Five years ago, Seoul, South Korea demolished the Cheonggyecheon Freeway, an elevated highway running through downtown, in a move critics called “crazy”. The results have been nothing short of beautiful. Is there a lesson for other cities? Via Grist:
What he and his colleagues accomplished — tearing down a busy, elevated freeway, re-daylighting the river that had been buried beneath it, and creating a spectacular downtown green space, all in under two and a half years — is nothing short of amazing, not because it actually worked (there was plenty of evidence from other cities to suggest that it could), but because they were able to get public support for it. It’s the stuff urban planners dream about — not to mention a timeline for a major freeway project that would make Seattle drool.
By the early 20th century, as Seoul was burgeoning into the megacity of 10 million it is today, the river was bordered by a slum and used as a dumping ground, resulting in an eyesore of polluted water. As Dr. Hwang said, “sometimes it was blue, sometimes black, sometimes red.” It seemed a logical decision, then, to cover it up and build a freeway over it in the 1950s. By 1976, the four-lane elevated Cheonggyecheon Freeway — similar in form to Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct — was standing as a symbol of successful industrialization and modernization of Korea.
What followed, however, was not only traffic, pollution, and the decline of downtown Seoul — which the river and then the freeway ran through the heart of — but also decades of horrible luck that befell a succession of Korean leaders. Some were shot to death, others imprisoned for bribery. It became known as the “Cheonggyecheon Curse.”
Fast-forward to 2001. As Dr. Hwang said, “some crazy people got together” and dreamed up the project. Hwang developed a traffic model to see what would happen if they took out what was considered a vital traffic artery carrying 168,000 cars per day.
The results were nothing short of spectacular. The pictures tell the story better than any words can. In place of a blight-perpetrating freeway, the mayor created an astounding public amenity. A 3.6-mile linear, green river park that beautified downtown Seoul and gave its residents a spectacular setting in which to walk, splash, linger, and truly enjoy the city.