Since Cho Byung-don took office as mayor of Icheon, the city has grown a great deal with many positive changes. In particular, the mayor emphasized the importance of intangible growth of the city. As part of such a move, Mayor Cho has been carrying out the "Icheon Happiness Sharing" campaign based on the spirit of caring and sharing. Followings are some excerpts from the interview with him.
Many changes and growths have been made in Icheon since you took office as mayor of Icheon. Would you say a few words about ringing in the New Year?
Since winning the 4th, 5th and 6th mayoral elections, I have devoted myself to the love and development of Icheon. This mind-set will not change after I leave office. Based on this municipal philosophy, I have led the administration of Icheon over the last 10 years. I am planning to finish various infrastructure projects for the happiness of citizens and turning Icheon into a planned city with a population of 350,000 from now on.
As popularly sixth-term elected Icheon mayor, I made many respectable achievements. During this period, first of all, SK Hynix expanded its production facility in Icheon and Democracy Campaign Memorial Park and Seohei Theme Park opened. Nam Icheon IC was newly built. In December of last year, ground was broken for the construction of a 300-bed hospital. The hospital is slated for its opening around February 2019.
In particular, the opening of the Gyeonggang Line began the electric railroad era in Icheon which can take people from Icheon to Bundang and Gangnam within 30 to 40 minutes. This year, a motor vehicle-only road between Seongnam and Janghowon will also be completed.
Apart from this external and tangible development, we will create a better future of Icheon for the next 10 and 30 years based on the "Icheon Happiness Sharing" Campaign based on the spirit of caring and sharing.
Please introduce some of Icheon’s major projects for 2017.
First of all, in order to improve the traffic flow in the city area and address the city’s parking problem, we will go ahead with a plan to build a large parking tower capable of accommodating about 1,400 cars on the city’s public playground.
In addition, we will transform the Jungri-dong Community Center into the Icheon Happiness Center and make it a hub of culture and welfare by having culture centers, artist associations and multicultural centers move into the center.
The level of culture and education will rise, too. As you know, we are a UNESCO Creative City. In addition, Icheon joined the UNESCO Global Learning City Network last September.
To further elevate the status of this global cultural city, we will build the Icheon Bukak Literary Museum and more customized libraries which suit local environments.
Currently, the population of Icheon City is slightly less than 220,000. In addition to the development of residential land, we will further consolidate the base of Icheon as a self-reliance city through the development of neighborhoods near stations, the creation of industrial complexes, and the development of the tourism industry.
How is the current status of Icheon’s debts?
Icheon’s limited financial power makes it necessary for the city to inevitably issue municipal bonds when the city implements necessary projects. Icheon repaid local government bonds of about 3.9 billion won (US$3.3 million) in advance. This early repayment saved our city interest of 150 million won (US$127,000). At present, Icheon City has zero debt without any local bonds that pay the city’s money.
The maximum amount of municipal bonds that Icheon can issue this year is about 20 billion won. When issuing such municipal bonds, we will issue as less as possible by comprehensively considering fiscal soundness, repayment ability, and the feasibility of projects among others.
What are plans for 2017 in reference to your economic city vision?
First, we will further strengthen our field-oriented processing system to address companies’ problems. We will also further vitalize the functions of our job centers for companies’ recruitment of Icheon citizens and providing job information to them.
In particular, like the case of contributing to the creation of new jobs by designating the Saeum and Sadong District as new industrial areas, we will strive to attract corporate investment by rationally resolving various regulations preventing plant expansion.
In order to giving financial support to small business owners, we already contributed 200 million won to the Gyeonggi Credit Guarantee Foundation earlier this year. Based on this deposit, we created a way to raise up to 50 million won per small businesses within the scope of 2 billion won.
There are various cultural contents in Icheon City. Would you tell us about cultural policies of Icheon City in 2017?
A tourism belt linking Seongbong Park, Miranda and Theremeden Hot Springs and Lotte Outlets is being created around Icheon Ceramic Art Village, which is not only a domestically famous but also a world-class craft village.
We will further elevate the status of the Icheon Ceramic Festival and Rice Culture Festival, which have established themselves as the most successful provincial festivals. For the globalization of Icheon ceramics, Icheon will be more active in participating in the World Ceramic Road and developing the various contents of the Icheon Rice Cultural Festival which was selected as the best festival for the fifth consecutive year by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Various book policies will also be promoted. We run a variety of reading programs such as a 'reading marathon' to promote Icheon as a city of reading books with a great reading culture.
Our city will significantly increase small libraries. First, we will complete Majang Library at the end of this year, and then build more small libraries in Shindun, Hobeop, Moga and Daewol.
In addition, we will build a life-friendly reading environment so that citizens can easily get their hands on books by linking big public libraries with small ones in small towns.
It is said that Icheon City will have a general hospital. Please explain about it in detail.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a 319-bed general hospital, including an ICU, was held in December last year. It is scheduled to open in February 2019 as a university hospital-level general hospital with 2 floors underground and 6 floors above ground and state-of-the-art medical facilities.
The construction of the general hospitals is one of the most important projects that I have pursued since I took office as the 4th popularly voted mayor of Incheon 10 years ago. Of course, it was very difficult to launch the project at first. Gyeonggi Province's support and will were absolutely important but it was difficult to implement the project because high priorities were placed on other projects.
We overcame a lot of difficulties and finally attracted a general hospital, but some problems remained. In the future, it is important that Icheon Hospital secure a medical service level as high as those of university hospitals by securing excellent medical staff members and advanced medical equipment.
When Icheon Hospital opens in 2019, the hospital will serve as a base hospital not only for Icheon but also for Gyeonggi Province’s southeastern region. In particular, the hospital will play a key role in protecting the lives and health of citizens through specialized medical services such as emergency medical, cardiovascular and rehabilitation centers.
Icheon City is spreading the “Icheon Happiness Sharing” and “Happy Together” Campaigns. How will you lead this movement?
I launched the Icheon Happiness Sharing Campaign at the end of 2015 after watching an old senior citizen picking up a cigarette butt from the street. The old senior citizen really inspired me.
This civic cultural movement is not a one-day event. This campaign must continue to raise the cultural indices of the current and future generations in Incheon.
Top it off, we see a boom in campaigns to have an account to donate a small amount of money and talent. In particular, there are continuing donations from ordinary people who are not rich but willing to help the marginalized.
These campaigns made me more confident that Icheon City can grow into the nation's best and most advanced cultural city. It is my dream and goal to take the initiative in developing Icheon into a world-class cultural city visited by people from around the world through steady changes in behaviors and consciousness with the participation of citizens.