Seoul keeps at the same time looking for more sustainable urban planning approaches, and doing more mistakes, because as usual in this city we tend to try a lot of things, but seldom after serious impact surveys. At least that’s far less boring than my other hometown Paris, where we tend to make decade-long impact surveys, but seldom do something else. As you well know, a Seoulite born in Paris, I tend to pile up useless bits on an ever changing cityscape. Here’s a batch on recent evolutions for Seoul pedestrians and neighborhoods, with the Seoul High Line project as a natural bridge in-between.
At the micro level, I really appreciate the recent multiplication of Ginza-style diagonal pedestrian crossings, which make life much more simple and safer for everybody. They de facto create temporary no-drive zones that can change a neighborhood without going all the way to car-free streets (e.g. Yonsei-ro). Pedestrians feel that they own the space, even if that’s not all the time; there are even permanent tattoos on the macadam to prove they do:
With diagonal pedestrian crossings, you don’t need to have a double PhD in statistics and physics to calculate the optimal path to reach point B alive
I am much less convinced by the project to create a vast underground pedestrian network connecting major Jongno-gu landmarks. That would signal a return to a car-centric past when pedestrians where parasites that had to move underground, like ants or termites, across downtown Seoul. I suspect this project to have something to do with the one I mentioned last fall, which would move Gwanghwamun Square sideways, and re-transform Sejongdae-ro into a highway (see “Gwanghwamun, Donhwamun, and the Tale of two Royal Roads”). In other words, back to square one, or rather back to Zero Gwanghawmun Square.
In the dowtown Seoul I discovered in the early 90s, pedestrians had to either use tunnels or aerial walkways to cross the major roads. And the Seoul High Line would somehow revive the latter.
Named after New York’s High Line Park, itself inspired by the Promenade Plantee of Paris, the idea gained momentum in April last year, partly because the city needed to compensate for the planned destruction of an old walkway that Seoulites had deserted because winos had claimed it most of the time.
Leaving a landmark in the capital is very good PR, and a tradition for French presidents in Paris: Pompidou and Beaubourg, Mitterrand and the Pyramide du Louvre, Chirac and the Musee du Quai Branly… Note that Giscard missed the opportunity and tried later to claim the Musee d’Orsay as his work, and that Sarkozy didn’t understand that he would have only one mandate (and that one building is easier to complete than a Grand Paris – Le Havre vision).
Leaving a landmark has also become a must for Seoul mayors eyeing a higher office: LEE Myung-bak had Cheonggyecheon (even if his greatest achievement was the creation of bus lanes), OH Se-hoon had Gwanghwamun Plaza (even if his greatest achievement was the revival of Sadaemun and the rebalancing of Gangbuk vs Gangnam, starting with the redistribution of taxes from the rich to the poor districts), and PARK Won-soon seems to be betting on the Seoul High Line.
Last month, Seoul citizens were invited to walk the line on a sunny Sunday afternoon – in other words: to vote with their feet in favor of the project.
Clearly, this walkway looks much better without cars. It is at the same time more scenic and less integrated to its surroundings than its NYC or Paris counterparts.
Covering the railways over a wide stretch would cost much more, but also provide a greater urban continuity. One thing is sure: if the taxi and bus corridors in front of the new Seoul Station have allowed the return of pedestrians at street level, the Toegye-ro – Tongil-ro – Sejongdae-ro – Hangangdae-ro intersection remains an utter mess, and with or without the High Line, it will require a complete and sustainable overhaul.
Originally posted at Seoulvillage.com