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[Op-ed] Skyline of the Han River

Posted January. 21, 2009 08:01,   


For travelers in London, the Thames River is a must-see destination. While walking along the riverbank looking at the grandiose Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, one can see London Eye, the Tate Modern Museum, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. In Paris, a slew of incredible sights are also located along the Seine River, from the Louvre to Notre Dame Cathedral. No one can boast of traveling Paris without riding a ferry down the Seine.

A city thrives with a river. It is natural for a city’s main facilities and organizations to cluster around a river, which provides a natural environment for urban dwellers and acts as the base of prosperity. This is why public edifices such as cathedrals, parliamentary buildings and art galleries were built and pedestrian paths were developed around the Thames and Seine. Though rivers belong to the public in all countries, luxurious houses and hotels mushroom in areas that overlook rivers and seas.

The situation of the Han River is a far cry from those of the Thames and Seine, however. The landscape surrounding the river was damaged during the city’s rapid economic development of the 1960s to 80s. The “miracle on the Han River” brought about nondescript riverside roads and a plethora of apartment buildings along the river. In particular, apartment buildings south of the river all look similar and face south. These buildings that look like matchboxes have created an insipid skyline. It is suffocating to look at the skyline of the Han, along which apartment buildings rise like walls. Worse, river roads restrict pedestrian access to the river.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced Monday a new urban development plan to allow developers to reconstruct old apartment complexes along the river in return for giving the city 25 percent of the construction plot. In the plot, the city government will create parks for citizens. Despite fears of real estate speculation, the well-implemented plan will help transform the landscape of the Han and reorganize city space. Though the New York skyline is dazzling due to many skyscrapers, it is not stifling because a lot of open spaces between buildings let pedestrians enjoy scenic views of the city. Hopefully, the new development plan will help return the beautiful scenery of the Han to city residents.

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)