Last week, with the Jarvis Street lane reduction still front and centre, we looked at the big strides New York is taking in increasing its bicycling infrastructure and the amount of public spaces in the city’s busiest spots. This week, with Jan Gehl’s visit, the Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment and questions surrounding the city’s waterfront fresh in our minds, I thought it would be interesting to look at what’s been going on in Seoul.
In 2002, Mayor Lee Myung-bak of the City of Seoul (now President of South Korea) pledged to tear down their version of the Gardiner Expressway, a six lane elevated highway going right through the centre of the city. Yet unlike the Gardiner, which carries from 40,000 to 60,000 cars daily, the expressway that cut through the world’s seventh largest city carried approximately 160,000 cars a day. And unlike the Gardiner, which merely cuts off the waterfront from city, in Seoul, the motorway was built directly over the Cheonggyecheon river (means “clear valley stream”), which was paved over to first make way for a massive boulevard (like our Lakeshore Boulevard) and then an elevated expressway overtop for a total of 16 lanes.
This all took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, within a social and political climate far different to Toronto’s, yet nonetheless producing a strikingly similar product. Unlike Toronto, however, Seoul has now torn down their expressway and restored the Cheonggyecheon River to the city after citizens of the city approved the project in a vote. While Seoul residents were initially worried about traffic congestion getting worse and a loss of business, it seems that tearing down the expressway actually improved traffic in the city, proving what mathematicians and planners understand to be Braess’s Paradox.
The river was officially opened to the public in 2005, so I’ve collected a few articles and websites about the history of the river and its recent restoration. While not everyone is happy about the return of the river, specifically those people who were displaced or are currently excluded from riverbank (it isn’t wheelchair accessible), Seoul’s experiment in urban revitalization is being put forward as a model for other cities with expressways dissecting their downtowns.
With the Gardiner in mind and Toronto’s waterfront in the place of the Cheonggyecheon, should Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon redevelopment be a model for Toronto? How likely is it that Toronto will also experience Braess’s Paradox, which is said to be just as likely to occur as it is not to occur? Or what about reclaiming some of Toronto’s lost rivers with a similar project?
• Heart and soul of the city [The Guardian]
• Cheonggyecheon [The Vigorous North Blog]
• Saving Seoul [TIMEasia Magazine]
• South Korea Trades Dirty Expressway for Amazing 6km Greenway [EcoWorldly]
• Official Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project Website
• Cheonggyecheon Restoration in Seoul (the Beginning and After) [Yonsei University Korea]
• Daylighting in the heart of Seoul: The Cheong Gye Cheon Project [L.A. Creek Freak Blog]