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Removal of overpasses

Posted March. 16, 2013 07:22,   


The first scene of “1Q84,” the bestselling novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, starts with an overpass packed with cars. Aomame, a hired killer, gets stuck in a cab on her way to assassinate a man known for inflicting domestic violence. The taxi driver tells her of an exit that will get her to the ground. When she walks down on emergency stairs, she faces an unfamiliar world different from what she saw a few minutes ago.

Like the Sangen Jaya overpass in the novel, many overpasses are in Tokyo. Fast-passing cars on the overpasses supported by giant concrete pillars in the backdrop of high-rise buildings are reminiscent of a future city in a fictional movie. Japan built many overpasses to ease traffic congestion in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In Korea, many overpasses were built across the country from the end of 1960s, but many are now being removed starting with the overpass over Seoul`s Cheonggye Stream as part of the stream restoration project. If no traffic congestion was the top priority in the past, Koreans now value more quality of life such as views and beauty of the city.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Thursday announced it would remove the Ahyeon overpass in Seoul, the first of its kind in Korea. The 989-meter-long, four-lane overpass was built on Sept. 19, 1986, but authorities decided to remove it because of the danger of collapse due to aging and repair costs of 8 billion won (7.19 million U.S. dollars). The city in 2002 removed 15 overpasses starting with one in the Dongdaemun district. If the Ahyeon overpass is removed in June next year, Seoul will have just 84 left.

Residents used to complain that the empty space under overpasses was often used as illegal parking lots or space for unloading construction materials. They grumbled about the dark and shady space getting in the way of development. The Seodaemun district office in a survey of residents found that 36.6 percent were most satisfied with the removal of the Hongje overpass. Others, however, regret the removal. A writer who returned from the U.S. after a year said, “Whenever I see the rotary in Hyehwa, which no longer has an overpass, I feel like I lost a piece of my fond memory.” The rapid disappearance of Korea`s legacy of fast industrialization is a trip down memory lane.

Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (mskoh119@donga.com)