The week of Sept. 4 was politically tense on the Korean peninsula, but construction project owners, contractors and finance experts met in the spirit of cooperation and commerce in Seoul, South Korea.

Representative of more than 80 different agencies from 46 countries came to talk about their infrastructure project needs with hundreds of mainly Korean engineers and contractors. Six transnational development groups, including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the European  Bank for Reconstruction and Development, were also in the mix. The event, called the Global Infrastructure Cooperation Conference, was sponsored by the International Contractors Association of Korea, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I traveled to Seoul to talk to the group about what they can learn about global markets from ENR’s Top 250 International Contractors ranking. I was invited to sit down with Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kim Hyunmee to discuss some of the initiatives she has been working on. Kim was appointed in June, part of the new government of President Moon Jae-in that took office in Korea in May.

“One of the main presidential promises was urban regeneration,” Kim said. After 30 years, the “new towns are getting old, and quality of life is deteriorating,” she said. In the past the government pursued urban redevelopment, demolishing old housing stock and building “from scratch,” she said. But this forced people out of their homes, so the emphasis has changed to “regeneration,” trying to sustain communities to help people continue to live in them. Called the “Urban Regeneration New Deal Project,” the program will renew 100 special districts per year during the president’s five-year term.

Further, Kim already has taken steps to reduce overheating in the real estate market and “mitigate housing speculation.” She is reforming policies to help families finance home purchases and working to stabilize the rental housing market. In Korea, 40% to 50% of people rent housing.

Because private housing rents are skyrocketing, Kim plans to increase the supply of public rental housing, particularly for “young and poor people,” she said. The plan calls for providing 170,000 housing units per year, including 65,000 units of new construction, converting existing units and providing housing vouchers for qualified candidates.

Kim also discussed Korea’s “broad progress” in smart cities, from traffic flow, crime prevention and environmental preservation to autonomous vehicles and other future systems. The next day, I joined conference attendees on a tour of Seoul’s sophisticated transport control center—it can even tell residents how many seats are left on departing buses.

By Janice L. Tuchman Editor-in-Chief