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[2015] Mayor’s Speech

  • Urban Regeneration: Making the City Healthy and Prosperous, Returning the City and Its Administration to People

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    Press Briefing on ‘Seoul Station 7017 Project’

    Date January 29th, 2015 | Venue Briefing Room, Seoul City Hall

    It is a great pleasure to be here today. I would like to talk to you today about urban regeneration, which has been suggested as the key to urban prosperity, health, and sustainability in the cities all over the world. In particular, I would like to introduce you to the Seoul Station 7017 Project, which will mark a new beginning for Seoul urban regeneration. I will also announce our plans to actively communicate more widely with citizens and various sectors of our society.

    At the 6th Seoul mayoral election, I declared that Seoul should move towards more urban regeneration. I promised you to make the Seoul station overpass, the symbol of Seoul urban regeneration, from a road to a street, from a space to pass by to a space for citizens to enjoy.

    I will now tell you in detail about the progress of our discussions so far, the current status of concerns, and the future we will create together with citizens. Please don’t spare any of your candid advice, and help us carry out the Seoul Station 7017 Project along with the citizens of Seoul.

    The Seoul Metropolitan Government has long been contemplating regional revitalization centered around Seoul Station. Discussions on the Seoul Station overpass have been happening since 2006. The overpass has rapidly deteriorated as the city experienced the glory and shame of the last 45 years of development.

    In December 2006, it was rated D in a safety assessment, and was slated to be demolished. In 2008, it was decided that an alternative bridge would be built, and the overpass would be demolished in connection with northern station area development. However, in January 2014, as the concrete floor dropped, its safety was seriously questioned even further. The overpass has expired. Reviewing its demolition, I asked an old question again: Is demolition the only way? Can we not try urban regeneration like other major cities in the world?

    We determined that we could regenerate it through experts’ review on its structural safety, design, and profitability. As I mentioned earlier, I pledged to regenerate Seoul Station Overpass at the sixth election. I applied this promise to my four-year plan of municipal administration. In September 2014, I presented the measures to regenerate the overpass in the High Line in New York, one of the representative best practices of urban regeneration.

    I am well aware of the concerns of the vendors in Namdaemun Market and the residents in neighboring areas, including Jungnim-dong and Hoehyeon-dong, which citizens and media have pointed out in the process of discussing the measures to regenerate the overpass. In response, we have developed diversified efforts to seek solutions together, such as interviews with the Namdaemun Market vendors and residents in the surrounding area, debates with citizens, experts’ forums, briefing sessions, and idea contests. There were, without a doubt, many difficulties; the last expert forum was cancelled by the strong protest of citizens. However, we know from experience that it is critical to listen more closely to these opposing views. We know that listening to various views from different perspectives is the best way to find an answer. An answer found in this way guarantees efficiency and sustainability of the administration. We held meetings constantly with district representatives, the district mayor, city councilors, and the vendors and residents, whose livelihood is directly related to the project, and we will continue to do so.

    We identified some key issues based on those communications. Many brought up problems in communication and were concerned about different problems, including traffic and safety. However, above all, they pointed out a lack of communication. We will humbly accept the criticism regarding a lack of communication, and going forward we will keep our ears open to your voices. For example, we held the New Year Sun Rise Festival with Mayor Choi Chang Sik of Jung-gu, and on that day, after eating tteokguk (Rice Cake Soup) together, we had a meeting to intensively discuss this with other staff of Jung-gu Office as well. We will continue to meet, report to, and consult with them.

    We will strengthen citizen-oriented communication. We will operate a citizen’s committee, and open a decision-making system to local residents, citizens, experts, and the relevant gu Office, and prepare suitable measures according to the results of those communications. For example, the civil society/youth network organization organized the overpass walking group, and they planned and participated in Seoul Station Overpass events open to citizens as well as the idea contest. They are expected to play an important role in producing, sharing, and spreading citizen-led content, including taking the lead in negotiating with owners of nearby buildings. We will also conduct organic programs leading through overpass forums, overpass reports, and overpass festivals. I believe the more we address citizens’ cares and concerns about the overpass, the more advice they will give us. We will establish a citizen-led-and-participated model. We will operate a local field mayor’s office in Namdaemun Market and Hoehyeon-dong, and I will collect opinions from every field and level through policy debates and citizens’ debate forums in order to prepare and announce plans that are more specific by May 2015. We will communicate with experts as well. Through an international design competition, we will collect ideas of eminent specialists from home and abroad and use them as blueprints for the design.

