In the past five years, Seoul has gone from one of East Asia’s ugliest mega-cities to one of its most livable and attractive. The transformation has been rapid. While I think Tokyo is often stunted by its autocratic government and urban planning, Seoul shows that East Asian cities can be dynamic and forward-looking.
On a visit last summer, I toured new city parks (the Cheonggyecheon river and Seonyudo island), visited art galleries, experienced the mix of old and cutting edge architecture, and met meta-designers, Seoul’s city brand manager, and a national environmental researcher.
On my way to Temple University, I passed the Sannohashi bridge, and realized that the river was almost completely covered by an elevated freeway. Later I learned the river is called Furukawa (古川), an extension of the Shibuyakawa.
The freeway destroys all the life the river could support, and also diminishes the value of the houses left in its shadows.
This is just one of many Tokyo rivers, canals and historic bridges buried by freeways. A hopeful vision of what could be is seen in the “daylighting” of Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon (Hangul: 청계천) river. As it is now, what remains of the river is a dead space created through poor planning.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Construction has a cool interactive map showing every bridge of this river, with photos of each bridge and the views upstream and downstream. And there are photos of this river during Edo, Meiji and contemporary times.
A great article in today’s New York Times about “daylighting” the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Daylighting refers to uncovering streams buried under pavement. Three miles of elevated freeway were removed, a plant-rich stream restored, and central urban land was converted from car-centric to people-centric.
- summer temperature reduction by 5 degrees Fahrenheit
- improved storm drainage, which global warming has worsened
- reduction in small-particle air pollution from 74 to 48 micrograms per cubic meter
- less auto congestion despite the loss of vehicle lanes
- bio-diversity gains include 25 versus 4 fish species, 36 versus 6 bird species, and 192 versus 15 insect species
- 90,000 daily visitors, including walking and picknicing
- higher real estate values for adjacent buildings
- political gains for former mayor, now South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (also formerly head of construction at Hyundai Corporation)
- restoration of the historic center of a 600 year city
Government officials and urban planners from Los Angeles, Singapore, San Antonio, and Yonkers have expressed interest in restoring urban streams. Sadly, the article did not mention anything about Tokyo, where most of its historic canals and rivers are covered by streets and elevated freeways.