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Car to people spaces
25 NOV 2020
Three ground-breaking projects in Seoul helped to reshape the city’s identity as one that places its people over cars. This case study looks at the motivations and processes behind these urban innovations, and the desired outcomes that the city has achieved.
An explosion in private car ownership due to Seoul’s dramatic economic development and rapid urbanisation in the 1990s led to traffic congestions and greater demands for car infrastructure, while threatening pedestrian spaces.
This case study looks at three ground-breaking projects that demonstrate Seoul’s boldness in shifting away from car-oriented transportation to people-centric spaces:
The Cheonggyecheon project (completed in 2005) saw the demolition of an elevated highway to restore the stream underneath and create a recreational haven.
The Yonsei-ro Transit Mall (completed in 2015) - the first of its kind in Seoul - is a pedestrianisation of a formerly congested area in Sinchondong with the vision to create a ‘walk-friendly Seoul’.
Seoullo 7017 (completed in 2017) is a lushly planted one-kilometre elevated walkway transformed from the former Seoul Station Overpass built in the 1970s to connect major areas around the main train station.
Deteriorating structures of the former elevated highway above Cheonggyecheon stream and Seoul Station Overpass threatened public safety.
The area under the elevated Cheonggye highway has turned into slums, prompting demands from citizens to restore the buried stream.
The Cheonggyecheon project was considered by city planners as part of a broader regeneration of the heart of Seoul, and a necessary critical step for sustainable development efforts and turning Seoul into a global city.
The Seoul Station Overpass and other overpasses in the city created an unpleasant urban landscape.
To better manage transportation demand in congested areas of the city, South Korea’s Ministry of Land and Transport initiated discussions as early as 2006 on developing ‘transit malls’.
Despite that the project was highly contentious during its proposal stage, the city leaders demonstrated political will to push through the project.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) established a triangular governance structure to manage conflicts with affected stakeholders.
Yonsei-ro Transit Mall
SMG created Yonsei-ro Transit Mall as a pilot to improve the public transport system and enhance the area’s walkability, with the site chosen for a variety of factors such as density of shops, volume of traffic and pedestrians, and parking spaces.
SMG then formed a committee comprising of six groups of public and private stakeholders to gather concerns about the project.
The Seoul Station Overpass was originally slated to be demolished in favour of a new traverse bridge, but the plan was replaced by converting the overpass into a pedestrian walkway instead, partly inspired by the success of New York City’s High Line.
The city set up a planning group to oversee the redevelopment of the overpass, and appointed an external expert – Dutch architectural practice MVRDV – as the master planner.
The city also established an Urban Regeneration Support Centre headed by a community planning expert to promote the project to residents.
The three projects were able to achieve multiple results as well as catalytic effects:
By demolishing the ageing highway and restoring the Cheonggyecheon stream, Seoul not only ensured public safety, but also restored the environment, preserved cultural heritage elements, and helped catalyse the revitalisation of the city’s north.
Yonsei-ro Transit Mall helped to enhance public transit experience and improve pedestrian areas, enabling a successful shift from private to public transit and benefiting a largely student population.
Seoullo7017 is not only an imageable representation of Seoul’s transformation into a pedestrian-friendly city, it also preserved the former overpass as heritage while creating connections to key areas around the city centre and giving a boost to the local economy.
Seoul also harnessed big data through TOPIS – its transport control centre, to provide 24/7 traffic monitoring and feed useful transport information to its citizens.
Cheonggyecheon attracts around 60,000 people every day, and a total of 180 million visitors in the nine years after its restoration, seven million of whom are foreigners.
The restoration of Cheonggyecheon served as a momentum for the city to take bold initiatives in reorganising its transport system, moving towards pedestrian-oriented transport. The subway use in central Seoul increased by about five percent.
The land price within 100-metre radius has also increased by 30 percent after the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, with office rents increasing by 20 percent, according to a World Bank Group report.
Yonsei-ro Transit Mall
Traffic accidents at Yonsei-ro decreased by 35 percent in a six-month period in 2014, compared to the same period the previous year.
The number of visitors from selected 10 bus routes increased by 11 percent from 54,000 people to 61,000 people from 2013 to 2014.
The number of visitors to shops located in the greater Sinchon area increased by 29 percent, while number of transactions and sales in Sinchon area increased by 11 percent and 4 percent respectively between 2013 and 2014.
Besides being a symbol of Seoul as a pedestrian-friendly city, Seoullo7017 is also catalysing its surrounding areas to become an international hub for tourism and culture.
Approximately 7.4 million people visited Seoullo7017 as of end-2017.
The project helped to increase urban biodiversity with approximately 24,000 trees comprising 220 plant species planted along the walkway.
Seoullo7017 improved connectivity around the Seoul Station with 17 entry/exit points, and more links will be built in the future.
It is important for cities to maintain the delicate balance between strong political leadership and inclusive governance. The public sector must understand the concerns of stakeholders and take necessary actions to alleviate negative impacts. Transparency and an effective leadership can help to communicate visions, build trust and resolve conflicts.
By placing the needs of people first, the city can help to reshape itself towards a more inclusive urban environment. These projects demonstrate Seoul’s determination to place people over cars.
A strong political will to devise unique solutions to tackle its urban challenges helped to shape Seoul’s identity as an innovative city. Cheonggyecheon, for example, is not only a new tourist attraction, but also a model example of stream restoration for cities around the world. O