Sustainable Cities™

Seoul: Life beneath the asphalt

What was built in Seoul, Korea, in the 1960s as the road to efficiency, became a health and safety hazard for the people of the city. The decision to dismantle an elevated highway and a buried polluted sewer was based on the expense of adding reinforcement and ongoing maintenance. What began as a question of cost evolved into a question of value. Cheonggyecheon River has been transformed from traffic corridor into people-friendly destination. Seoul has been reunited with its past history, its present culture and its future market.

Floden Cheonggyecheon, foto venligst udlånt af Lykke Leonardsen

600 years ago, the Cheonggyecheon River was a central amenity and utility in the daily life of the city. It was a playground for children, a laundry for women, and a sewage system for surrounding neighbourhoods. For centuries, Seoul was under constant pressure to protect against flooding, pollution and the build up of crime and disease as an influx of rural communities settled along its banks.

In 1958, the city began a twenty year construction project to wipe away the problems by covering the river with a major road plus elevated highway. A new double-layer stream of cars and exhaust replaced the old stream of water and waste. Tests into the structural stability of Cheonggye Highway conducted at the turn of this century deemed that the risks were too great to ignore, and the costs too high to justify repair. With this decision made, Seoul's city council wisely expanded their sightlines to include the many opportunities attached to river restoration and inner city renewal.

The focus landed less on how to move through the place, more on how to encourage people to stay and spend time here; how to increase pedestrian quality, how to create a place where different people could enjoy free-time, go shopping or make business all at the same time.

The river Cheonggyecheon, courtesy of Lykke Leonardsen

Seoul's Metropolitan Government began the project in 2003 stating that;
'The restoration of Cheonggyecheon will transform Seoul's image, presently associated with gray concrete, to that of a lush, green city where clear water's flow. Through this and other such projects, Seoul will be re-born as a human-oriented environmental city, greatly increasing Seoul's 'brand' value.' PARK Kil-Dong, Seoul Metropolitan Government, Korea

The reduction of fast and heavy vehicular traffic has resulted in cleaner air, better access to business and shopping hubs and many new wildlife habitats in the inner city. Improved pedestrian connectivity has breathed new life into surrounding districts of Gwanggyo (history, culture, finance) Sewunsangga (IT and electronics), Dongdaemun (fashion) such that they now provide critical support to the cultural and economic value of the city. In its current state, The Cheonggyecheon river, and its adjacent banks, fulfil multiple roles, as flood defense, nature reserve, and key visitor attraction.

Urban management and mobilising self-enterprise

What began as wide-spread public fear of increased congestion, lead to a decrease in the volume of private car-traffic and thus a more comfortable pedestrian street-scape. Resident and interest groups called for live transport simulations to be conducted and then set up campaigns to encourage that cars be left at home during the construction period. Seoul's City Council gave their support by putting travel info points and travel guides on the streets.

The city office marked out a new temporary parking lot at Dongdaemun stadium and connected it the inner city with a free shuttle bus. Street vendors, forced to move from the banks of Cheonggyecheon , relocated their stalls at the stadium, creating a new, unique market here.
Some congestion at the early stages levelled off due to full citizen support and cooperation. New roads, designed as one-way access routes, and the introduction of bus-only lanes has resulted in better traffic flow and the increased use of low-emission, public transport.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010 / By Astrid Svane

Last updated Tuesday, December 16, 2014