Rebirth of the square

Home > Opinion > Editorials

print dictionary print

Rebirth of the square

The Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul has been reopened to the public with doubled space for civilians after its near two-year-long renovation. Greenery has tripled through 5,000 trees added for the pleasure of civilians as they welcomed a mass-scale park in central Seoul.

The project has not been easy. A civilian path was first created in the middle of wide vehicle roads at the heart of the city in 2009 under the mayorship of Oh Se-hoon. His successor Park Won-soon in 2017 announced a roadmap to create more civilian-friendly space on Gwanghwamun Square. President Moon Jae-in backed the idea and included the project in his campaign in the race he won five years ago. But in 2019, Park suspended the project due to strong protests from civic groups citing concerns for budgetary waste and worsened traffic.

The construction resumed in November 2020 under the acting mayorship four months after Park was found dead. The sudden move drew strong criticism as it had been ahead of the by-election for Seoul mayor. Many advised the elephantine project should be revised by a new mayor. But the Seoul Metropolitan Government nevertheless pressed ahead with the project to provide greater rest space for civilians. Oh was reelected to the mayorship through the by-election in April last year. Despite his earlier protest, he could not undo the construction that already started. The budget increased to 81.5 billion won ($63 million) from an initial 79.1 billion won.

Since the design had been to provide greater rest space for civilians, the Seoul government vowed not to permit protest rallies in the area. Gwanghwamun Square has become a symbol of mass protests, as it can be shared for demonstrations feigning “healthy recreational and cultural activities.” As a result, the square turned into a traffic and noise nightmare due to frequent weekend rallies. The Seoul government will form an advisory board with traffic, legal, noise, police and criminal affairs experts to become stricter with permits for their assemblies there. Under the toughened measure, it won’t be easy to hold protest rallies or camp out in the plaza as in the past under the pretext of cultural activities.

Some protest the restriction constitutes a clear violation of the Constitutional right to assembly. The Seoul government must come up with specific and reasonable guidelines on staging assemblies. Before applying for protest rallies in the square, civic groups must respect the poll results that favored the use of the space as “resting and park area (33 percent)” and “protest-free area” (17 percent.)
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)