The Seoul city government started reconstruction of the Gwanghwamun Plaza on Monday despite the backlash of civic groups. The essence of it is to remove the road on the west of the plaza where the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts is located and cover it with grass and thousands of trees. The roads on both sides of the plaza will be replaced with the road on the east side, where Gyobo building is located, after it is expanded to seven to nine lanes.
The Gwanghwamun Plaza constructed in 2009 loses accessibility as it is surrounded by busy roads. Many would see the reconstruction necessary as more citizens would be able to spend time in the plaza when the construction is completed in 2023. Still, pressing ahead with it despite many unanswered questions such as whether it is appropriate to make a plaza that symbolizes the country itself asymmetrical seems hasty.
The reconstruction project has been controversial ever since Seoul City announced its plan last year. “I will gather public opinion to decide on the time and direction of the project,” said late Mayor Park Won-soon. It is rare to push the most representative plaza of a country to one side. Civic groups are also against the project which would push the plaza toward the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts which has some half the passenger traffic of the east side of the plaza. But the City of Seoul announced an amended plan in September after Mayor Park Won-soon died and began construction. It also lacks logical reasons and social consensus as the city is pushing ahead with the incomplete plan to change the structure of the plaza that represents Seoul when a by-election to fill the current vacancy in the mayor position is only five months away.
The plaza is the center of the Korean Peninsula, not just a park. Considering the symbolic meaning of the plaza that represents the city’s history, Seoul City must come up with the best solution with which not only citizens of Seoul but also all citizens of Korea can agree. If they continue with the project with just because they started it with same-old complacency of government officials, taxpayers would have to pay 79.1 billion won again for the plaza whose construction cost 75 billion won in tax money 10 years ago. A long view and perspective that look 100 years into the future is a prerequisite to come up with an appropriate blueprint which all citizens agree with. To reduce bigger social confusion and cost, the city should stop the construction now and start with the public discussion again.