Too fast, Mayor Park

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Too fast, Mayor Park

The Seoul metropolitan government has announced a plan to renovate Gwanghwamun Square in a big way. There will be no need to oppose its goal of offering citizens better accessibility and restoring the historical meaning of the place at the center of the city. But it will be a serious problem if the city presses ahead with the infrastructure project without gathering public opinions and consulting with the central government on the budget.

The square is the face of South Korea. We still need to reinforce the historic significance of the area by restoring our proud heritage at the heart of the capital, including government office buildings of the Joseon Dynasty. Many would agree with the idea of turning the area into a green zone and changing traffic patterns so the area is more pedestrian friendly.

But the problem is the tendency of politicians to use such grand projects to push their own visions or as a means to embody their ideology. Former mayor Oh Se-hoon completed a remarkable facelift of the square in 2009 by spending 70 billion won ($61.9 million) to reduce 16 lanes to 10 and establish a large plot of land mostly for public rallies. Current mayor Park Won-soon wants to change the 10 lanes to six at a cost of 104 billion won for his “New Gwanghwamun Project.”

To kick off such a project, gathering public opinion is necessary. But the city government plans to sign a contract next month with the winner of an international bidding contest, and finish the project by 2021. It is simply too fast.

Mayor Park, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, pledged to inscribe candlelight images on the bottom of the square as a nod to President Moon Jae-in, who repeatedly stressed he was able to come to power thanks to the massive candlelight movement. But it is hard to understand why he would move the statues of King Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-sin to a corner in order to emphasize the significance of the candlelight movement.

Seoul’s traffic plan is not credible either. It aims to build a new subway station of a new line around the square to help ease traffic congestion, but the city has not yet finished consultations with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. As construction of the new line between Paju and Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, via Seoul already began in December last year without consultations with Seoul, the new subway station in Gwanghwamun will likely be built much later than expected. Mayor Park must listen to various concerns about his push for a facelift of the square.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 22, Page 30
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