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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Tear down that Seoullo?

On Tuesday, Seoul announced that a MOU shall be signed on September 11 (!) between the city, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, and the National Architecture Policy Committee to elevate certain areas as 'national symbolic spaces'*. Among them, Seoul Station area. The Seoul Institute will complete a master plan for this problematic hub by October, and the removal of the highly controversial Seoullo 7017 is officially on the table.

I hope that will be the outcome, but more fundamentally, I hope that this time, the underlying problems will not be eluded but tackled, and I hope that this time, we will have a proper process with adequate consultation, consensus, and impact surveys (remember how PARK Won-soon rushed ahead of the elections, ignoring all red flags?).

If you follow this excuse for a blog, you already know that I'm not a fan of this urban and environmental nonsense (yes, environmental too: Seoul needs more natural biomass continuity and rich, water absorbing soils, not more thirsty plants isolated in flower pots... and certainly not sorted in alphabetical order, like in MRVDV's winning project).

You already know that the comparison with NYC's highline (itself inspired by Paris' Promenade Plantee) was a fallacy, that Seoullo should rather be compared to Cheonggye Highway, and that it chose not to solve the key issues (street level, railways...). 

You already know that maintenance costs were not sustainable, that visitor numbers started plummeting from the beginning, even before the pandemic, and that they keep decreasing. The expected failure is total.

But you also know that removing Seoullo 7017 will not solve anything by itself, that pedestrians need a safer way of crossing this sea of roads and railways, and that this concrete, steal, and asphalt sea can't remain a sea for much longer:


Seoul Station area and Seoullo 7017 (Naver Maps)

To say the least, Seoul Station's multimodal hub is very dense and messy. Tongil-ro, Sejong-daero, and Toegye-ro merge into Hangang-daero, with the Gyeongui Line and its sisters on one side, Huam-ro, and countless car and bus lanes on the other. Dedicated bus lanes have considerably facilitated pedestrian circulation on street level, and this thick ribbon may be further reduced into narrower, crossable axes. 

If going above ground failed and if the underground is saturated, there are possibilities.

Covering the railways remains high on the city's wish list, but this takes a lot of time and money. Seoul is considering moving bus transfers to the back of the station (which will have big impacts as well), and to extend walkways to prolong Sejong-daero's green promenade - I suppose with the necessary bicycle lanes - ultimately all the way from Gwanghwamun to the Han River (7 km).

Improving alternatives may reduce the flow of cars, and not just alternative routes beyond this area; alternatives that reduce the use of cars altogether. Quite a challenge in a multimodal hub already subject to bottlenecks at many levels...

What a fascinating urban challenge! One that calls for innovation instead of band-aids.

In any case, expect more Monday quarterbacking from yours truly.


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* I won't elaborate on this 'national symbolic space' concept, but Seoul Station clearly remains a cultural icon for the nation (entry point for many to the capital city, Gyeongui Line between Seoul and Sinuiju, Tongil-ro, KTX, Culture Station Seoul 284...).  

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