TO BUILD an “Environmental, Integrated, and Cultural Campus,” the Baekyang-ro project was initiated on March, 2012 and ended on September of 2015, under the slogan of creating a “Green Place of Integration and Exchange, Communication and Culture.” The massive-scaled project has finally been completed, letting students relish the reborn Baekyang-ro at last. Baekyang-ro has been a central part of Yonsei University’s history as a place where memorable moments of Yonsei students’ lives on campus were captured. As so, the renovation of such a meaningful site itself has been a controversial topic among Yonseians. The new Baekyang-ro looks luxurious and neat from the outside. However, a question arises: does it still live up to its legacy represent its true meaning? About two months have passed since the completion of the renovation project and it is about time that we, as students, consider the true significance of the renewed Baekyang-ro.
Day and night, Baekyang-ro is more beautiful than ever. Students enjoy their leisure time around the renewed pathway, admiring its beautiful landscape during the day. The new Baekyang-ro presents students with a mesmerizing night view, as well. As the sun goes down, the campus reveals a new face as splendid lights shimmer among the darkness. Furthermore, after the construction, the Eagle Statue, which has long been a symbol of the school, has returned to the campus and into the hearts of Yonseians. Most importantly, students now enjoy the much safer and spotless , filled with green zones rather than piles of cars.
After the renovation, many franchise companies such as Starbucks and Paris Baguette have expanded into Baekyang-ro. Though students have mixed opinions about this, it is evident that the introduction of such franchises has increased students’ options for foods and snacks. Overall, with the renovation of Baekyang-ro, the underground area of the campus has finally been put into use, increasing space efficiency within the campus.
In order to eliminate cars from Baekyang-ro, Yonsei University has expanded parking space underground, adding 917 more spots for cars. Ironically, even though the parking lot itself is *in* the campus, Yonsei students are not allowed to apply for membership. This is detrimental considering that non-members have to pay 4,000-5,000 won per hour and pay additional fees according to a progressive scale system. Considering that it costs merely around 3,000 won per hour to park around the Sinchon area, the non-membership price is quite expensive. Professors, on the other hand, pay 10,000 won per month once they obtain membership.
Next to be seen along with the parking lots are other underground banquet halls and other facilities in The Lounge managed by Hanwha Hotels & Resorts. An anonymous employee of Hanwha has explained that “The underground facilities of Baekyang-ro are mostly used by faculty members rather than students.” She has further clarified that “students, too, can use these facilities if they pay the rental fee.” However, the rental fee is 2,400,000 won with no student discounts available, a price that is likely to be prohibitively expensive for ordinary university students.
The newly built ballrooms obviously for luxurious events and ceremonies are very grand and opulent. Inside the banquet room is a bride’s waiting room which, according to the Hanwha employee, is still awaiting the school’s final approval. The employee said, “The school has not approved this space yet because weddings held in campus will increase the number of outsiders on campus during the weekends.”
Out of curiosity, students would walk towards The Lounge, located at the very end of the hall where the ballrooms are lined up. However, they would soon have to turn around after discovering that it is a faculty lounge with nice and neat conference rooms exclusively for professors and school employees. According to the employee, students can use the conference rooms, but these conference and seminar rooms are hard to find because they are located in the far end of the faculty lounge. Moreover, in order to dine in the conference rooms, one must order from the course menu which costs around 50,000 won each. The cafeteria is open to students, too. However, the employee later admitted that “it is mostly used by faculty members, mainly professors.”
Furthermore, another employee explained, “We get permission from the school’s External Affairs and Development Department when running our business.” When asked if students, too, are involved in the process, the employee emphasized that “getting permission from the school has nothing to with Yonsei students.” In fact, one student said in an interview, “Personally, I feel as if the new Baekyang-ro is a complex shopping mall with Starbucks and other franchise stores. It appears to me as if Yonsei is doing some kind of lease business on the school ground.”
As Yonsei University chose to maximize the use of Baekyang-ro’s underground area, for what and how the new areas are developed is the main issue regarding the meaning of this whole project. However, for now, there is only a limited amount of space for students. Moreover, when asked whether if the school is planning to build additional facilities for student welfare, an anonymous employee of Hanwha replied, “The construction has already been completed and we do not have any plan in changing the purpose nor the usage of the facilities of this area.”
When the Baekyang-ro project was initiated, the 50th Students’ Union, Focus ON Story, agreed to it partly on condition that the school would provide space for students. The school conducted an official survey in March 2012, and students requested group study rooms, 24-hour convenient stores, lounges, parking lots, book stores and stationery stores, in order of preference. Furthermore, the results of a survey conducted in March by the 52nd Students’ Union Synergy, shows that an expansion of places for students such as classrooms, study rooms and other academic facilities are of the top preferences of students. However, Yonsei University stated, “Underground areas of Baekyang-ro cannot be allotted to a particular group or organization and therefore we cannot accept students’ proposal,” thereby disregarding the students’ needs and requests.
During the construction of the new Baekyang-ro, Yonsei University students had to cross the dusty, dangerous, and constantly changing road every day to get to class. Students were also inconvenienced by the loud construction noises and the lack of places to rest outdoors after the benches in front of the Student Union Building were removed. Nevertheless, Baekyang-ro, which was made by the sacrifice and sweat of many, seems unsatisfactory. It is full of facilities that are too lackluster to compensate for all the costs, delays and impositions of the construction.
* * *
The history of Baekyang-ro can be traced back to when Professor Miller and students of the Department of Agriculture planted silver poplar trees at the entrance of the school in the 1920s, which later grew thickly to form the gate of Yonhi College. Ever since then, Baekyang-ro has been a big part of the campus lives of Yonsei students. Sprouting from Underwood’s spirit of unconditional care for the school, Baekyang-ro has always been closely entwined with Yonseians, capturing the soul and spirit of the school sometimes as a pedestrian passageway and traffic roadway, and other times as a democratic plaza. To Yonseians, Baekyang-ro is not just a road. Baekyang-ro, where the past and the present co-exists, is “where we make history” as the university president would say. Many ballrooms and conference rooms have been constructed under the renovated Baekyang-ro. However, they do not come close to capturing Yonsei’s soul and spirit. Taking into consideration of Baekyang-ro’s true meaning, a revised plan in which Baekyang-ro and Yonseians can progress together needs to be further explored.