|Seoul More Enjoyable For A Day - A Lifetime
The 514-km Han River that runs through the centre of Seoul provides a welcome respite from the concrete jungle of the city. Pix: Lat Zaharah Abd Mutalib
By Lat Zaharah Abd Mutalib
SEOUL, June 5 (Bernama) -- Seoul City Mayor Oh Se-hoon feels inspired whenever he passes by the Han River.
What affects his mood is not just a gentle breeze or the view of the water, but the vision he has always had as a citizen of Seoul and now its mayor.
Wide, expansive green spaces, people enjoying leisure activities on the water's edge and newly built residences whose design seamlessly blends into the natural environment.
Today's Han River is a testimony of Mayor Oh's efforts and achievement over the past two years since taking office in 2006. He has focused his attention and efforts on aspects such as culture, design and environment, all to support his administration's goal of making Seoul a more attrative city for residents and visitors, with a better quality of life.
After taking office, Mayor Oh founded the Seoul Design Headquarters, and empowered it with the mission of transforming Seoul into a world design leader.
WORLD DESIGN CAPITAL
His first success in this area has been the naming of Seoul as the World Design Capital 2010 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), which will highlight Seoul's design capabilities and urban environment to the worldwide audience.
At the signing ceremony (March 17, 2008), ICSID's representative explained that Seoul was selected because of its cutting-edge IT background, full support for the development of the design industry and efforts to pursue innovation in public design by recruiting a design director for the city.
This demonstrated Seoul's potential as well as its determination to recast the city as an attractive destination for people from all over the world.
The selection of Seoul, Soul of Asia, by ICSID reaffirms what residents have been witnessing for some time - the transformation of Seoul from a function-oriented city to a place where design is a critical element for sustainable development.
Torino, Italy is the first city in the world selected for the honour, and will served as the World Design Capital 2008.
REDESIGNING PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
As a prelude to wearing the mantel of World Design Capital, the city will hold its own international design festival, the Seoul Design Olympics in October, with more than two million people from around the world are expected to attend.
With the Seoul Design Olympics and ICSID recognition, Seoul is well on its way to becoming one of the top design-oriented cities is Asia.
A major part of these efforts also include redesigning Seoul's physical environment to be more user-friendly. This includes every aspect of urban life, from better signage and lighting at night, to redeveloping and revatilizing key areas around the city.
A good example of this is Dongdaemon Stadium, Formaly home of Korean baseball teams. This location in the shadow of the bustling Dongdaemun fashion market will be reborn as a design Plaza and Park. The project is expected to cost about 227 billion won (US$246 million).
World class designer Zaha Hadid, is developing plans for this design centre, slated to complete by 2010. Zaha Hadid, born in Baghdad in 1950, is the first female recipient of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, architecture's aquivalent of the Nobel Prize, in 2004.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government invited eight world famous architects to transform Dongdaemun stadium and its surroundings area into a large-scale park and build a design complex to boost the local fashion and design industries.
Mayor Oh, in cooperation with Seoul Design Headquarters has also announced plans to standardize public design and information signs by May, as well as making Seoul's natural resources more beautiful and accessible.
"The 21'st century is the era of design. Now Seoul is becoming a "soft city" where design is being considered as a critical value and a fundamental culture, in contrast to its previous harsher look. This change will make Seoul as a better, growing brand name which attracts attention from all over the world. Seoul's effort to recast itself go much further, the city government is pushing to put Seoul on par with other cities known for incorporating good design into their city planning.
Authorities will no longer authorize builders to construct domino-like apartment complexes. From now architects will have to employ their creative skills to draft blueprints for structures that are in better harmony with their surroundings and include more creative elements.
THE HAN RIVER
Seoul like many other major metropolis, has a large number of skyscrapers, which can sometimes makes it look cold and imposing. However running right through the city is an abundant natural resource - The Han River.
This 514-km long waterway runs through the centre of Seoul and more than 1.0 km wide, provides a welcome respite from the concrete jungle.
The strategic importance of Han River and its surrounding area has been well documented throughout Korean history since the period of Three Kingdoms, when the Goguryeo, Baekje and Shilla Kingdoms, all struggled to acquire this area from one another.
More recently, Korea's successful industrialization of the 1960's and 70's was often referred to as "miracle of the Han River" which introduced it to the world.
During the nation's modernization process, the river emerged as a boundary, with the eastern and southern sections of the city growing much more rapidly than the western and northern sections, thus causing problems achieving the city's goal of balanced development and integration.
Although the Han River was always a visible presence for Seoulites, it was not always easy to access. However, as Korean society continued to develop, the importance of green spaces and leisure activities began to increase.
Green spaces started to spring up on the river bank and on the island of Youido, which sits in the middle of the river. Now, it is common to see people running, biking, or just sitting on the grass.
Still, there is not very much green space in comparison to the overall city in comparison to other major cities. So, to truly bring Seoul up to global standards, Mayor Oh created the Han River Renaissance Project to emphasize the river's natural aspects and make its environment and cultural attractions available to every citizen.
