Seoul Rediscovers Its Urban Waterways

The New York Times
wrote about the USD 384 million Cheonggyecheon waterway restoration project in Seoul, South Korea. During the pre-industrial era, the stream was a centerpiece in Seoul. However, The New York Times notes that it became an open sewer, “forgotten beneath a lacework of elevated expressways as the city’s population swelled toward 10 million.” With the restoration investment, the waterway has now been “liberated from its dank sheath and burbles between reedy banks. Picnickers cool their bare feet in its filtered water, and carp swim in its tranquil pools.”

According to the New York Times, the Cheonggyecheon waterway restoration project is an example of efforts to “daylight” rivers and streams by removing pavement, and commercial and automobile infrastructure. The idea is to use the inherent environmental value of the waterways to create parks — destinations within dense urban areas. “By building green corridors around the exposed waters, cities hope to attract affluent and educated workers and residents who appreciate the feel of a natural environment in an urban setting.” 

A number of other cities have pursued similar strategies. In New York state, there is a plan to revitalize the Yonkers downtown area by exposing 1,900 feet of the Saw Mill River. Singapore, and Los Angeles and San Antonio in the U.S., are also exploring using buried waterways “as assets instead of inconveniences.” 

The multiple environmental, social and economic benefits may outweigh the hefty price tag.

The environmental benefits are clear: “Open watercourses handle flooding rains better than buried sewers do, a big consideration as global warming leads to heavier downpours. The streams also tend to cool areas overheated by sun-baked asphalt and to nourish greenery that lures wildlife as well as pedestrians.” Other environmental benefits including improved biodiversity were actually quantified by the city government. “Data shows that the ecosystem along the Cheonggyecheon  has been greatly enriched, with the number of fish species increasing to 25 from 4. Bird species have multiplied to 36 from 6, and insect species to 192  from 15.” Furthermore, the project meant three miles of elevated highway needed to be pulled down, which led to decreases in nearby air pollution and reduced air temperature. “Small-particle air pollution along the corridor dropped to 48 micrograms per cubic meter from 74, and summer temperatures are now often five degrees cooler than those of nearby areas, according to data cited by city officials.”

With regards to social benefits, Lee In-Keun, Seoul’s assistant mayor for instrastructure, told The New York Times: “We’ve basically gone from a car-oriented city to a human-oriented city.” The city says some 90,000 pedestrians visit the restored waterway each day.

In terms of economic benefits, an analysis by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that “replacing a highway in Seoul with a walkable greenway caused nearby homes to sell at a premium after years of going for bargain prices by comparison with outlying properties.” While convincing local business owners tied to the existing streetscapes to buy-in to a re-designed waterway was viewed as challenging, “today the visitors to the Cheonggyecheon’s banks include merchants from some of the thousands of nearby shops who were among the project’s biggest opponents early on.” Now, the new waterway parks are also being viewed as drivers of local economic activity.

Read the article and watch a brief video. Also, check out the ChonGae Canal Source Point Park, Sunken Stone Project, which is part of the broader waterway restoration project, and won a 2009 ASLA Professional Award.

Image credit: Mikyoung Kim Design

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s