Contrary to NPotW’s debut, this week’s edition kept me within the Seoul city limits. In fact, it took me to downtown Seoul. Near City Hall is Cheonggye Square, the starting point of the recently restored Cheonggyecheon (cheon meaning “stream” in Korean). The stream played an important role in the city even before Seoul was designated the capital of Korea in the 14th century, but by the mid-20th century, the stream had become so polluted, citizens’ biggest concerns involved the spread of disease from seasonal floods. To prevent flooding as well as to implement more urban infrastructure, construction began to cover the stream in 1968. Eventually the flowing stream became a bustling concrete skyline that accumulated traffic, which got so bad and ironically necessitated further construction of an overpass expressway.
In 2003, then-Mayor Lee Myung-bak announced a restoration of Cheonggyecheon, envisioning a place “where the citizens bask in happiness as they enjoy the beautiful natural environment as Mother Nature intended it to be.” The project stretches for almost seven miles before meeting the Han River. Now a visit to Cheonggyecheon is a simultaneous trip to the past and to the future. Whether they’re looking for one of the newest sights in Seoul or just a break from its concrete sprawl, people can walk along the stream that once ran alongside the earliest dynasties in Seoul but now carries the city’s hopes for a cleaner urban culture.
Fortunately and unfortunately, it was snowing more than I had expected when I made the trek downtown to Cheonggye Square. The dusting of snow added a magical “winter wonderland” feeling to the lights of the stream, but the frigid temperature kept me from staying too long. Here’s what I saw before my toes fell off. Click the thumbnails for the full-sized photos.