In Toronto, connecting with our lost rivers means taking walks along the streets where they were buried. Talk about dismantling the Gardiner Expressway is just that, talk. In Seoul, South Korea, they managed to both dismantle an elevated expressway that cut through the city, and unearth the Cheonggyecheon, a river buried beneath it.
Just last year, Seoul’s municipal government spent $360 million to have the stream uncovered. Walking along the river now is like being in a real life version of one of those urban planning student’s thesis projects (see Chris Hardwick’s VeloCity, or Jose Gutierrez’s Toronto Waterfront Viaduct, an idea for the Gardiner Expressway.)
The Cheonggyecheon is now lined with walkways, art, historical plaques, and tall grasses. It’s sits below street level in a concrete ravine, with busy roadways on either side. It’s 5.8 kilometers long and at night it’s packed with people. Kids actually swim in it (apparently it’s kept that clean), and adults wade or sit along its edge with their feet in the water. Men walk up and down the water’s edge selling ice cream from boxes slung over their shoulders.
The river cuts through (one of the hearts of) of the city and each bridge that crosses it is designed differently. There and waterfalls and lights as well as stepping stones you can walk across at various points along the way.
According to one article on the river that I found on the web, Seoul’s Mayor Lee Myung Bak, made restoring the stream a major part of his election campaign three years ago. A one-time construction magnate and exectutive at Hyundai Engineering and Construction, he was actually part of the project to cover the river in 1961, but is now banking on the project’s popularity to help him out in his bid for president in two years.