The term of Cho Byung-don as a three-term mayor of Icheon city will be finished in June this year. For the past 11 years, in particular, he has tried to establish Icheon as a small but strong and well-planned city with a population of 350,000. As a result of his efforts, Icheon is crisscrossed with highways and railroads, allowing the city an easy access to the Seoul metropolitan area. In addition, the Jungri and Majang housing lot development projects, which are currently in full swing, will create luxurious living environments for the residents. Such hardware infrastructure establishments are expected to be well harmonized with the culture and art heritages of the city designated as a creative and cultural city by the UNESCO.
Would you evaluate your activities as a three-term major elected through a popular vote?
I have worked hard for Icheon citizens and the development of and my hometown of Icheon as 6th popularly elected mayor who already served the two previous terms as 4th and 5th popularly elected mayor. Fortunately, major projects which I promised citizens produced tangible results. In July of last year, I received the highest grade of "SA" in the evaluation of pledge implementation conducted by the Korea Manifesto Center.
I pulled off the expansion of SK Hynix which was the biggest challenge for me in the past term of office and new investment and is smoothly going ahead with the Jungri and Majang Housing Lot project which gives incentives for the relocation of a military base. In addition, Icheon City completed Democratization Memorial Park and Seohee Theme Park and is building infrastructure step by step for the construction of a planned city with a population of 350,000 people including the construction of a 300-bed general hospital and a ceramic art village.
In particular, how much progress has been made in your project to grow Icheon into a planned city with a population of 350,000 people?
The Jungri and Majang housing lot development project lays the foundation for building the planned city with a population of 350,000 people, holds the key to creating luxurious living environments and is currently in full swing.
In addition, Icheon City opened up its railway era with the opening of the Gyeonggang Line in 2016 and established Namicheon IC and is pushing forward with the East Icheon IC project. An inland railroad is being built to connect Chungju to Mungyeong. A vehicle-only road between Seongnam and Icheon opened at the end of last year so now it takes 30 minutes to drive from Icheon to Seongnam.
Along with the city’s nice traffic network, the completion of the housing site development project will lay the groundwork for the construction of the planned city with a population of 350,000 people, taking Icheon city to the next level as a small but strong city in the Seoul metropolitan area this year.
Icheon City is a creative and cultural city in the craft, culture and art sector designated by the UNESCO and the vice-coordinator city among 37 cities around the world. Would you walk us through activities related to this?
Icheon city was designated as a creative city of in the craft and folk art sectors in 2010, and since then has cemented its position as an international creative city such as actively participating in annual creative city meetings, meetings of mayors of creative cities, international forums and international conferences.
As a result, we expanded our framework of international exchanges limited to Japan and China into the Americas and Europe and majestically advanced into the Paris Maison and Object called a world-class art fair while pioneering overseas markets for Icheon ceramics.
In 2016, Icheon City hosted the 1st International Creative City Workshop to provide a framework for practical exchanges among creative cities. In the same year, Icheon City was elected as a vice-coordinator city in the craft sector in the General Congress in Ostersund, Sweden. Especially, a large number of member cities designated Icheon City as the next coordinator city at the Sub-Network Meeting in the craft sector of UNESCO Creative City held in Enghien-les-Bains, France in July of last year so this year, Icheon city is expected to become the next coordinator city.
The Icheon Multicultural Family Support Center was selected as an excellent institution in the evaluation of multicultural family support projects by the Ministry of Gender Equality in 2017. Please detail this matter.
The Icheon Multicultural Family Support Center enjoyed its honor of being selected as an excellent organization in the evaluation of multicultural family support projects by the Ministry of Gender Equality by receiving an S rating in support for the development of language ability of children of multicultural families and an A rating in the translation and interpretation service sector.
The support for language development of multicultural families’ children is a project to promote language development through customized education for children 12 years or younger with communication difficulties. The translating and interpreting service is a project that provides various service information such as communication for the early settlement of marriage immigrants living in Icheon and their social lives.
The Ceramic Apprentice Program which has run throughout the year since March 2013, is known to be enjoying immense popularity among foreigners too. Please tell us about the achievements of the program.
The Ceramic Apprentice Program is a program where the best talent of Korean ceramics in Icheon teaches and trains Korean and foreign students directly.
As a global training program that takes advantage of the characteristics of Icheon, a UNESCO creative city where many master hands in ceramics are active, trainees learn the whole process of and know-how in differentiated Korean ceramics technology at workshops of experts in the fields of celadon, white porcelain and grayish-blue-powdered celadon.
There are currently 14 ceramic artists teaching in the program. The 14 are four artists of Korean ceramics, eight of Icheon ceramics, and 2 local ceramic artists. Since March, 2013, nine foreign trainees and three Korean trainees have completed the program’s course. People with various careers such as ceramics students and current pottery artists completed this program.
You are promoting the city’s tourism industry as a big axis of the local economy. What are the results? Tell us about plans for this year.
Icheon City is running various projects to turn itself into the best tourist city in Korea with 10 million tourists to the city annually. As a result, during my terms as the fourth and fifth popularly elected mayor of Icheon, we have greatly expanded and upgraded the city’s tourism infrastructure such as Seohee Theme Park, Agricultural Theme Park, Democracy Movement Memorial Park and the Municipal Woljeon Museum.
When Ceramic Art Village (Ye’s Park) under construction is completed, 221 workrooms including those for ceramics, arts, antique furniture and woodwork will open in the village. Then the village will become a competitive tourist hot spot integrating many types of workrooms of the craft industry into one place.
In the New Year, we will push forward with active tourism policies with a focus on experiential tourism and city tour buses. To this end, we assembled an experiential tourism team on Jan. 1 via reorganization. Now we have been receiving good responses about 100 programs in 4 different fields such as farming, eating, crafts and sports leisure. The city tour bus that debuted in September of last year has been well received by tourists as the bus enables them to visit major sightseeing spots in the city at low charges and visit ceramic workrooms and try making ceramics there and buy good agricultural products. This year, we are planning to triple the period of city tour bus program and increase the number of the sightseeing course from one to three, expanding choices for tourists.
Finally, do you want to say something to Icheon citizens?
During my mayoral terms, the faith and encouragement of you, citizens, became a great driving force for me whenever I had difficulty in implementing municipal administration such as the central government’s disproval of the expansion of SK Hynix's production facilities in Icheon and the relocation of a military base. This June, I will finish my third term and return to my life as an ordinary citizen but my love of Icheon will not change. I have been working hard as mayor. I have only a simple mind to believe that Icheon citizens will appreciate my sincerity and I want to be remembered as a good mayor by citizens. I wish Icheon citizens and Business Korea readers good health and good luck in the new year of 2018.