North Korea’s Rural Development: Touching Every Corner of the Country

Kim Jong Un’s rural development initiative is only two and a half years old, but its impact can already be seen nationwide. Analysis of both North Korean state media and commercial satellite imagery suggest that since Kim announced the plan at a Workers Party of Korea (WPK) plenary meeting in December 2021, new housing developments have been opening at a pace of more than one a week in counties all over the country—with more to come.

As of May 2024, new housing has opened in at least 190 locations spread across most counties. While the pace and scale of progress against the plan is impressive, it remains to be seen if Kim Jong Un will come close to his goal of reversing “the backwardness of the countryside” throughout the entire nation.

In this installment of our series on the rural development plan, we look at the speed, scale and geographic distribution of the new housing being built.

Figure 1. A new housing development in Solbong-ri, Kosan County, Kangwon Province broadcast on Korea Central Television on November 15, 2022. (Source: Korea Central Television)

No Numbers

Kim Jong Un announced the plan in 2021 at a WPK plenary meeting with a mandate that extended the effort to “all” villages, but did not set forth any specific target areas.

He stated: “It is the policy of rural construction of our Party to turn all rural villages in the country into rich and cultured socialist ideal villages at the level similar to those in Samjiyon City in the near future.”

The lack of an announced target number of housing developments or priority areas is at odds with other recent development projects, such as the plan to build 50,000 apartments in Pyongyang over five years and the recently announced “20×10” plan to build new factories in 20 counties each year for the next 10 years.[1]

As such, the potential scale of the project was unclear at the time of announcement. More than two years into this initiative, our analysis shows the impact has been felt nationwide—the geographic distribution of new developments suggests that efforts are underway to reach all counties in the country.

Broad Distribution

Our analysis of state media and satellite imagery has identified 147 locations where new housing has been built and, according to state media, residents have already moved in. An additional 43 locations at the provincial level were announced on Korean Central News Agency or Korea Central Television during this time frame, but their exact coordinates have not been identified.

The number of new developments only tells a part of the story. When mapped against second-level administrative districts (counties, guyok [구역], cities), it is clear these housing projects are being distributed in districts throughout the country rather than concentrated in specific regions. Most are placed either in close proximity to farms or in the heart of rural villages.

New housing projects have appeared as far east as Rason and as far west as Sindo, a small island near Sinuiju that is closer to the Chinese mainland than it is to North Korea.

While developments have been dispersed broadly across the nation, particularly strong efforts are seen in North and South Hwanghae and North Phyongan provinces, where at least 85 percent of all counties have new housing. These provinces are at the heart of North Korea’s agricultural industry and are important sources of food for the nation.

In most counties, only a single housing project has concluded, but in some, one or two additional developments are either underway or have finished.

The area with the least amount of new rural housing is Pyongyang. This is to be expected given its comparatively high number of urban districts. In the capital city’s rural districts, new housing has been completed in nine locations.

Figure 3. New housing development at a vegetable farm just southeast of Pyongyang. The project was complete and announced in North Korean state media in December 2022. Image: Google Earth, annotation by 38 North. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected].

South Phyongan Province also has a lower concentration of housing projects than its neighboring provinces. This is likely due to topographic challenges. No rural housing projects have been announced in any of the mountainous counties that make up the eastern side of the province.


This broad distribution of new housing will help drive Kim’s message of rural development home to citizens in the countryside who might be tired of reports on new apartments in Pyongyang and wonder what Kim has done for them lately. Even two years into the rural development initiative, there can be only a few North Koreans who are not aware of new housing either in their own village or one nearby. However, what cannot be discerned from North Korean state media or satellite imagery is the quality of housing—which is often called into question due to the speed at which these developments are completed. It is also unclear the degree to which units are equipped with services such as electricity or running water.

The next installments in this series will delve deeper into the types of housing developments seen as a result of this initiative.

  1. [1]

    “Let Us Renovate Our Capital City Splendidly Once Again by Building 50 000 Flats,” Rodong Sinmun, March 24, 2021.

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