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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gyeongui Line Forest Trail - An Urban Lifeline

Recent news confirmed my hopes and fears regarding the new park stretching along Gyeongui Line (see "Busan Corner on Taxi-daero").

Don't worry, this is not another post about subway line extensions (even I grew tired of them!), but about the forest trail planted over the southern branch of the Gyeongui Line, the 107-year-old railway that used to connect Seoul with Pyongyang. Seoul city just announced that the 6.3 km-long linear park between Hongjecheon and Munbae-dong would be completed by the end of 2014.

Gyeongui Line Forest Trail
Overall, 6.3 km via Hongdae, Seogang, Gongdeok, and Hyochang stations
Nowadays, what you see in the unfinished sections often looks a bit like this...

... but ultimately, we shall see this thin "coulee verte" from above:

  • Here, we're at the beginning of the park, where the Gyeongui Line splits in two (after Gajwa Station): aboveground along Seongsan-ro towards Seoul Station, underground along Yeonnam-ro towards Yongsan Station. You can clearly see at the top of the picture the elevated Naebu Expressway covering Hongjecheon (about that, see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway"), and the hills of Yeonhui-dong's Gungdong Park. The park cuts through Yeonnam-dong, with Gyeongseong school to the left:

Gyeongui Line forest trail at Yeonnam-dong
  • Now we're at the other end of the park, or rather the head of the dragon ("yong"), in Yongsan-gu. Actually, the street that passes between two apartment blocks on the bottom right of this picture separates Mapo-gu from Yongsan-gu. The main avenue bordering the park is now Baekbom-ro, here between Gongdeok and Hyochang stations. Note that Gyeongui Line's Hyochang and Yongsan stations will also open next year.

Some sections of the park have already been inaugurated, but it takes time for the vegetation to grow, and there are not many places to seat in the shade. So the 1.310 m-long initial stretch (Yeonnam-Hongdae) is not very crowded during daytime. Lined with cherry trees, the 630 m-long section between Sogang and Gongdok stations, not far from Sogang University, looks more welcoming and decorated for the moment... but 'sullae-gil' style (expect a lot of signs and storytelling).

For the moment, the most exciting parts may be around Wau Bridge / Wausan / Donggyo-dong / Changjeon-dong, precisely because they have not been fully 'edited' yet. Don't get there if you're the Cheongdam-dong kind of Seoulite.

  • Once you've passed the airport line exits, you can enjoy some really creative graffitis along the fences (unfortunately, also less enjoyable and creative tags on private homes):

Walls have eyes too. near ,

  • On the other side of Wau Bridge lies a very unique Hongdae neighborhood. Of course it's evolving very quickly, but not as quickly as the rest of Hongdae: here, time seems more suspended. Like in Kim Jin-hwan's cult bakery, where you must not expect bread to be available every time you pass by. Like in these tiny houses, in front of which old timers wash their baechu for the gimchi. Like in this lost field, by the small street that crosses the path of the Gyeongui Line, where Seoul city grows the flowers that will decorate less forsaken neighborhood:

The line near . Here, flowers are grown for the rest of

What will it look like one year, two years from now? Probably sanitized, gentrified. Hopefully more open to other neighborhoods, and full of life, kids, and bicycles. I come there on bicycle, but both sides are hilly and that's not very convenient. On the other hand and as you can see, the path of the covered line is very flat, so once the trail is opened, people can join from far away, breeze from one neighborhood to the other. Life will completely change for people who are used to live in the middle of nowhere. 

If my wishes have been fulfilled, so have my fears of seeing more soulful parts of Seoul disappear. As expected, my Busan Corner is closed, and my "Taxi-daero" is already starting to morph into something different. I'm mourning that beautiful Chinese restaurant on Baekbom-ro, next to Hyochang Park Station; an exceptional building, and an architectural heritage that would have added something very special to the trail...

But don't get me wrong. Above all else, Seoul is reclaiming wastelands and barren areas for the enjoyment of all its citizens, and that's fantastic. Just like for Cheonggyecheon or Gwanghwamun Plaza, planners won't get it right from day one, and they'll have to fix bugs that could have been avoided in the first place, but Seoulites will come to love a place they didn't know existed.

Seoul Village 2013
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