The former mayor of Seoul and last president of South Korea, Lee Myung-buk does not have too many environmental fans but during his term he was able to leave a lush, long green legacy to the residents of Seoul.
The story of Cheonggyecheon is a story of Seoul, beginning as a pristine free flowing river; to being dredged to prevent the growing population from floods; to a history of being used to dispose of waste; to a new cities embarrassing slum area; to a symbol of the machine age, covered in concrete with a six-lane raised freeway; to the current status of a tourist attraction and a world famous environmental example.
The restoration project began in 2002 and was completed in 2005. The benefits to the city have been numerous, including a dramatic drop in pollution levels. Better transit options were introduced to help with the dismantling of the freeway which has resulted in less people owning and using cars. The area around the stream is far cooler than before and the stream acts as a ventilation system for the city. The animal and plant life has been on the increase since its opening while the stream has become a tourist attraction, and a favourite break spot for city workers. On a sunny Monday lunchtime, the sidewalks were as busy as a shopping arcade on a Saturday.
There are claims that the stream is not as environmentally sound as it should be. Being a seasonally dry stream, water must be continually pumped everyday to keep it flowing. Also, the project only covered a small portion of the river system, of which the whole is in need of some environmental attention.
The landscaping of the stream has been done well. Lowered and walking amongst the greenery it is easy to forget you are in a city of over ten million residents. The path, scenery and landscaping materials change as the stream continues, with the bridges above creating shady rest spots beneath.
Eight years on from the projects completion it is still a radical idea to remove concrete and plant trees in its place. Cheonggyecheon may not be a perfect example but it clearly illustrates the many benefits of environmental restoration within a city.