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[Opinion] Seoul to Get European-Style Square

Posted December. 29, 2006 07:20,   


Old cities in Europe invariably have a big cathedral at the center with a square in front of the cathedral. A cathedral is a space for god, while a square is one for man. After Mass people came out and had small talk in small groups. They exchanged their opinions on what was going on in the world. That said, a claim that democracy in the west started from squares seems convincing. Napoleon, who conquered Venetia in the late 18th century, praised San Marco Square, now popular tourist attraction, as, “The most beautiful drawing room.”

“Square culture,” where people exchange their opinions, was difficult to blossom in Korea. It is true that Korea had a similar thing called “Sarangbang culture,” but it was not open to everyone. Only like-minded people got together and shared opinions. Koreans are not familiar with having discussions. The role of squares as a venue for discussion is diminishing because cyber space is taking their place. Instead, famous squares in many countries have turned into places for festivities and repose. A mere sight of an open green square in a forest of skyscrapers relieves the stress of urban life.

Seoul is going to have a square to speak of soon. The design of “Gwanghwamun Square” that will be situated between Gwanghwamun and Sejongno has been finalized. A square with 27m in width and 500m in length will be built at the center of the road that will be reduced in size significantly. The new square will be connected with Seoul Square and Sungnyemun Square, making it possible for citizens to take a walk from Gwanghwamun to Sungnyemun. This is a positive development because pedestrians rather than cars will be primary users of the street that represents Seoul.

A square simply means open space dedicated to sharing of opinions and human exchanges. Born after twists and turns, squares in Seoul, have shamefully been used in many occasions as places for violent protests and bitter fighting. It is worried that the planned square can be used for these purposes. Before the new square is unveiled to the world, democratic and legitimate ways of expressing one’s opinion need to be established. It is hope that the advent of Gwanghwamun Square serves as a starting point for “square culture” in Korea.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com