A couple of months ago Seoul announced that they will transform the two-lane overpass at Seoul Station into a public green space. Role models for that project are the High Line in New York and the Promenade Plantée in Paris. On October 12th the overpass opened for pedestrians. It was the first time since the opening, some 44 years ago, that people were allowed to walk on the overpass. I visited the event and enjoyed a nice walk through one of Seoul’s most promising urban development projects.
I got off at Chungjeongno-Station (subway line 2 and 5), which is a five-minute walk away from Seoul’s main train station. I didn’t know of this nice, lively area right behind Seoul Station. The citizens from that area will benefit the most from the project because they will be able to walk easily to Namdaemun and an influx of tourists may result in new business opportunities.
For the event three entrances were possible. At Namdaemun market was the main entrance to the event and two entrances were behind Seoul Station. I entered the overpass through the southwestern entrance.
It was a great feeling to use infrastructure, which is usually only for cars.
I think that it’s the first time that I saw this skyline:
It will be a great place for trainspotters in Korea. The picture above shows an incoming KTX and later I saw the DMZ train and some other trains.
To the north you can see a lot of street space and in the background is Namdaemun:
There is no pedestrian crossing at all in the picture. If you get off at Seoul Station and you want to walk to downtown, you have two options: First, you can pass through the transfer center, which includes two traffic lights and a total distance of 380 m. Seond, you have to go underground, which is shorter but you have to use the stairs or take an elevator. The overpass will add one more alternative for pedestrians, but going over the road is only slightly better than an underground passage. It would be great if the development of the overpass is combined with some traffic calming on the ground.
The view to the south shows the old and new Seoul station, the transfer center and the Seoul Square building:
The next pictures shows that the overpass is very close to the old station. Recent news revealed plans to use the old Seoul station as a live theater. I would love to see a physical connection between the overpass and the building as long as there aren’t any big structural changes to the historic building. For example, the rooftop could be integrated and turned into a green space with a cafe or restaurant.
In general, it will be very important to increase the number of access points. It has to be universally accessible. The road is up to 17 meters above ground. Elevators and stairs (escalators?) have to be added and integrated well into the overpass. A big issue are the fences. Now they are pretty weak and everybody (even a small child) could climb over them or lean against them and fall down. The fences have to be improved but they also have to look nice.
Still it would be somehow nice if certain elements of the current overpass would be incorporated into the public space. For example the Dongdaemun Design Plaza kept a stadium light tower from the baseball stadium.
When I’ve arrived, the parade just finished.
Besides the parade, I also missed the protest group. On various places along the overpass there were banners against the permanent closure of the overpass. But the banners didn’t contain any argument except that it will disturb the traffic. But as we know from other examples, traffic will only get better.
Similar to the event at the Ahyeon overpass people were encouraged to draw on the road with chalk. It’s a way to interact with the overpass and show the joy of a public space for all ages.
The picture above also shows that the overpass is pretty wide. I didn’t expect much space from two lanes but these are two wide lanes (in total around 10 meters)! That’s enough space for a nice park.
That is the entrance from Namdaemun market:
Around 13,000 people walked over the overpass on that day. People could send in names for the future park and express their opinion about this project. However, I believe that the majority of people, who went to the festival, will be very positive about the change.
That’s the other entry (from the western side). On that road there was a small flea-market and some food stalls but nothing too big.
At first, I had a lot doubts about the idea to transform that certain overpass to a public space. Of course, the idea is really great but the geographical setting is different than for New York’s High Line. The area is mainly commercial (Seoul Square, Namdaemun market, Seoul Station). But after exploring the neighborhood behind Seoul Station, I got a positive impression.
Seoul published a first concept, which is more or less a 1:1 copy of the High Line. The purpose of that concept is just to show what is possible. Seoul will probably have a design competition to find a master plan for the public space. The Wall Street Journal Blog believes that it will become Park Won-soon’s signature project and he might even run for president in 2018. So it’s very important for him to do it right.
The area has more potential than I imagined and I believe that Seoul can do it even better than New York or Paris. It’s very important to include the public, esp. the residents and the owner of businesses in that area. It is an opportunity for them! The goal is to complete the project until 2016. There are no information about the exact date of closure or how much it will cost.