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Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Today, Korea Joongang Daily published more details on the "logic" behind the revolting U-turn made by Seoul and Jung-gu on what used to be a model urban improvement; the district decided to let tourist buses destroy the once scenic Jeongdong-gil:

"Asphalt mars palace walkway's scenic charm" (Korea Joongang Daily 20131127)
Seoul gives in to tourist buses, covers Jeongdong-gil with asphalt. Buses should have been banned instead

Jeongdong-gil is the street crossing Jeong-dong between Sejongdae-ro and Saemunan-ro, or rather between Deoksugung and Donuimun - a neighborhood also very rich in history for foreign communities. 

The winding stretch along the palace walls accomodates only one narrow lane that leads to a small roundabout (Seoul Museum of Art's main branch, Jeongdong Cheil Church, path to the US Embassy's residence). The second leg goes both ways, and hosts among other theaters Nanta, a major venue. In the morning and in the evening, sessions often collide with drop-off / pick-up times for the local girls schools, most notably Ewha, provoking maddening traffic jams. On exam days, the video game reaches a new level, with herds of zombie girls crossing the street, their eyes glued to worn out textbooks.

And I'm not even counting the police buses lined in front of the palace: over the past few years, Daehanmun has become a demonstration hotspot, culminating in the Ssangyong Motors saga (200 cops guarding every night a few square meters to prevent further occupation).

Nanta is not even 100 m away from Saemunan-ro, the maximum one has to walk from either end of Jeongdong-gil is 450 m, and this is one of the most pleasant walks in the city.

From the start, buses should have been banned from this street and this roundabout, but you sometimes see six to ten of those waiting for their shows to end. Even before the latest changes made to the street (street stones removed, driveway widened by 50 cm), they already killed Jeongdong by their sole presence.

Jeongdong-gil rehabilitation in 1998 followed the destruction of the Japanese Government-General Building (1995-96), and preceded other spectacular changes in downtown Seoul (Insadong 2000, Seoul Plaza 2004, Cheonggyecheon 2005, Gwanghwamun Square 2009, Gwanghwamun 2010...). Each revival had marked a triumph of urbanism and pedestrians over the Car Almighty that had disgraced the capital over the XXth century... and now this.

Exposing an embarrassing lack of vision, Jung-gu and Seoul have surrendered to the tourist industry by destroying an acclaimed touristic asset instead of working on solutions that are sustainable for both.

I've already insisted on the importance of addressing bus issues in a city that's still not used to coping with millions of tourists. Some efforts have been made, for instance to prevent buses from running their engines when they're parked (generally for heating / cooling purposes), but little to alleviate traffic and to deal with growing lines.

Simply put: no tourist bus should be allowed to park outside of bus-only parking spaces, and instead of multiplying those downtown, more discreet (and preferably underground) lots should be created at a reasonable distance of the main tourist hubs. 

And since, as we speak, all buses come from South Korea (unlike in Paris, for instance, where the DMZ has little effect to block foreign fleets), they can all be equipped with tracking devices to monitor the traffic and control abuses. Typically, no tourist bus should be allowed in Seoul and particularly within "Sadaemun" (historic center) without a proper system.

Seoul Village 2013
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