Gwanghwamun Square expansion plans halted

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Gwanghwamun Square expansion plans halted

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon announced Thursday a de facto stop to the plan to expand Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul by 2021.

“[The] Seoul Metropolitan Government has held around 100 meetings with citizens of Seoul in the past three years regarding what to do about Gwanghwamun Square,” Park said in a press briefing at City Hall on Thursday. “It was an unprecedented amount of time we spent in communicating a project to the people. Yet people are still posing some problems to the project, and civic groups are requesting more discussions be held.”

The Seoul city government intends to expand Gwanghwamun Square to include the southbound lanes of traffic in front of the Sejong Center by May 2021. The current 10-lane road that surrounds the square will be reduced to six lanes, according to the blueprint of the city government. The blueprint was revealed in January this year.

“Whether we will go forward with the plan and when we will go forward with needed construction work will depend on the people and what they want,” Park said in response to a reporter’s question about whether the road construction, originally scheduled to begin in April next year, would be postponed.

Park’s statement was a departure from a previous position the city government held regarding the plan.

When the Ministry of the Interior and Safety sent a notice to the city government on July 30 stating that the plan has not consulted the residents’ needs adequately and requested it be reconsidered, the city government responded strongly, stating that it could not understand why the ministry was all of a sudden taking issue with the plan.

“It is difficult to understand why the ministry is sending a notice at this point to oppose the plan,” said Jin Hee-sun, deputy mayor of Seoul, in a press conference on Aug. 8.

“There is no need to stall the project on purpose,” Park said during a meeting at the Seoul Metropolitan Council on Aug. 27. “If we feel that we had not communicated the project well with the people, that is something we could work on. We should be able to finish the project [by the original timeline].”

The change in the city government’s position appears to have hinged around Park’s meeting with President Moon Jae-in.

“At the end of August, the president, the minister of the interior and safety and myself held a meeting,” Park said Thursday. “We agreed on the point that the square needs to be revamped from its current form of isolation. The president requested that the city government consult the people’s opinion thoroughly regarding the project and that the relevant government bodies work together to resolve issues.”

The Interior Ministry took issue with the feasibility of incorporating the road in front of the Sejong Center into the square and rerouting traffic. The city government’s plan to reroute traffic affects the annex building to the central government, which will have to be moved.

Although the city government had repeatedly told the press that it had consulted with the ministry regarding the plan, the ministry denied this.

“We will discuss every part of the plan with the people, including the blueprint,” deputy mayor Jin told the press Thursday. “I wouldn’t say we are completely scrapping the plan or completely reorganizing it, but we are simply opening up the plan’s details and leaving it up to the people to decide them.”

The plan also involves restoring an elevated platform in front of the entrance to Gyeongbok Palace where kings held public rituals during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The platform is called woldae in Korean.

Japan annexed Korea from 1910 to 1945 and in 1926 deconstructed Gwanghwamun and moved it to make way for the Japanese Governor General Building. Woldae was lost in the process and has not been restored.

The city also intends to build an underground plaza that will connect Gwanghwamun Station to City Hall Station and extend as far as Dongdaemun.

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