Stop the face-liftThe Seoul Metropolitan Government, under acting leadership after the sudden death of former mayor Park Won-soon, must not proceed with the renovation work of Gwanghwamun Square against the wishes of civilians and experts alike. The project should be revisited under new leadership after the mayoral by-election in April next year.
On Monday, the capital city government announced that it was embarking on the renovation project of Gwanghwamun in downtown Seoul. The keystone of the blueprint is to expand the upper roads by February and turn the opposite west side entirely into a public park.
Citizens in residential neighborhoods held a rally on the day protesting the project that has not gone through public hearings yet. Civilian groups and urban design expert groups separately held a press conference to oppose the launch of the construction that failed to take into account citizens’ opinions.
There are more reasons for the project to be opposed than be approved. The design does little to uphold the historic legacy of the district and will only worsen the traffic by eliminating roads to make room for more trees. The city argues that 65 percent of 268 citizens invited to a hearing in December approved of the design.
The city is under acting Mayor Seo Jung-hyup. Since he is not an elected official, he is not authorized to approve of the massive project costing 80 billion won ($72 million) of the tax budget. Even the late Mayor Park in May proposed to re-examine the project.
If the roads are reduced by three to five lanes, the traffic, usually hectic during rush hours, will get worse. The construction during the busy year-end season will also cause immense inconvenience to commuting citizens.
There is not a single good reason why the construction should start now. Some suspect there could be an ulterior motive for the acting mayor to pursue the project or a collusive relationship between the city government and builders.
Gwanghwamun is an iconic landmark of Seoul and Korea. The square is held by the two pillar statues of King Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-sin. The square would lose balance if the statues are moved to make way for greenery on the western side.
The Seoul city government must immediately stop the construction. The project should be reexamined by the new mayor. If the city still pursues it, the Board of Audit and Inspection must step in to investigate the matter.