Gwangju citizens pitch in for park

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Gwangju citizens pitch in for park

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It is as if the green of Mount Mudeong, in South Jeolla province, just kept flowing down into downtown Gwangju, carrying Zelkova trees and wild flower beds with it.
Welcome to Green Road Park, the newest stretch of wildlife in urban Korea. It is as popular as it is green, with Gwangju residents flocking to the narrow strip of nature to take walks, sit on benches or stop and smell the flowers.
The park was the result of a collaborative effort by the city and its residents. Originally a segment of a railroad line connecting South Jeolla province with South Gyeongsang province, the park was created after the Korea Railroad Corporation moved the 10.8-kilometer (6.7-mile) part of the line away from the city to reduce noise and avoid traffic.
The park was created in the abandoned land, running from Gwangju station through South Gwangju station and ending at Dongseong station, stretching nearly 8 kilometers. It sits on 107,915 square meters (26 acres) of land, though with some parts squeezed into an 8-meter (26-foot) bottleneck; at its widest, it is only 15 meters.
Construction began in January, 2003. Currently, only the sections between Chosun University and the South Gwangju intersection, and between Gwangju Cheonbyeong and Baekun Square, are completed.
Gwangju’s citizens have been remarkably supportive of the effort, donating 3 billion won ($3.1 million) to the construction costs and planting 230,000 trees alongside the walking paths, bicycling trails and rest areas. The city’s architects also helped design the roads; government organizations and private companies provided park facilities; local musicians offer live concerts there, as do hip-hop dancers; artists have set up exhibitions in the park.
“I wanted to show my children we as citizens beautified the city,” said Kim Seong-su, 37. Mr. Kim often visits the Green Road Park near Daenam street with his children. By that road is a “family tree,” with a tag with the names of his wife and children written on it.
Hong Yong-do, a 55-year-old taxi driver, planted three trees along the road. “I hoped that it would save this polluted city and that’s why our family got involved,” Mr. Hong said. “When I get tired while driving the taxi, I come here to get some rest.”
Although Gwangju’s citizens were supportive of the park from the beginning, things did not always go smoothly. Civic groups had to do a lot of persuading to convince government officials to let them turn the land into a park.
Long campaigning by environmental groups, the local media, architects and artists pumped up citizen support for the plan. The idea that citizens would plant the trees moved Gwangju city officials, who had originally planned to use the space for light-rail public transportation. Civic groups held hearings with residents and the city officials and specialists held discussions on the issue. But it was the residents who in the end built their own park, and opened a door to greater civic participation in Korea.


by Chung Chang-whan
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