Saturday, May 22, 2010

Seoul Rooftops Go Green

Planting gardens on terraces and rooftops is definitely in the air, even in Korea.

Anyone can do some gardening but if you want to do things correctly, that's quite an investment. For instance, various technical layers are needed to collect and recycle water, or to prevent infiltrations. But that's definitely worth the effort : city can devote more space for nature, even at an artificial stage, and owners can significantly reduce charges in Winter and Summer - roofgardens provide natural isolation and air conditioning, and even help regulate urban microclimats.

Seen from above, Seoul boasts beautiful mountains and much more parks than it used to, including at the micro level (the multiplication of neighborhood gongwons being even more important than one Seoul Forest). But the proportion of green remain uneven and insufficient compared to asphalt and concrete. And as we recently saw, greenbelt areas are regularly mutilated by the Government for redevelopments.

Yet, at the rooftop level, change is coming :
- some do it because it's good for the image : green rooftops are becoming a 'well being' / 'ecofriendly' sales argument (ie The Gatehills town houses in Songbuk-dong). In Shinmunro, the ASAN Institute is at last timidly planting on its roof, which was perfectly prepared for the purpose.
- some do it because it's good for business : Ssamziegil set the pace a couple of years ago, and new constructions start adding mid-air gardens to dense urban jungles, using them as magnets to outdoor cafes (ie NOON Square in Myeong-dong).
- some do it on a large scale, for instance burying train tracks under a new park in Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, or covering Garak Wholesale Market in Songpa-gu with a a 131 acre 'ecodome' (the second project is really spectacular for anyone who ever visited that place full of life but also full of dust - see picture, courtesy Samoo Architects & Engineers).

Seoul Metropolitan Government recently announced it would invest KRW 11 bn to build 52,000 sqm of rooftop gardens by the end of the year, covering between 70 and 100% of the costs for public properties, and 50% for private properties (122 buildings in total). Of course, that's good for the upcoming elections, but that's consistent with previous operations (ie neighborhood parks, Dongdaemun Design Plaza), and for a noble cause. "Sacrificing" a house for a public garden is always better, but cannot be done as easily as increasing the market share of green on rooftops.

And of course, any citizen with a few square meters can make a difference. Many across the world are seizing the opportunity to grow their own veggies or even become beekeepers. A good way of spreading the buzz.

Seoul Village 2010

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