Back to the city of the futureFor nearly three decades the Cheonggye stream has been flowing unnoticed through the middle of Seoul, sealed under concrete as the traffic rolled over it. Now the Cheonggye area is to be reborn as a place for people, not automobiles.
When the new mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak, announced his plan to restore the Cheonggye stream by digging up the concrete and demolishing the elevated expressway, there were protests from motorists, residents and store owners in the area.
With little public support, the new mayor pushed on with his plan to revive the stream, and this week he broke ground on a project to tear down the elevated road in the name of transforming downtown Seoul into a more environmentally friendly neighborhood.
Here’s a look at the history of the ancient stream and a preview of the changes to come ― as well as at how public transportation will be reshaped.
Renewing stream beneath street
Cheonggyecheon is a little stream that starts from a small spring near the northwestern corner of Gyeongbok Palace and flows eastward through the middle of downtown Seoul. But its meandering path runs entirely underground.
It was not always so. During the Japanese occupation, many Koreans who had been forced out of their homes by the occupiers clustered around the stream area because housing there was cheap. As the population density in the area rose, the Cheonggye’s sluggish flow and frequent floods caused stagnant pools that menaced the health of nearby residents.
In 1935, intending to turn Seoul into a supply commissary for its colonies, the Japanese government announced a plan to cover the stream. But due to material and financial shortages, only a small portion of the stream was covered by 1937. The rest was left untouched until after the Korean War. The upper reach of the stream was finally hidden from daylight in 1958 by construction designed to relieve problems of heavy traffic, sanitation and environmental spoliation, all of which arose from the ever-growing population in the capital as people flocked to Seoul to seek better lives.
The Cheonggyecheon Road was completed after three years, and by 1962 the lower stream was also buried as far as its confluence with Jungrang stream near Hanyang University. Many squatter dwellings were razed, and the ancient bridges, freighted with cultural heritage, were replaced by concrete. In those years, daily survival was the priority of every household, and preserving historic and cultural sites was an unaffordable luxury.
The Seoul government in 1966 swept away the shanty houses completely and started erecting the Cheonggye elevated expressway.
Once the road was up and the old houses gone, stores mushroomed around the Cheonggyecheon area, which became a center of commerce, as well as traffic.
Now the area is on the verge of once again becoming for new generations what it once was, a public place of leisure and enjoyment. The Seoul government has presented a blueprint to restore the Cheonggye stream to an ecological oasis in the middle of downtown. As the area reflected both the joys and sorrows of Seoul’s vast modernization, now it will lead the capital into a new era. The restoration is a multipurpose project, seeking to reclaim the historical, cultural and environmental virtues of the 600-year-old capital while performing as a modern business center and an international tourist site.
Once the Cheonggye stream is restored, 276,210 square meters (2,973,000 square feet) of green space and a waterslide will be developed. Some 2,300 trees ― gingko, zelkova and cherry ― will line the banks west to east along the Cheonggye stream to the Jungrang stream to the Han River.
New bridges to showcase history, culture of Seoul
Twenty-four bridges spanned the old Cheonggye stream. Twenty-one new bridges will be built as part of the stream’s restoration. Roads will run along the banks of the streams to maintain some traffic flow. The project is scheduled for completion in September 2005. Temporary bridges will be set up first.
The 21 completed bridges will include 16 that will serve both vehicles and pedestrians and 5 that will be exclusively for pedestrians. The bridges will reflect cultural, historical and environmental highlights of Seoul.
The Mojeon bridge, on the northern part of Mugyo-dong, will have a concave pedestrian path on the either side. The whole will resemble the sun clock that was designed in the early Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).
The Gwancheol bridge, near Jongno 2-ga, will be a pedestrian bridge supported by cables ― reminiscent of the Olympic bridge over the Han River.
The Saebyeok bridge, which will link the Gwangjang and Bangsan markets, will have a tentlike covering to continue the image of a flea market with its tents and parasols.
The Changseonbang bridge next to Jongno 5-ga will feature a bronze statue of a horse and a lighting tower in a traditional shape to remind visitors that the Uma market to which the bridge is linked was originally a market that traded horses and cows in the Joseon dynasty.
The Narae bridge linking the Dongdaemun market and fashion outlets such as Doosan Tower and Migliore will take the form of a butterfly on the wing. It will be one of a number of the bridges along the Cheonggye stream that will likely take the shape of insects or birds.
Buses that have been using the Cheonggyecheon roads will be affected by the reconstruction of the area. The new routes will be more direct, cutting travel time.
The buses will be differentiated by color: yellow, green, blue and red.
They will be tracked every minute using the Global Positioning System. Through their cellular phones and Personal Digital Assistants, passengers will be able to determine where the buses will be at any given time. Location information can be traced through an Automatic Response System over the phone.
This system is expected to increase the efficiency of public transportation, as passengers no longer will have to stand for long periods at bus stops.
The main command office for the bus control is expected to be established by February next year with an investment of 11.6 billion won ($10 million).
This bus system began operating a few months ago. The yellow bus mainly tours within the downtown area bounded by the four major “muns” or gateways: Dongdaemun, Namdaemun, Seodaemun, etc.
The buses travel in the Gwanghwamun, Jongno, City Hall and Euljiro areas to connect business, tourism and shopping within the downtown area.
Currently there are two routes with 43 stops. The yellow buses run 8 to 10 minutes apart.
The yellow bus operates from 6:30 a.m. to midnight and costs 200 won (17 cents) for all ages.
The green bus will be touring mainly in neighborhoods within specific districts.
This bus system is convenient for passengers traveling to destinations not served by other major bus routes. The green line will connect the railroad stations and the Blue Bus stations. The green line is to connect within the areas.
This bus will tour the outer rim of the metropolitan area, including Ilsan and Bundang, linking them to downtown.
The bus is not yet in service. Its color was chosen to represent safety and freedom, as well as the Han River and the sky.
The red bus travels from the center of the capital to metropolitan destinations such as Suwon.
This express bus is mainly for suburban commuters who work in downtown Seoul.
Trial runs for this bus began Monday.
The shuttle bus mainly tours the Cheonggyecheon areas, especially around the flea markets such as Bangsan market, Pyeonghwa market and Gwangjang market in the downtown area.
These buses are free. They follow three routes.
The first route travels from Jongmyo to Jongno 5-ga to Cheonggye 3-ga and ends at Jongno 3-ga. The second links Euljiro 3-ga to Cheonggye 3-ga to Migliore and the National Medical Center. The third route travels to Dongdaemun stadium, Sindang station and Pyeonghwa market.
The shuttle buses have been in operation since last month. Nine medium-size buses that can hold 25 passengers have been deployed.
by Park Hyun-young