In 2005, Seoul, one of the fastest growing global cities, did something our planners would not be able to even dream of. After consultation with citizens, it demolished a flyover and replaced it with a green corridor.
Like Mumbai, challenged by huge growth — 10.3 million, or 22 per cent of South Korea's population is in Seoul — the city had built flyovers for faster transit into the financial district.
But fed up with the road congestion and vehicular pollution, the city took a step back. Seoul demolished a 10-km-long, six-lane stretch of elevated road going into the city to reclaim the ancient Cheong Gye Cheon river, which flowed beneath it.
It then developed a 5.8-km-long green corridor in the heart of this business district by involving its residents.
“We often sat through 72-hour meetings locked inside the community hall with all stake holders, including shopkeepers who would be affected by the demolition of the bridge,” said Dr Gyeng-Chul Kim, senior advisor with the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “There was no getting out till we reached a resolution.”
Dr Kim, who was in Mumbai on Tuesday for a presentation on 'Seoul's challenges for Sustainable City' termed this one of his favourite projects. The project took off on the strength of “community participation”, encouraged by people who wanted green spaces. “There were 4,000-odd meetings with all citizen groups before the project was finalised,” he added.
A plan to rehabilitate shopkeepers was chalked out and parts of the old river embankment were preserved as demanded by heritage conservationists.
Youngsters and women were the main campaigners for the revamp, which took 27 months to complete.
Now, the waterfront hosts music concerts, art exhibitions, sports events, giving the city its much-needed open space.