The Korean Peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonial rule on August 15, 1945, but the north and south were divided along the 38th parallel, with the US Army Military Government installed in South Korea. There was significant disorder in society due to the sharp conflict between leftists and rightists, and separate governments were finally established in North and South Korea in 1948. North Korea then launched the Korean War with the sudden invasion of the south on June 25, 1950, and Seoul was captured by the North Korean army within three days. The people of Seoul had to suffer through the pain and terror of violence during the war period.
Although the three-year war came to an end with the signing of the armistice agreement in 1953, post-war restoration was a slow process. In the mid-1960s, the Korean economy finally took steps toward growth and Seoul was able to cleanse itself of the wounds of war. The population of Seoul, which stood at around one million in 1953, began to grow exponentially, surpassing three million in 1963 and five million in 1970. The landscape of Seoul changed rapidly after the emergence of Mayor Kim Hyeon-ok, the ‘bulldozer’.
The 'Yeongdong' region, which means 'to the east of Yeongdeungpo', was an idyllic countryside when it was incorporated into the Seoul metropolitan area in 1963. The construction of the Gyeongbu Expressway lent momentum to the development of this vast area and the Seoul Metropolitan Government carried out the development of the region, which was given the new name 'Gangnam', meaning south of the Hangang River. The government enacted a series of policies to promote development in Gangnam while curbing development north of the Hangang River. As a result, the area south of the river emerged as a new ‘land of opportunity’ for many Seoul residents.
For people who had laid down new roots after drifting into this unfamiliar place, Seoul was the stage on which the drama of their ambitions and frustrations unfolded. The 1960s also saw rapid change in the urban landscape of the city as economic development plans led to a construction boom, and this was a popular theme for cultural works from this era, inciting even greater yearning for Seoul. Against the backdrop of breakneck growth, large apartment complexes for the middle to upper classes were built in the 1970s. Offering both comfort and convenience, apartments gradually became established as an iconic form of housing for the people of Seoul.
It took less than half a century for Seoul to rise from the ashes of war and grow into a world-class metropolis. Economic growth continued in the 1980s against the backdrop of the ‘three lows boom’ (low interest rates, low oil prices and low exchange rate to the dollar), even as society faced a political standoff between citizen-led democracy movements and the authoritarian control of the new military leadership. Under the government-led campaign to prepare for the 1988 Olympics, Seoul was reborn as an ‘international city’. The city had now transformed into a large metropolis of ten million people and 25 autonomous districts.
Seoul experienced seismic socio-cultural changes in the 1990s. The implementation of an autonomous local government system led to shifting the mayoral election to a popular vote, while shocking events such as the collapses of the Seongsu Bridge and Sampoong Department Store happened. As Seoul’s sphere widened with the construction of the first wave of new cities around the capital in the early 1990s, traffic congestion became an urgent issue, which led to the reformation of the public transportation system in 2004. The improved attention in the environment and quality of life led to the creation of ecological parks around the city. The trends of deindustrialization and informatization are stimulating Korea to be a hyper-connected society through digital networks.