UAE's] policies and I gained a lot of insight. I also [wanted] to introduce Seoul's … infrastructure policies in terms of transportation.

What were your impressions of the UAE?

We have much to learn from the UAE in terms of infrastructure and tourism.

Did you see any tourist sights?

I visited the Grand Mosque. I know people from all over the world flock to the Grand Mosque - those who have an admiration for architecture and art, they can come and inspect the very wondrous monument.

In what areas can cooperation increase?

Since the 1970s [we have] had a lot of partnership especially in the field of construction. As our relationship deepens, Korean companies advance into other areas as well. Seoul has a lot of best practices in transportation and e-government and it has a lot of know-how in managing such a large city - it's home to more than 10 million citizens. In e-government we have been ranked as top by the UN for five consecutive years. And CNN recently ranked Seoul as having one of the top nine metro systems in the world. I believe we can cooperate in the field of enhancing happiness as well because life is all about enhancing happiness.

What has been your priority as mayor?

My motto for Seoul is "From Good to Great". After the 1970s, we accomplished economic development rapidly. But the side effect of that was high stress levels or the gap between the rich and poor. And these issues call on me to focus on the welfare and quality of life of the citizens. Before we very much focused on … the heavy industries. Of course those industries are important but now we need to place our focus on art and creative industries.

Psy has achieve global fame and is also very popular in the UAE. Is he a good ambassador for Seoul?

The influence of culture and arts is much larger than the influence of economy sometimes. Our respect for culture and diversity and arts is very low because we only focused on building the economy. But now as we have reached modernisation … many citizens can display their potential for arts and culture and I believe that's why Psy has become so popular. Now is the time for us to revive and restore [our] culture.