Historically, development along the Han River has been very pragmatic and utilitarian. Concrete banks were put up in the 1960's with the primary goal to control the river, not the enjoyment of the outdoor environment.
Under Oh plan, the concrete will be eliminated with new green, eco-friendly banks running along 76 km of shoreline. In addition, he also plans to create natural-friendly parks around Youido, Gangseo and Amsa.
Previously people have had to pass through undergrounds tunnel to see and enjoy the river, which was not only inconvenient but also limited the number of visitors. These underground passages will now be replaced by a new Green Way which will allow easier pedestrian access in the Nanji and Jamwon areas.
Seoul city will also provide free shuttles and bicycle in areas where public transportaion is limited, to allow everyone to enjoy the riverside. And to ensure that the change is lasting, the government is encouraging smart development of older residence on the river, as well as creating eco-friendly guidelines for future development.
Oh plans include developing a new landmark on Nodle Island. Located in the middle of Han River, Nodle Island overlooks both the North and South sides of Seoul. The Han River Renaissance plan calls for the construction of cultural complex including the Opera House, art gallieries, theatres and other facilities.
There are 27 bridges that span Seoul's Han River to traffic use. One is a double-decker bridge - the top level is the Banpo Bridge, and the bottom is called Jamsu Bridge which is just two meters above water surface and sometimes floods in the summer during rainy season.
Oh plans to make Jamsu Bridge pedestrian-only and to add in a large-scale water fountain, dubbed "water garden" to create new sightseeing spot in the city.
GREENER AND FRESHER SEOUL
Before becoming the youngest mayor in the city's history, the 45-year old former lawyer demonstrated his deep commitment to environmental issue, both in private practise and as a member of the national assembly.
When he started his career as a lawyer, he took one of the first nation's environmental cases, to keep smaller city buildings from having the sun blocked out by neighbouring skyscrapers - in Korea, the case literally translated to the "right of the public to enjoy sunshine." Learning from this case, Oh began to get more involved in environmental issues and organizations.
Oh's involvement helped him win a seat in the national assembly, Korea's Parliament from 2000 to 2004, where he played a key role in regulating air pollution limits to clean up the quality Seoul's air. Now as mayor, Oh is more dedicated than ever to environmental issues.
To reduce air pollution in the city, Oh will change over seven thousand of Seoul's diesel engine buses with natural gas by 2010.
The city of Seoul also come up with a number of programmes to encourage citizens to participate in improving Seoul's air quality, including a "no driving day" - a sticker that Seoulites put on their car to indicate a workday on which they won't drive.
Participating residents receive privileges such as reduces toll and parking fees on the days they do drive.
Oh also plans to create a historical park in Seoul's large green areas of more than a million square meters, once the US Army based in Yongsan is returned to the city. Oh's plan not only helps create a huge urban oasis right in the middle of the town, but also sidesteps the controversies with the local business or residential district.
In addition to this huge park, Seoul has already opened the Seoul forest to the public and plans to add more small and medium-sized green zones around Songdaemun, Guor, Jungrang, Amsa Historical and Biological Park and other location in the city.
With Oh's strong commitment to environmental friendliness, Seoul is trading in the grey skies for green parks, all for the betterment of the residents.
The restoration of Cheonggyecheon stream and the creation of green belts around the capital have helped pump fresh air into the city making it an even more pleasant place to live.
CREATIVE CULTURAL CITY
Another notable element is the City Hall's plan for "Creative Cultural City" which include the creation of a new tourist belt in Seongbuk-dong - the traditional enclave of the wealthy and powerful, that boost several cultural assets including a retreat villa used by the Jason royal families.
The city which has been searching for its unique charm found the answer in culture and has come up with a masterplan that will form the base for making arts and culture natural part of Seoul.
The masterplan unveilled by the Mayor early this year, that aims to reinvent the capital city as a city of culture by 2010, composed of 10 core projects - projects which will include the development and promotion of specialized cultural zones, creation of space for artists endeavours, restoration of history and creation of a design city.
Aside from building the necessary infrastructures, the city plans to provide financial assistance to artist and cultural projects through the creation of a 50 billion won (KWR100=RM0.31) art fund by 2010.
This according to Mayor Oh is to bring up the city's international brand value from the current 44th placing ranking to the top 20 and also boost its tourism competitiveness from the 31st place ranking to the top 20. The plan is also expected to contribute towards accomplishing the city's goal to attract 12 million tourists to Seoul.
"A city without culture will be shunned by tourist and foreign investors. When a city is clothed in culture, the value of the products made in the city will go up, the number of tourists will swell and foreign investment will increase."
While he may not see the results of his efforts fully come to fruition during his current tenure as mayor, Oh still believes that his efforts will be fundamental to Seoul becoming a world-class city that people from all over the world can enjoy, whether for a day or for a lifetime.
And he just continue focusing on what he has done over the past two years - quietly laying the groundwork for improved cultural and environmental amenities to improve life of Seoul.