[OUTLOOK]Redeveloping Gangbuk wisely

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[OUTLOOK]Redeveloping Gangbuk wisely

What is the most desirable way to develop Gangbuk, the older part of Seoul north of the Han River? Gangbuk is less flashy than Gangnam, the area south of the Han River, but it is also the area inside the now-invisible boundaries of old Seoul where the original four "large gates" of the city stand or once stood. Talk about renovation abounds, including a restoration plan for the Cheonggye stream, now buried under a highway, and building an inner-city pedestrian mall.

Certainly we should not make Gangbuk a "second Gangnam." Today's Gangnam, with its identical apartment buildings and roads designed for cars rather than people, is not what we want for our city. Developing Gangbuk in the same way as Gangnam would be yet another addition to the monotony of our city's skyline.

Gangbuk has its own characteristics and a style tailored to people rather than cars. We should keep the characteristics of Gangbuk and develop it in a way as to provide an alternative city culture and offer a welcome range of diverse choices for Seoulites.

The area within the four "large gates" has many cultural and historical artifacts of the sort that are not found in young Gangnam, and these could be developed into "products" of Seoul, creating a new source of added value in this age of globalization.

Because a considerable part of the financial hub of the city has already moved to Gangnam, central Gangbuk needs another strategy for survival. It must, through renovation, develop what needs to be conserved: its cultural heritage. Thus, central Seoul could be developed as an international cultural and business district.

Too-fervid conservation of this cultural heritage could, however, mean turning the area into a dead zone. A more positive way of conserving the city's heritage would be to do it in a way that puts the area's buildings to good use. The part of Seoul inside the four gates should be redeveloped in a way that makes it capable of competing not with Gangnam, but with Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Central Gangbuk has the advantage over Gangnam of having an extensive public transportation system of subways and buses. A cost-efficient redevelopment plan that conserves land, infrastructure and automobile fuel could be pursued through intensive development of the existing public transportation structure. It we could connect the entire area with subways and think in three dimensions, we could improve pedestrian conditions without having to invest heavily in expanding roads. The distribution of city functions, block planning and the arrangement of buildings in Gangbuk development should be designed to take the best advantage of the public transportation system.

An efficient way of using the limited land area is to develop it for more than one purpose. For example, a space could be used for different purposes in the day and at night. The vast downtown area of Gangbuk around Cheonggye is empty at night after the workers go home. That space could be put to good use if we develop the area as a combined commercial, residential and recreation district.

Gangbuk is surrounding by many mountains, and thus has a more diverse landscape than the relatively flat Gangnam. It also has more different natural environments. Gangbuk's geographical diversity means that the population density of residential areas in the region could be different according to the landscape. Flat areas near public transportation lines or roads could have taller buildings housing more people, while hillier areas could be planned for a smaller number of residences with fewer people. By restoring the natural network of mountains and streams in Gangbuk, we could also acquire urgently needed open space in the area for parks or other uses. Redevelopment plans for residential areas should go beyond the conventional thinking of replacing old and dilapidated units in specified areas assigned for redevelopment. Redevelopment plans should not just replace outmoded living units, but should also include plans to transform the city environment. An important part of such a plan for Gangbuk would be to pair neighborhoods in a flat area with neighborhoods in a higher area but still reachable by public transportation to form one community. Redevelopment of the Gangbuk area would not be possible without adequate public investment in the maintenance and replenishment of infrastructure. Another important part of redevelopment plans is the residents themselves and how to house them once redevelopment is started. Redevelopment should be carried out gradually and in different areas in turn so that dislocating the residents does not become a serious problem.


The writer is a professor of urban planning at Hanyang University.

by Choi Mack-joong

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