The Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project: The Restoration of Environmental, Social & Economic in Seoul

The Cheonggyecheon river is a historic river that divides Seoul into 2 parts. River stretches from north to south with 23 tributaries spread almost all over Seoul. To overcome some of the problems that previously occurred there, one of them is flooding caused by deforestation, Cheonggyecheon Stream finally decided to be covered and made into arterial roads also the elevated highway in 1961.

However, 4 Decades after the construction of this road, seoul experienced severe traffic congestion. In addition, the air quality of Seoul is also bad that due to increased air pollution caused by the increase in the number of vehicles from day to day. It is already very disturbing residents of Seoul. In terms of technique, The Korean Society of Civil Engineering also find some damage on conventional roads and elevated highway that would endanger the user if left but the costs are very high to be fixed.


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Finally, after a long debate and the voting results showed that nearly all citizens of Seoul approves this restoration, the project began. Lee Myung-Bak, Seoul’s mayor at the time was the person in charge of this project. He had promised this restoration in his campaign. Without waiting for a long time, Lee immediately began the project in July 2003 and was completed in October 2005.

Cheonggyecheon River is divided into three parts, namely urban, urban-natural, and natural landscaping. Urban area is the area of the river that is often used for various festivals with 2 main attractions, namely the ‘Spring Tower’ and Candlelight Fountain. While urban-natural is a transition area. And the last one is natural landscaping which is an area for a variety of plants and animals to live. This area is also expected to be a place of interaction between nature and humans. Within this project, two pieces of historical bridges, the Gwanggyo and the Supyogyo also restored.


Cycling and walking is the things promoted by this river. In addition, the government also introduced Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Seoul community which its facilities and infrastructure had started since March 2003. This bus can be used easily by the people of Seoul by using a card. Naturally, this bus will be also integrated with other transportation like subway. The government also reduced the number of parking places that makes people difficult when they bring their private vehicles to the city center. All of this done by the government to attract people to use public transportation so that the use private vehicles can be reduced in number.

The total length of the restored area is 5.84 km with an area of approximately 1,000 acres. This whole area has been turned into a green belt that very beneficial for all citizens of Seoul in every aspect. Restoration spent over US $ 367 million with the social cost worth $ 1.900 million. But after all the construction complete, seoul expect to get social benefits equivalent to $ 3,500 millions.


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From several sources, it is said that the the restoration of Cheonggyecheon river gave a great effect on environmental aspects, social and economic. In environmental terms, the Cheonggyecheon stream can prevent flooding in Seoul with estimates to 200 years ahead. Increasing biodiversity that had been lost to 639% starting from 2003 when the construction began to 2008 when the construction completed. Plant species increased from 62 to 308, fish species from 4 to 25, aquatic invertebrate species from 5 to 53, and insect species from 15 to 192, Mammals from 2 to 4, and amphibians from 4 to 8. Reduce the heat of the city to 5.9 degrees Celsius and increase the wind velocity in the river corridor to 7.8%. Reduce air pollution by 35% also noise pollution. Restoration also reduces the use of fuel because 170,000 cars had stopped to use every day.

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In social terms, this restoration improve the quality of life for the citizens of Seoul. In the presence of Cheonggyecheon river, Seoul residents have a public space and green space that can be used to socialize among residents. With two historic bridges that were restored, the lantern festival and bridge stepping on Supyogyo Bridge could be held back, of course along with several other festivals conducted around the river. Restoration is also contributing to the increase in the number of bus riders to 15.1% and the subway to 3.3% in the period of 5 years between 2003-2008. Become a new tourist attraction that brings 64,000 visitors daily. Also, Nature, historical sites, and the Cheonggyecheon Museum become a valuable source of knowledge for the citizens of Seoul.


From an economic perspective, the increase in business up to 3.5% within 1.2 km of the Cheonggyecheon corridor. Price of property within 50 meters of the river also increased up to 30-50% which led to single-family house that used to be there has been turned into a high-rise residential, commercial-retail, and mixed units.

