‘Before and After’ – Public space transformations in Korea

Public Space Transformation in Korea

This is a guest post by Yuval Fogelson. He is an urban designer, based in São Paulo, Brazil, currently working at Def Projetos, an architecture office specializing in urban projects, and also one of the founders of Urb-i group, focusing on inspiring transformations of public space to more pedestrian friendly.

Yuval is from Israel, studied architecture in TU Delft, The Netherlands and Master of Urban Design in University of Sydney, Australia. Between 2008 and 2010 he lived in Seoul, working with urban projects in the Korean Architecture office Space Group.


Before After project – Urb-i

The ‘Before After’ project started as a way to show to people from outside of the planning and architecture field, in a very clear and simple way, that the public space is in constant transformation and that it is possible to change it for the better. Furthermore, that it is being done all over the world, and in that sense becoming common practice.
One of our main goals is to inspire and ‘open the eyes’ of people, we hope to make it clear that it is a necessity to make cities more liveable and pedestrian orientated. We try to help form the opinions of people in the discussion of the transformation of the public space, which after all belongs to all of us. We think that the ‘Before After’ project is a powerful way to do so, seeing that it is really getting a lot more attention than we could have ever imagined when we started the project.
Furthermore, Urb-i is planning to propose some transformation projects in São Paulo, where we are located, and focus on the realization of these projects. We hope to inspire other groups around the world to do so as well, demanding better cities for all of us.

The Urb-i project is done jointly by its members: Yuval Fogelson, Carolina Guido, Fernanda Mercês, Roberto Gentilezza, and Rodolfo Macedo.

Gwangjingyo Bridge

Gwangjingyo Bridge in Seoul (Urb-i / Daum maps)



Impressions of living in Seoul

When I lived in Korea, I was surprised by the constant change in the physical environment. Shops and restaurants would constantly open, close or be renovated to update their look. Whole neighbourhoods were systematically torn down and completely rebuilt in lightning speed into mass housing, with complete public space, landscape design and commercial establishments functioning as soon as construction ends. I was also surprised by the improvement of public spaces everywhere with areas being transformed to more pedestrian friendly spaces. I was fortunate to accompany the transformation of the Hangang River with the ‘Hangang River Renaissance Project’, and got to see how it was before (2008) and after (2009-2010), in just a short period of time. I also saw the Gwangjingyo Bridge being transformed into a pleasant pedestrian green bridge, a very inspiring project.

Finally I even got to see some major infrastructural flyovers being torn (for example: Toegye-ro) down from one day to another and replaced with leveled intersections with pedestrian crossings (previously only possible underground), like the Eulji-ro / Namdaemun-ro crossing.

Luckily, I remembered many of these examples and could use them in our before-after project.


Before – After examples in Korea

First of all, an important aspect of the ‘Before After’ project is that we use google streetview to show our examples. In Korea’s case this would be difficult because google only did one ’round’ of images in 2009-10. However, I was already familiar with Daum maps, which also has a very good streetview feature (road view) including many back photos dating from 2008. So in the case of Korea, the before-after images use Daum maps.

I would loosely categorise the transformations of before-after images we found in Korea into four groups:


1. Recovery of rivers – inspired by the world renown transformation of the Cheonggyecheon stream, it seems that it has become a trend of reverting avenues that cover rivers and streams into an avenue with a sunken central separation where there is typically the stream with a continuous pedestrian path and vegetation, forming linear parks in the city.

Suwon cheon in Suwon

Suwon cheon, Suwon (Urb-i / Daum maps)

Anam-ro and Seongbukchoen in Seoul

Anam-ro / Seongbukchoen, Seoul (Urb-i / Daum maps)


2. Pedestrianisation and shared streets – streets like Myeongdong-gil and Hwaseomun-ro in Suwon, where the surface is levelled and the pedestrian share the space with cars. There are other good examples of shared streets like Gwangbok-ro in Busan, but this transformation has been done before 2008 where photos are available on streetview, instead we show Haeundaehaebyeon-ro 265 beon-gil a pedestrian street leading to the beach in Haeundae, Busan.

