[VIEWPOINT]Stream not just about environmentSeoul recently announced its master plan for a restoration of Cheonggyecheon stream. The stream was covered with concrete in the 1960s to meet the traffic influx brought on by industrialization. Restoring it was Mayor Lee Myung-bak's No. 1 campaign promise in the 2002 election, and the master plan reflects seven months of careful examination and research by the city government. As such, it would be overly hasty to evaluate or criticize the plan at this point. A calm, thorough and unhurried assessment must come first.
Because of the strong support the city's plan had from various environmental groups, the media have generally portrayed the plan to restore the stream running through downtown Seoul as an environmental issue. However, this restoration plan is about city planning and redevelopment rather than conservation. It is also about economic survival to most citizens who happen to make their livelihoods within the four main gates in Gangbuk, the area north of Han River and lying along the stream. From the nation's point of view, the plan has a geographic significance beyond Seoul because it would play a decisive role in the flow of the economic activities in the entire Gangbuk area and thus affect the heavy concentration of the country's economy in the capital city area.
With so much to be considered, the city government's master plan for the Cheong-gyecheon restoration fails to address much more than the environmental aspect with its goal of restoring the stream to a natural one. Seven months would have hardly been time enough for city officials and researchers to consider the full consequences of the plan that would affect the livelihoods of most Gangbuk residents during the long construction period as well as afterward.
In the same manner, seven months would have been too short a period to produce a plan that could efficiently counter the issues that such a large-scale redevelopment would pose, such as traffic problems, the future bloc-formations of the area, compensation for the losses of the owners and merchants of the commercial buildings, and open markets in the area and their removal.
We have yet to hear news of the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation or any other central government agencies examining the plan from the perspective of its significance on the national land planning. In conclusion, a genuine evaluation of the plan to restore the Cheonggyecheon has only just begun.
The mountains of issues to cross before restoring the stream do not mean the plan should be ditched. Even the fiercest opponents of the plan cannot say that the precarious state of Seoul's city environment can go unattended much longer. Whether they support the restoration of the stream or not, residents of Seoul are in consensus that economic revitalization of the Gangbuk area, inferior in almost all economic terms to its rich cousin Gangnam across the Han River, is urgent.
The restoration plan of the Cheonggyecheon has a legitimate cause and it should be accepted as such. The plan was born and bred because of the keen necessities of the majority of the Seoul citizens. Nevertheless, it is also undesirable for the city or the media to lend muscle to recently announced plan.
As mentioned above, the announcement by the Seoul government is merely a framework plan and there are numerous issues to be dealt with from the balanced perspectives of city planning, economic activities and national land planning. This is all the more reason for government agencies, research institutes and professional experts in the teaching field to lend their help in assessing the plan thoroughly.
* The writer is director of the Research Institute for Sustainable Environment.
by Hong Wuk-Hee