    As you saw earlier, there are many eminent architects and specialists participating in the competition. Many people have various thoughts on the overpass, and it is true that some of them oppose the project. Let me tell you why, nevertheless, the overpass must be regenerated, what it means to Seoul and the life of Seoul citizens, and how it will be reborn.

    Cities in the world are proceeding towards the age of urban regeneration, with people in the center. In other words, the paradigm of cities all over the world is changing from mega-city to meta-city. Beauty cannot exist without historical memories. Seoul should be shifted from development to regeneration, as we need to preserve our memories. Beyond simply planting landmarks, values of sharing through solidarity will lead to better lives and urban values.

    Many cities in the world are pursuing urban regeneration, which is sustainable and people-oriented, beyond material-oriented urban development by reusing deteriorated and old existing facilities instead of demolishing them. The High Line in New York, which became a park from a closed urban railway, revitalized the nearby local economy. The Promenade du Paillon project in France made one third of a railway into a walkway. There is also the Low Line in New York, an underground idle space made into an underground park. It is not completed yet, but it will definitely become a new tourist attraction and a space for a better life in New York. In Philadelphia, the living viaduct project is regenerating a closed railway into a linear park. There are many more examples. Experts agree that areas where, through regeneration projects, walking is emphasized over driving have more of a chance to grow economically. Jubilee Walkway in the UK connects major landmarks in London, enabling travel between major tourist attractions within 10-15 minutes on foot.

    The Port Opening Way in Yokohama, Japan contributes to tourist attractions by utilizing the historical resource as a walkway. It connects the city, the sea, and the buildings as one. These overseas cases suggest significant meaning to us; based on them, I announced the policies of the sixth government last year.

    The sixth government of Seoul is implementing an urban generation project, including constructing paths leading from Bukhansan Mountain, through Jongmyo Shrine, to the Han River, thereby regenerating 22 neighborhoods around the fortress. It is also implementing projects for a walking-friendly city, shifting from a car-oriented to people-oriented city. Seoul Station Overpass is therefore a part of a larger policy. We will paint a big picture of urban generation customized to Seoul, connecting Seoul Station, a gate of Seoul, to neighboring areas. Once the overpass is regenerated, it will be a medium that sensibly connects Seoul Station, Namdaemun Gate, Myeong-dong, other cultural spaces, and Seoul City Wall.

    Seoul Station is one of our cultural heritages. What memory of yours does the station hold? It is where our siblings and parents came from the countryside and took the first step only with a desire to live a better life in the 1970s. I myself came to Seoul with a bag in my hand in the winter of 1973. This is where the citizens’ desire of democratization exploded in 1980s. It is a key location of Korea’s modern history and a gateway to Seoul, symbolizing the modernity of Seoul.

    However, the station was isolated in the end. You are already well aware that stations in European cities have been integrated into the cities and have become part of their urban history. Seoul Station, however, is isolated like an island, and neither its historical influence nor its potential with 390 thousand users a day can penetrate into surrounding areas. The inconveniences of travelling between the station and other areas are causing cultural ruptures and decline. It takes a minimum of 25 minutes, including three signals and six crossroads, to travel from Seogye-dong through Seoul Station to Namdaemun Market. Disconnection between those areas by Seoul Station is a serious issue.

    Tourist attractions in Seoul such as Myeongdong, Sungnyemun, Namdaemun Market, Yakyeon Catholic Church, and the Bank of Korea are not generating any synergy due to the disconnection from the station. Plans for district units in Seogye-dong, for the site of the National Theater Company, and Seosomun History & Culture Park are all being carried out separately. It is time to change. We are in dire need of recovering the station’s identity and integrating disconnected urban spaces in order to turn the station into a medium of integrated regeneration that includes the surrounding areas.

