Paradise reclaimed

Seoul, South Korea, puts a new spin on progress by bulldozing a highway to build a park.

John Vidal| March 2007 issue
A year ago, several million people headed to a spot in the centre of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to celebrate the opening of a new park. This was obviously not your ordinary park, but a milestone in environmental restoration.
The story behind it is this: More than 50 years ago, the Cheonggyecheon river was a wide seasonal stream that divided the city between rich neighbourhoods to the north and poor ones to the south. But as Seoul grew from semi-rural setting, where kids played in the river and women washed clothes, to world’s seventh-largest city, the Cheonggyecheon – which means “clear valley stream” – became little more than a sewer. By 1970, as cars were taking over, the riverbed was turned into a road, and then an elevated six-lane motorway was built above it. But three decades later, under the leadership of the then-mayor, Lee Myung Bak, the city tore down the freeway and created a five-mile-long, 800-yard-wide (eight-kilometre-long, 730-metre-wide) urban oasis.
Credit for this visionary example of ecological restoration goes to Kee Yeon Hwang, professor of urban planning and design at Hongik Univeristy. His idea was to give the city back its soul by developing a massive park with the Cheonggyecheon flowing through its heart. The project was envisioned to be a boost for economic growth by attracting tourists and investors. But it meant thinking the impossible. The road carried 160,000 cars a day and was considered indispensable. Nevertheless, in the late 1990s, Hwang led a feasibility study to replace the highway with a park.
The motorway represented the city’s transition to an industrial economy. So to tear it down, says Hwang, was “above all, a symbolic act.”
The idea really gained steam, Hwang reports, after a curious incident. “We had three tunnels in the city and one needed to be shut down. Bizarrely, we found that car volumes dropped. We discovered it was a case of ‘Braess paradox,’ which says that by taking away space in an urban area you can actually increase the flow of traffic.”
Hwang’s project team then asked thousands of people what was most important about the city, and they all said the environment and water. The river-restoration project was put to the public for a vote, and won. Work started in July 2003. It had taken 20 years to build the roads and obliterate the river, but it took contractors just two years – and $380 million U.S. (293 million euros) – to bulldoze the highways and restore nature, as well as to create bridges, walkways, public art, running tracks, waterfalls and a museum.
The environmental impact was dramatic. “The river is now a natural air-conditioner,” Hwang says, “cooling the capital during its long, hot summers.” A new mayor has set about replacing a car lane on another road with pedestrian walkways along the Han River, an important waterway dwarfed by traffic. Officials in Shanghai are considering a similar although smaller project while their counterparts in Tokyo are looking into removing an elevated road above an ancient bridge.
Critics complain of gentrification, charging that the new park has increased rents and forced thousands from the area. Yet most residents stand behind the restoration. “Our life has been changed,” says Inchon Yu, an actor who was an advisor to the former mayor of Seoul. “People feel the water and the wind. Life becomes slower. Many people are changed. Economic life has changed, too. The price of land nearby has risen. But it reminds people of their own hearts. It gives a new heart to the city.”
Taken with permission from The Guardian Weekly (Nov. 17, 2006),
http://www.guardianweekly.co.uk
 

Solution News Source

Paradise reclaimed

Seoul, South Korea, puts a new spin on progress by bulldozing a highway to build a park.

John Vidal| March 2007 issue
A year ago, several million people headed to a spot in the centre of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to celebrate the opening of a new park. This was obviously not your ordinary park, but a milestone in environmental restoration.
The story behind it is this: More than 50 years ago, the Cheonggyecheon river was a wide seasonal stream that divided the city between rich neighbourhoods to the north and poor ones to the south. But as Seoul grew from semi-rural setting, where kids played in the river and women washed clothes, to world’s seventh-largest city, the Cheonggyecheon – which means “clear valley stream” – became little more than a sewer. By 1970, as cars were taking over, the riverbed was turned into a road, and then an elevated six-lane motorway was built above it. But three decades later, under the leadership of the then-mayor, Lee Myung Bak, the city tore down the freeway and created a five-mile-long, 800-yard-wide (eight-kilometre-long, 730-metre-wide) urban oasis.
Credit for this visionary example of ecological restoration goes to Kee Yeon Hwang, professor of urban planning and design at Hongik Univeristy. His idea was to give the city back its soul by developing a massive park with the Cheonggyecheon flowing through its heart. The project was envisioned to be a boost for economic growth by attracting tourists and investors. But it meant thinking the impossible. The road carried 160,000 cars a day and was considered indispensable. Nevertheless, in the late 1990s, Hwang led a feasibility study to replace the highway with a park.
The motorway represented the city’s transition to an industrial economy. So to tear it down, says Hwang, was “above all, a symbolic act.”
The idea really gained steam, Hwang reports, after a curious incident. “We had three tunnels in the city and one needed to be shut down. Bizarrely, we found that car volumes dropped. We discovered it was a case of ‘Braess paradox,’ which says that by taking away space in an urban area you can actually increase the flow of traffic.”
Hwang’s project team then asked thousands of people what was most important about the city, and they all said the environment and water. The river-restoration project was put to the public for a vote, and won. Work started in July 2003. It had taken 20 years to build the roads and obliterate the river, but it took contractors just two years – and $380 million U.S. (293 million euros) – to bulldoze the highways and restore nature, as well as to create bridges, walkways, public art, running tracks, waterfalls and a museum.
The environmental impact was dramatic. “The river is now a natural air-conditioner,” Hwang says, “cooling the capital during its long, hot summers.” A new mayor has set about replacing a car lane on another road with pedestrian walkways along the Han River, an important waterway dwarfed by traffic. Officials in Shanghai are considering a similar although smaller project while their counterparts in Tokyo are looking into removing an elevated road above an ancient bridge.
Critics complain of gentrification, charging that the new park has increased rents and forced thousands from the area. Yet most residents stand behind the restoration. “Our life has been changed,” says Inchon Yu, an actor who was an advisor to the former mayor of Seoul. “People feel the water and the wind. Life becomes slower. Many people are changed. Economic life has changed, too. The price of land nearby has risen. But it reminds people of their own hearts. It gives a new heart to the city.”
Taken with permission from The Guardian Weekly (Nov. 17, 2006),
http://www.guardianweekly.co.uk
 

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