It took close to two years for a stretch of concrete road and elevated highway roughly 6km in length to be dismantled from over the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, South Korea. After the project was completed, however, the waterway situated underneath was able to breathe again for the first time in almost half a century, as the river once again saw the light of day. Since Oct. 1, the river has brought in countless numbers of tourists.
On a similar note, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has recently announced a plan to restore a stretch of Xinsheng South Road running from Xinyi Road down to Heping East Road to its former glory, and expose the old canal system in preparation for the creation of a "Little Venice." So what can we learn from Seoul's experience?
The Cheonggyecheon River is the major waterway in Seoul, and it has a rich history, which is in evidence in old paintings and carvings on stone pillars around the city. The project demonstrated that culture can bring in the crowds. By restoring the historical face of the city and strengthening the links between past and present, the city has boosted its claims to greatness and history.
After four or five decades of use the Cheonggyecheon elevated expressway was becoming a bit of a safety issue, and sorely needed to be renovated. Most people who actually used the road were in favor of rebuilding the expressway, as was borne out by many public surveys conducted on the issue. The Seoul city government, however, had different ideas and wanted to pull down the expressway to make use of the river that still ran underneath. The scheme has not only reduced air pollution in the area, it has also encouraged more people to use the city's subway and other forms of public transport. In under 12 months, public approval for the project was as high as 80 percent.
Taiwan is by comparison backward in its approach to transportation. One example of this is the Huanhe Road project that is to follow the course of the Xindian River in Taipei County. Despite years of public opposition, both Taipei County and the Ministry of the Interior's Construction and Planning Agency are still hoping to build the elevated expressway. It does beg the question whether incessant construction is seen as the only indicator of political achievement in this country.
In the future, after old canals have been restored to their original state, there may well be implications for the transportation system. However, as we have seen from the Cheonggyecheon example, we have to move beyond the old mindset of continuously building roads and encouraging the escalation of private car ownership -- especially in these days of high petrol prices and the Kyoto Protocol -- and strengthen our public transportation system. This would bring so much more to our capital city.
The significance of the Cheonggyecheon project goes deeper in the implications it has for a new approach regarding the nation's rivers. Taiwan's eater laws focus mostly on flood prevention and other matters related to natural disasters, and are not really concerned with the value of aesthetics and the living environment. Apart from a very small number of areas, rivers in Taiwan are hidden behind massive flood walls or buried underground. This has an enormous impact on the ability of Taiwanese people to take pleasure in riverside environments. The Cheonggyecheon project is a great example of the value of such projects, for the advantage to the community greatly outweighs short term political benefits and administrative achievements.
Chiau Wen-yan is a professor at the Institute of Marine Resource Management at National Taiwan Ocean University.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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