    It is time to use the Seoul Station overpass as a signal of regeneration and prosperity for nearby areas. People gathering through the overpass should stay and become the economic and cultural energy of the station. That energy should spread around the neighborhood. The overpass, constructed in the 1970s, will be given a new life by urban regeneration in 2017. In the time of the modernization represented by industrialization and democratization, it will open up a way to a sustainable future and a new age. That way will be a way for people. It will be reborn as 17 paths for people that stay and exist instead of an old road for cars passing by, as it was in the 1970s. The overpass has a more attractive height, location, and view than any other facility in any other city. The 17 meter-high overpass will stimulate urban regeneration, which will add value to the area.

    The 17 paths for people will be a new walking course for tourists, connecting history, culture, and shopping around Toegye-ro, Hangang-daero, Seoul Station Plaza, northern station areas, and Malli-dong. In connection with this, we will revitalize Namdaemun Market and northern station areas and regenerate underdeveloped areas, including Jungnim-dong. To find a new energy for the area of Namdaemun Market, which is in decline, we will establish a master plan for comprehensive development by 2016. I have secretly visited Namdaemun Market and have thoroughly looked into the area. At this rate, it is only a matter of time before it declines. It needs change, regeneration, and revitalization. We will regenerate and revitalize the market, which is currently in decline. Around Toegye-ro, more people will stay and fewer cars will pass by. We will adjust lanes to secure more space to use as parking spaces for tourist buses and other vehicles for business. All this will greatly benefit the vendors of Namdaemun Market.

    We will revive the six bus lanes that were removed after the overpass was rated D level and operate new airport buses to the area. We will greatly increase public transportation, including city tour buses. We will bring more people to the market. As for the underdeveloped areas, we will promote regional indigenous industries and actively support district unit plans, and we will remove the garbage truck garage in order to establish a master plan of development for the Seoul Station area.

    The garage spoils the sight of Jungnim-dong, smells bad, and gets a lot of complaints from the neighborhood. If this problem is eradicated and this place becomes a foundation of artistic activities, it will transform itself into a brand-new area. Seogye-dong has a magnificent view of Namsan Mountain, but it is deteriorated and aged. In connection with Seoul Station, it needs a change, a new concept. It accommodates the site of the National Theater Company, but is not benefiting from that due to disconnected traffic. The Seoul Station overpass will bring about completely new changes. We will thoroughly review the measures to revitalize the disaster prevention industry in the area. As for northern station areas, the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Korail, and private corporations will establish a cooperation system to grow the area into the hub of the downtown MICE industry. We will create another MICE complex along with the international complex in Yeongdong area.

    The regeneration of Seoul Station Overpass will increase the number of pedestrians and expand connectivity between Seoul and its neighboring areas. It will connect buildings with Namsan Mountain, and revitalize the local economy. A new vegetation belt is also expected to be created.

    According to the validity survey conducted by Seoul Institute and the Korea Planning Association in 2014, its economic efficiency is 1.83, meaning that the likely profits are bigger than the costs. Through the overpass, the walking environment will be improved from Seogye-dong to Namdaemun Market, reducing the travel time to 14 minutes on foot. Then, more pedestrians will walk the area and bring about an increase in sales in the market, in Myeongdong, and in Malli-dong Cultural & Historical Street. Also, a green network will be created through Namsan Mountain, Deoksugung Palace, Inwangsan Mountain, and Yongsan Park. Currently 60% of the cars using the overpass simple pass by the area. To prevent traffic congestion expected due to regeneration of the overpass, we will prepare a preliminary guide system on detours. We will also construct short detours. We will reinforce main roads connecting the east and west by reforming Jungnim-dong and the Yeomcheongyo Bridge intersection and redistributing the lanes on Chilpae-ro. Moreover, in connection to the northern station areas, we will construct a variety of traffic measures, such as bridges crossing railways. As for the deteriorated overpass, we will replace the concrete floor and repair and reinforce it with pillars to turn it into a safe overpass. We will also review countermeasures to prevent accidents.

    Seoul Station Overpass has unlimited potential. It can be used for a variety of purposes, like street performances and events, reading, sledding, or simple healthy living. We will make its regeneration happen together with citizens. We have already collected a great number of ideas from citizens, and the master plan for operating the overpass will be established by May. We will continue to share and communicate. Cities in the world are choosing urban generation as the way to prosperity, health, and sustainability, instead of focusing on external development. This project will trigger a new development as well. We will start with the “Seoul Station 7017 Project,” and we will return the city and its administration to people. That will give all of us a new energy.