However, from the all the remarkable results from the restoration of Cheonggyecheon stream, the criticism is certainly still there. The first criticism comes from their who have impairments in visual and mobility. According to them, the design from the restoration is not thinking about their needs so they are difficult to access this place. Other critics talk about the ecology from the the river which considered fake and costly. This is due to the water in the Cheonggyecheon river water pumped from the rivers and groundwater reserves around so that the river still able to flow throughout the year. With this activity, it can be Seoul will run out of their ground water reserves in the future and imagine the money that  spent to turn the pumps in a long time. On the other hand, local residents will not be able to buy property along the river again because of the increase in the price of property that occurred.

Of all the criticism, there is one criticism that attract my attention. This criticism comes of the merchants who sell around the river in the past. Before of restoration, the area was famous for its retailing shop. However, after the of restoration done, some of the stores must be willing to close due to there shop was on track of restoration. Although their stores were not on track of restoration, after the restoration completed, the merchants was no longer able to pay the rent which was so high after the price of property increase. This project affected approximately 6000 of merchants scattered around the area of the river.


All merchants represented by Cheonggyecheon Merchant’s Commercial Rights Protection Committee (CMRPC) did large protest to Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) which reached 220,000 protesters. Finally, SMG promised to give a solution in the form of providing a place to do business called “Garden Give” and giving a sum of money as compensation. However, in fact, after the Garden Give completed, the venue could only hold 40% of total number of merchants and only 28% of them could buy the place because of the high prices due to the increased of the land price. Of course, the rental price was also high. Therefore, many merchants were not able to rent there while the compensation money given by the government was not in accordance with their needs. Finally, some of merchants decided to move to the other side of the city or quit the business.

Business also did not run as expected for those who could afford to rent in Garden Give. The changes and rearrangements of the city around the area  makes it difficult to reach by car. Thoughts on the number of pedestrians who could be a potential buyer was also not proven. It is because every pedestrian who goes there has a cultural purposes when their visit the area after the restoration, rather than commercial. Cultural promotions conducted by the government succeeded in growing economical Dynamism in the city, but not to the traditional commercial activities which had previously occupied the site. Now. Is it the real economic restoration?

From all of this explanation, we can see that any change will never satisfy all the parties. Certainly there are those who feel the great loss of those changes. Like a happiness on the suffering of others. It all depends of which side we see. Indeed, it is good if a change provide benefits to all the parties without exception. However, if these changes would be detrimental to some, but the positive impact is so great for many people, would we still carry out these changes? What do you think?

3 thoughts on “The Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project: The Restoration of Environmental, Social & Economic in Seoul

  1. Hello Tony, so impressed by your post. The Cheonggyecheon river now is one of the iconic constructions in Seoul. It appears almost every movies and dramas made by Korea, I think that represents many residents in Korea are very proud of it. Compared with other high rise buildings as a landmark, the Cheonggyecheon river as a urban natural view attracts a lot of visitors, which drives economic development, besides, the river brought a pleasant place to walk, stay, and play for, that made Seoul as an more interesting and livable city.
    As you mentioned, not every design can have all the benefits. The housing price, the not so satisfying economy, and the crime still remains, but in my point of view, the benefits are way more than the drawbacks, and that pattern of urban development should be learnt by the designers ourselves.

  2. Hi,Tony.This is one of my favorite urban reconstruction projects. This reconstruction project is widely concerned by people, and has become a starting point to reshape the urban image of Seoul, bring a new development opportunity for Seoul and the government of South Korea. Although this project does not solve all contradictions perfectly and in a coordination manner, and a lot of people have negative opinions on the reconstruction of Cheonggyecheon River, it is still significant in humanity, history and ecology etc., which reflects that the government and people of South Korea improve the urban economic energy while paying more attention to the friendliness to ecology and environment and harmonious coexistence between man and nature, as well as emphasizing the design concept of inheriting and extending the traditional regional culture.

  3. Hello Hifzani Hidayat,

    Good to read your pose, I would like to know the original author’s name so that I can quote it in my master thesis. Is this article wrote by you or you were reposing it from somewhere else? can you tell me the source of this article in the latter case?

    I like your blog very much, it is interesting to see urbanism students from other universities sharing their minds and interests in different fields of urbanism. I am doing my master at Delft University of Technology, in Netherlands. Maybe we can cooperate in writing someday. looking forward to hear from you.

    Best wishes,

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