The old Cheonggyecheon stream was originally a stream, then central road, then elevated highway that ran through the center of the city. The restoration project from 2003-2005 was complicated and difficult (as one could imagine), from redirecting traffic from the major highway (!), to restoring bridges in the Han river, to pumping the tons of water to actually fill it up. Compare it to the Big Dig in Boston…
Somehow, Seoul managed to pull it off, and it is one of the most beloved public places in the whole city. Families, couples, friends all go there to stroll along the river walk. When I was there it was filled with holiday lights.
Knowing what I know now, it’s problematic that the design makes no reference to the environmental consequences of pumping water from the Han river. It could have gone farther in bridging awareness of urban ecology instead of masking the complex engineering that makes it function. But the value of properties in its vicinity has increased double the amount of other areas in Seoul. It brings people outside and brings them together, where families, couples, seniors, and tourists all mingle in a vibrant public space. And of course, it has brought great joy and pride to its citizens, right in the center of the city.
While I was there, it really struck me that Seoul is very committed to providing comfortable public spaces to its citizens. In small, unexpected places, like the bathrooms of subway stations or inside department stores, there are often sitting areas that are designed to provide a resting place within the busy city. The 27 bridges that cross the Han river are lit up every night, and there are light shows for major holidays and celebrations. Even the bus system is well-organized and clear (!). I was amazed to see so many resources devoted to the pleasure and convenience of its citizens. It was a special place to visit, and I hope to go back soon.