A stream runs through the center of Seoul, dividing the city into North and South, but for three decades it was totally buried beneath a busy downtown highway. In 2003, as part of a vast urban renewal project, the highway was removed and the stream was recovered and turned into a beautiful 5.8 km urban park. Demolishing roads in favor of urban parks is is a development project we can really get behind.
The Cheonggyecheon stream was formed during the Joseon Dynasty in order to provide drainage for the city. It lasted for hundreds of years until the 1940s, when the city became so populated that a shanty town popped up around the stream and began polluting the area. The stream was gradually covered over with concrete, and by 1976 a 5.6 km elevated highway was built on top of it.
Considered an example of ‘successful industrialization and modernization’, the highway remained there until 2003, when city planners tore it down to revitalize the area and help Seoul remake itself as a modern environmentally friendly city. The Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project took two years and cost around $281 million, but it has created a thriving stretch of green public space in the middle of the city.
What was once a dividing line between the north and south parts of the city has been recreated as an urban park that bridges the gap and brings people together. Over 75% of the material torn down from the old highway was reused to construct the park and rehabilitate the stream. Now fish, bird and insects have made their way back into the urban river, and the area surrounding the park is about 3.6 deg C cooler than other parts of the city.
In addition to the restoration project, Seoul has also implemented transportation planning, rerouting traffic through other corridors and adding more public transportation. As a result there has been a decrease in the number of vehicles entering the city and bus and subway use has increased. Even though the city took away one of the major thoroughfares, they were able to redirect and decrease traffic through efficient planning and expanded public transportation. Sounds like an amazing renewal project with many, many benefits.