Myeongdong-gil in Seoul

Myeongdong-gil, Seoul (Urb-i Daum maps)


Hwaseomun-ro in Suwon

Hwaseomun-ro, Suwon (Urb-i Daum maps)


Haeundae Road Busan

Haeundaehaebyeon-ro 265 beon-gil, Busan (Urb-i Daum maps)


3. Major infrastructural changes – many flyovers have been removed, since the early 2000’s. This opened views, for example in Toegye-ro to Namsam Mountain (view not in picture below) and in Inchon-ro to the river. There are other examples which are not included in the project like the well-known Cheonggyecheon elevated highway, Ahyeon overpass, Hyehwadong Rotary, or an old example of the Samgakji Rotary, the Seoul Station overpass also is set to be demolished. (More information in the Seoul Solution site)

Toegye-ro in Seoul

Toegye-ro, Seoul (Urb-i Daum maps)


Sincho-ro Ahyeon Overpass in Seoul

Sincho-ro, Ahyeon, Seoul (Urb-i Daum maps)


Inchon-ro in Seoul

Inchon-ro, Seoul (Urb-i Daum maps)



4. From built form to public space – these include public spaces that are located where once was built form, like for the example of Sewoon building which was demolished as a first stage to make way for a public square. Another example is of Yulgok-ro, Dongdaemun where some buildings were demolished for the extension of Dongdaemun Wall Park.

Sewoon Sanga in Seoul

Sewoon, Jongno, Seoul (Urb-i Daum maps)


Yulgok-ro, Dongdaemun in Seoul

Yulgok-ro, Dongdaemun, Seoul (Urb-i Daum maps)


Korea and worldwide perspective

As an urban designer that lived in various parts of the world, I can say that urban design and planning in Korea differs from many countries especially in the speed and innovation. The transformations in Korea, for good and for bad, follow a top-down approach with decisions being made in local government and district level, or even national level. There appears to be some community participation, but the speed in which the projects are being executed clearly indicates prioritisation of fast tracking projects.

This can be considered advantageous for the fast construction of major infrastructure projects like metro lines for example. Maybe China, with its centralised planning approach, can approve and build large scaled projects even faster. However, if we compare with most developed countries, these types of projects pass through many obstacles before being finally built, often not in the original layout.

Regarding the construction of new neighbourhoods or ‘New Towns’, as they are known in Korea, it seems that there is a blanket approach of large scale demolition for the purpose of ‘modernisation’ and again a fast track path to project completion. This obviously also has far reaching social implications, other than only urban. In many other countries, it is almost impossible to wipe out complete neighbourhoods and build new ones with a complete different typology. While working in Korea, I had the chance to participate in similar urban renewal projects, and it was very difficult to maintain most of the existing structures or elements. Something very interesting that I learnt in the design process is that there were pre-defined urban guidelines and a very short time-span to design the whole project. This led to design results usually using similar urban typologies and masterplan layout. The projects were all-including, so called ‘turn-key’ projects that the developer hands over to the city housing company as a finished project including infrastructure and total landscaping. This is again very different from many countries which have a more piecemeal approach on a ‘plot by plot’ basis, often building the infrastructure separately from the buildings.


Final thoughts

Something that would be interesting to see changing in future projects in Korean cities, would be a more bottom-up consideration in urban projects.

Finally, what can we learn from the vast number of examples from Urb-i’s ‘Before After’ project worldwide, compared to the Korean examples?

The top-down approach, allows there to be greater cohesion in the greater urban projects, including the integration of public and private which is redeveloped simultaneously and with greater interface. We can also see that there are more innovative projects like transformation of bridges and recovery of rivers which have in my point of view symbolical significance and can be inspiring for other changes. For example, the Cheonggyecheon stream project has served as a source of worldwide inspiration to making cities more ‘people friendly’.

For Urb-i, it would be interesting to do a ‘Before After’ Series of transformed neighbourhoods, which goes beyond the transformation of public spaces, and would show the speed in which an existing neighbourhood transforms into something completely different.



Our ‘Before After’ project is a growing collaborative project where anyone can send us locations of examples, so please feel free to contribute and contact us on the Urb-i contact page. We plan to add many more examples in Korea and in the future we hope to improve the database and make it more accessible and interactive.


Seoul Public Space Projects

A map with ‘before-after’ locations in Seoul. Please contribute and send new examples.


About This Author

Kojects brings you the latest news about transport and urban projects in South Korea.


You can post comments in this post.

  • I had no idea there were this many stream revival projects in Korea! I wonder: are some of them full natural restorations, instead of the artificial one which was undertaken for Cheonggyecheon?

    Luke 2 years ago Reply

    • Hey Luke!

      I believe that the given example of Suwon is a real natural restoration. The Suwon stream begins in a lake in northern Suwon.

      Besides stream revival projects there have been also really many riverbed improvement projects. Yuval mentions in his article the Han River Renaissance project. All over the country (inside and outside cities) rivers got equipped with walking and cycling trails.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply

  • i thought my country indonesia should apply this.

    Tina 2 years ago Reply

    • Hi Tina!

      Google Maps has Streetview in Indonesia (mainly the Jakarta urban area), too. Maybe you can contribute with some before-after examples from Indonesia. There surely must be some!

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply

Post A Reply