The Greening of Seoul


Seoul, South Korea is the seventh largest city in the world. Photos show it to be a huge, booming, modern, soulless city of high rises and endless traffic. But with the completion of Cheonggyecheon Park, the city has gained a green "lung" in the heart of this town of ten million people. The story starts with a river in the middle of Seoul that had become little more than a sewer by the l970's. Finally it was turned into a road, with a 6 lane highway above. In 2002 the mayor made a brave and visionary decision: he pledged to tear down the highway, restore the river and create a 5 mile long park along its banks. What made this idea even more audacious was that it meant relocating 160,000 cars a day off of a main arterial road. Opposition came from planners, traders and drivers. The surprise was that "the tearing down of the motorway has had both intended and unexpected effects. As soon as we destroyed the road, the cars just disappeared. A lot of people just gave up their cars. Others found a different way of driving."


Bus services were improved and the effect on the environment was instantly noticeable. According to a professor involved from the start of the project: "We found that surface temperatures in summer along the restored river were an average 3.6C lower than 400 metres away. The river is now a natural air-conditioner, cooling the capital during its long hot summers. Average wind speeds in June this year were 50% higher than the same period last year." Citizens flock to the water's edge--there are waterfalls, play spaces, running tracks and sitting areas. Birds, fish, plants and a variety of wildlife have also returned and increased. Shanghai and Los Angeles are looking at the results because Cheonggyecheon Park has become a model for other large cities seeking to link regeneration and environmental progress. :: Guardian