November 18th, 2010

The Cheonggyecheon Experience

What amazed me most about Cheonggyecheon was its freedom. Here was a stream running through the middle of Seoul, one of the world’s largest cities, and it gurgled as contentedly as any country creek. You can walk next to the water, sit next to it, wade in and feel its sharp chill on your calves.

It becomes all the more remarkable when you realize that, ten years ago, it was little more than a sewer running beneath a traffic-clogged highway. For decades, Cheonggyecheon was buried under an expressway; it was famously restored in the early 2000s. (David Maloney wrote an exhaustive account of its history a few years ago.) When I visited Seoul last year, it was one of the things I was most eager to see, and luckily enough, I happened to be staying a short walk from it.

After the expressway was demolished, a six-kilometre linear park was built along the stream, from the business district near Gwanghwamun in the west to another river, Jungnangcheon, in the east. The stream runs several metres below street level, and descending towards the stream is a liberation from the noise and exhaust above it. Late at night, I sat next to the water and watched two couples wade into the stream, pants rolled up, giggling as they splashed around. During the day, kids played on stepping stones that traverse the water.

Cheonggyecheon is one of the best-designed examples of urban nature I have encountered. Its impact has been fare-reaching. Fewer cars enter central Seoul now and public transit use is up. Summer temperatures around the stream have been reduced by several degrees since the stream was restored.

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February 8th, 2007

Cheonggyecheon: The Flow of Progress

Posted in Asia Pacific, Environment, Public Space by David Maloney

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Restoring a six-kilometre stream that has been covered by an expressway for over fifty years is not an easy task. The job is even more difficult when the stream happens to meander through one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities. The Cheonggyecheon, or the Cheonggye Stream restoration project is without question the most ambitious urban renewal scheme to have ever been undertaken in the history of Seoul.

The aims of the Cheonggyecheon restoration project, completed in 2005, were first, to rectify a severe public safety problem caused by an expressway that threatened to collapse at any moment; second, to address Seoul’s deteriorating environmental conditions by creating an environmentally friendly place in the centre of the city; third, to pay tribute the history of the 600 year old Korean capital; and fourth, to spur redevelopment in the surrounding neighbourhoods, which at that time lagged behind other neighbourhoods in the central city.

To fully appreciate the significance of the Cheonggyecheon project to the Korean people it is necessary to know a little bit about Korean history, particularly as it relates to Seoul. The Choson Dynasty, led by Emperor Taiju, chose the land on the banks of the Cheonggyecheon near its intersection with the mighty Han River as Korea’s capital in 1392. Monk Muhak, on behalf of Taiju, selected the site after an extensive two-year search for a location that satisfied the principles of feng shui. According to Muhak, the site possessed powerful Earth energy that was enhanced by a prominent mountain directly to the north, another to the south and two other mountains situated to the east and west of the site.

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