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Friday, April 29, 2022

Seoul's Waterfront Renaissance

Seoul has always been defined by its most valuable environmental assets: its countless waterways, and the mountains that feed them. 

From the start, the capital revolved around Cheonggyecheon and its network of streamlets:

Nowadays, the Han River tells what's North and what's South, but waterways still account for 8.1% of Seoul's land (below in 2010):

After pouring concrete all over the place to tame the powerful Hangang and its tributaries, to stabilize unstable riverbanks, and to prevent recurring floods, the city has reopened its heart to its waterways, rediscovered them as leisure paths and environmental treasures. Following the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, the Hangang Renaissance, and the restoration of neighborhood streamlets, masses of humans, birds, and even fishes have flocked back to Seoul's watersides. Yes, more concrete was often poured in the process, but biomass keeps growing, embankments are often doubled with natural fish nurseries, and significant wetlands have been created.


Citizens are already very active along these waterways, thanks to all the infrastructure needed by strollers, cyclists, or workout maniacs:

But water level and street level are seldom seamlessly connected, and for good reasons: flash floods remain a constant threat, and these waterways help the city cope with extreme downpour. On such occasions, riversides must be evacuated immediately. Still, more citizens could spend more leisure time there, particularly when they crave for more free and cool open spaces.

More than a decade after his Hangang Renaissance project, Mayor OH Se-hoon aims at a 'Jicheon Renaissance' leveraging Seoul's 332 km of waterways. Not just with more hardware, but with more content and culture, a better connection to local neighborhoods and markets, More 'emotion', as part of an 'Emotional City' of the future vision.

Starting with 4 pilot projects along three streamlets (Dorimcheon, Jeongneungcheon, and Hongjecheon), with 2 more sites by 2030 (Anyangcheon and Jungnangcheon):

  • Hongjecheon will never fulfill its great potential as long as the Naebu Expressway disgraces it (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway"), and the pilot will focus on two spots: upstream at Hongjimun and Tangchundaeseong, midway at the artificial waterfall near Seodaemun District Office, with a place to have a drink.

  • Dorimcheon is more about the connection to the neighborhood and its businesses, with decks to make the transition and chill out:

  •  Jeongneungcheon will add a cultural layer through a new media art space:

Of course, all this requires water, particularly since the city intends to make these shallow streamlets a bit deeper (from a very thin 10 cm to a more significant 30 cm). So backstage, there's a lot of work to improve water and waste management. 

Today, 18 streamlets including Cheonggyecheon are actually fed with water recycled from the Han River, and climate change has spectacularly dried up the whole nation. Even if I knew Seoul experienced very few precipitations last Winter, I was stunned to see in a recent treck up Bukhansan, how parched soils were. But the only time water streamed by was magical:

As usual, I guess we'll have more imperfect, odd spaces requiring some improvement in further iterations. But overall, Seoul keeps democratizing access to quality time and nature, even if that's in not so natural spaces.

Seoul Village 2022
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