Gwanghwamun Plaza will be open to the public starting today after 15 months of construction. The opening of the plaza is significant even when compared to other squares nearby such as Seoul Plaza and Cheonggye Plaza because Gwanghwamun reflects more than 600 years of Seoul history.
Perhaps because of the symbolic significance of the new public space, the builders have made certain it is also pleasing to the eye. The area has a statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, one of the nation’s most respected figures; a beautiful fountain; the Haechi Madang, an underground passage that connects the plaza to Gwanghwamun Station; an artificial stream, and finally a statue of King Sejong the Great of the Joseon Dynasty, which will be unveiled on Hangul Day in October.
Even more significantly, the streets around Gwanghwamun, which had been flooded with cars, will be back for Seoulites to enjoy.
We must note one more thing, though: In order for Gwanghwamun Plaza to be truly dedicated to the residents of Seoul, investing in architecture isn’t enough. In order for the area to be developed as a plaza that we can be proud of both inside and outside Korea, citizens should feel positively about it.
The Seoul city government recently said the purpose behind the construction of the plaza was “to focus on offering convenience and consideration to the citizens.” The plaza’s main facilities were constructed with the disabled and elderly in mind.
Citizens using the plaza should be committed to protecting the area. It would be a shame if some citizens happened to sprawl around the plaza drinking and singing loudly or causing other trouble such as littering. If this happens, it would be difficult to turn the area into one we could boast about overseas.
At times, the plaza will certainly be used for riots and protests, as Seoul Plaza has been used. But we must all work together to make certain that illegal and violent protests never sully its image.
This is crucial especially for Gwanghwamun Plaza, because the area can hold up to 70,000 people. Since the plaza is located near the government complex, the United States Embassy and the Foreign Ministry, there is a high probability that some activists will see it as prime demonstration real estate.
Prior to the plaza’s opening, the Seoul city government confirmed regulations that allow it to enforce strict conditions on the use of the plaza in order to maintain public order.
This is a natural move by the city to keep the plaza from turning into a violent place, which is what happened to Seoul Plaza in May during the Hi Seoul Festival.