Stream of conscientiousness: Revived brooks shelter urban life

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Stream of conscientiousness: Revived brooks shelter urban life

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Neglected for decades, a handful of natural streams in Seoul had turned into open sewers. Given that the water was polluted with urine, chemicals and who-knows-what, it was no surprise that the streams had no bike or pedestrian paths.
Yet a long-running effort by the city’s district governments have cleaned up the streams, turning them into outdoor attractions for the urban nature-lover.
Along the Yangjae stream, which flows through southern Seoul, housewives push baby carriages along walking paths and office workers lounge by the waters during their lunch break. In northern Seoul, the recreational areas and rollerblading and bicycle tracks along the Jungrang stream have became popular spots for leisure activities.
The renewal work for the Yangjae stream began in 1994, while that for Jungrang stream started in 2000. But both streams have kept their natural beds, unlike the newly restored Cheongye Stream, which runs though downtown Seoul and is covered in concrete. Other districts and Seoul city are in the process of redeveloping additional streams as well.
The Yangjae stream, which is 15.6 kilometers (9.7 miles) long, starts at Gwacheon and flows through the Seocho and Gangnam districts to the Han River. The Jungrang stream is the longest branch of the Han River, stretching 36.5 kilometers from Uijeongbu, north of Seoul.
“Before [the restoration], the stream didn’t mean anything,” said Lee Gang-suk, a middle-aged woman who was out walking her dog along the Yangjae stream. “I decided to move to a place near the stream after it was cleaned up, and now I come out here every evening for a walk.”
The restoration work involved tackling several projects. District offices built sewage processing facilities and stopped wastewater from flowing into the streams. Paths and bridges were built to provide access to the areas, and for the Yangjae stream, jogging tracks made of polyurethane were laid down. Trees and plants, including golden-bell trees, cherry trees, ditch reeds, rosegold pussy willow and, in Jungrang, rapeseed flowers, were planted alongside the banks. To boost recreational activities, bicycle and rollerblading tracks, basketball and volleyball courts and, in Yangjae, water parks were also constructed. There are even small rice paddies along banks of the Yangjae stream so that students can learn about nature by planting rice.
After the streams were cleaned up and the water quality improved, the animals returned. Herons and green-winged teals have been seen in Yangjae, feeding off the fish that swim in the stream. The Seocho district office said that in 1998, eight types of fish were found to be living in the Yangjae stream; by 2001, that number had risen to 20. In the Jungrang stream, carp have been spotted swimming upstream to spawn. “This shows how much the water quality has improved,” said Hwang Min-ha, a Jungrang district official.
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With the noxious odor that once plagued the areas long gone, more people have started visiting the streams. “It used to stink pretty badly,” said Jeong Tae-yeol, a resident of Sanggye-dong, who came down to rollerblade at the tracks near Jungrang Stream. “There has been great progress in improving the environment. The water is clearer than before and I can see the bed of the stream.”
The Jungrang district, which has the largest portion of streamside area of the seven districts the stream runs through, built two large rollerblading racing tracks near Ihwa Bridge in 2004. One of them is enormous: 200 meters (218 yards) in circumference.
“There used be no rollerblading tracks around this area. There weren’t many parks either. It’s a good thing that we can take advantage of these kinds of facilities,” said Bae Jong-pil, a special education teacher from a school for students with developmental disorders in Nowon district. Mr. Bae took students to the tracks and taught them how to rollerblade.
Planted along the side of the stream by the rollerblade tracks are beds of rapeseed flowers, which turn yellow in late spring. Since several types of flowers were planted, it is possible to see different flowers blossom in different seasons. In the upper stream, between the Nowon and Changdong bridges, golden-bell trees paint long straight yellow lines along the banks. Cherry blossoms adorn the stream between the Jungrang and Gunja bridges.
On the southern side of the Yangjae stream, between the second and third Yeongdong bridges, golden-bell and cherry trees are planted along the foot paths. The stream also has stepping stones so pedestrians can cross to the other side, although be prepared for a long trip: At its narrowest, the stream is 66 meters wide (the Jungrang stream is around 150 meters wide, so there are no stepping stones).
With a large number of schools around Yangjae, the stream has also become an educational tool. Last week, for instance, about 25 students from Sookmyung Girls’ Middle School came to take photos of wild flowers along the stream on the banks.
“We come here for after-school activities from time to time,” said Lee Myung-jik, a physical education teacher. Mr. Lee said he organizes student trips to the stream to photograph wild flowers, and that many other schools in the area do so as well.
He called the stream’s renewal “remarkable,” and added that he plans to bring his students out to the stream for physical education classes.
The Yangjae stream may be popular during the day, but it buzzes with life in the evening. Having finished their long hours in the office, people line up along the footpaths by the Fourth Yeongdong Bridge for guided stretching; an instructor provides free lessons for onlookers.
The successful revitalization of the two natural streams has led other districts and the Seoul metropolitan government to start renovating other urban streams in their jurisdiction. The Hongje Jeongreung stream in currently being renovated, and plans are being drafted to renovate the Seongbuk, Dobong, Dorim and Uyi streams.
Why is this so imporant? “Natural streams disperse heat in summer and provide green areas for residents,” Park Jong-seok, a Seoul city employee said.


by Limb Jae-un
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