The Cheonggyecheon Citizens’ Committee was launched last March 23rd. As a stream flowing through the center of the city, the Cheonggyecheon has enormous effects on the lives of Seoul’s citizens. In particular, waterfronts are very important both in terms of the city’s ecology and citizens’ recreation activities. During the Joseon Dynasty, important urban facilities were located around the Cheonggyecheon, and neighboring countries recorded that the Cheonggyecheon was the embodiment of Joseon’s stream technology, attesting to the high standard of its engineering.
However, the Cheonggyecheon was covered over with a concrete flyover in more recent times, and most people forgot that it even existed. Former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak sought to address the problem, and had the concrete structures covering the stream dismantled in a project to fully restore and renovate the Cheonggyecheon. Most citizens rightfully praised the project, which they considered well worth the effort.
Nevertheless, the reconstruction process incurred various problems. It was too rushed, as people wanted a quick result. But even restoration of the smallest stream cannot be achieved so quickly. And this is the stream that once flowed through the ‘castle town of Hanyang’ and now flows through the nation’s capital, Seoul. In restoring the stream’s ecology, which bears the traces of our long history, we had no reason to rush this important project. But we were in a hurry. The result was an artificial stream where water has to be supplied by electricity. And that’s not all. The project was conducted without any proper investigation of the Cheonggyecheon’s status or a proper restoration plan. Many historical facts concerning its construction and management were ignored.
Last month, I walked along the Cheonggyecheon with some experts. Personally, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of tragedy about its status. Of course, we cannot restore it to how it was before because the waterway and the surrounding environment have changed. But I must ask: how different might it have been if we had properly restored the appearance and stream management technology of Hanyang’s (the former capital of Joseon) most proud urban stream? Without a doubt, it would’ve been registered as a UNESCO cultural heritage. And that’s not all. We abandoned the breathtakingly beautiful Supyogyo, Ogansumun, and Igansumun Floodgates. Many of our heritages were damaged without proper inspection and left abandoned on grassy sites of the Jungnang Sewage Treatment Plant. Some were moved from their proper locations and improperly relocated in inappropriate places.
Their proper restoration may now be impossible. Too much damage was caused by the last restoration project, so it may be too difficult to restore them. But we must do our best. I will not cease discussions with the experts. I will continue to ask questions about what’s possible now and what’s the best thing to do given the current situation. I intend to establish a proper restoration plan with the assistance of civilian representatives and experts in all fields after thorough discussions and proper inspection, so that we can restore the Cheonggyecheon properly. And it won’t matter how much time it takes.
Many cities in other countries have taken tens or even hundreds of years to restore one cultural heritage or build one new monument. Cologne Cathedral in Germany took 600 years to build. The construction of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain began in 1882 and is still in progress today. The great project of its construction has become a cultural heritage of the entire human race.
Our people have five thousand years of history. So what’s the rush and what’s to be feared? We are dealing with our heritage, which we must pass on to the next one thousand generations. So it must be done properly. Slowly, thoroughly, and beautifully! I will make it happen with our citizens.