CultureCulture
Han River - Appealing or AppallingEfforts to bring forth a renaissance along the Han River
Hwang Ji-hyea  |  jihyeahwang@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2009.04.28  17:22:07
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THE BEAUTIFUL Han River, which used to be renowned for its peaceful atmosphere, is now turning into a series of construction sites. It seems that the river is soon to be reborn, but when will this renaissance finally take place? And for whom? The various projects that are taking place are providing us with much to anticipate, but nobody knows when to expect the dream-come-true. This renovation of the river that is supposedly set to make the lives of Seoulites more convenient is currently causing much inconvenience and worries.

What the Han River means to us

   The Han River has been utilized in various ways, especially transportation, ever since the Joseon Dynasty. When Yi Seong-gye, also known as King Tae-jo, ordered the capital to be moved to Hanyang, one of his reasons was to take advantage of the strategic situation of the river. A river flowing through a capital would guarantee certain military advantages, and also provide transportation and plenty of water. The river became more of a trade route as a reform of the taxation system enforcing payments of rice crops took place in the late 16th Century. The rice needed for taxes was collected from other regions and shipped up to Hanyang by the Han River. Thus, the river became a valuable supply route vital to the national economy.

The Han River came to be more industrialized in 1888, when the first steamer ran on the river. Then, in the 1890s, the first modern railway bridge was built. Subsequently, in 1916, six years after the Japanese annexation of Korea, the first footbridge over the river was constructed.

Several decades later, during the 60’s and 70’s, industrialization and commercialization severely polluted the river. As the contamination exceeded the limits of reversibility, campaigns to improve the water quality of the Han River started to take place in the 90’s. Citizens also took note of this crisis and participated in various projects carried out in order to clean up the river.

Nowadays, the river is used also as a hub of culture and sports, providing people with many uses. Oftentimes, events and festivals are held, ranging from live concerts to marathons. Also, all-year-round facilities, including parks, fitness equipment, and ferries are situated by the river. These are all due to the numerous projects that have taken place alongside the Han River, starting from 1986, when the first Han River Management Office was opened. Ever since then, efforts have been made to invigorate citizens’ use of the river.

What keeps the people away?

Although more people have come to use the river, there are still some hindering factors. An issue that is being dealt with is the problem of the lack of direct transportation to the parks and the bridges. Moreover, the riverside is not yet developed fully as a hub for people, because this area is crowded with private apartments and residences. Furthermore, many of the already existing parks are centered on sports equipment and resting places, which does not provide enough cultural spaces. Although many cultural events are held in this area, they are usually targeted at a specific age group, and are oftentimes not well advertised.

What is the *Hangang Renaissance*?

 The *Hangang Renaissance* project was implemented in 2006 in order to make the Han River more approachable and useable for the citizens. Its goals are to provide solutions to the many problems that the river suffers, and to implement an environment-friendly paradigm. “Right now, various projects are being undertaken. For example, at the Yanghwa district, we are creating bus stops on the Yanghwa Bridge,” says Chun Pyeong-hwan (Yanghwa District Office). “Also, a direct passageway from the Dangsan subway station leading to the riverside is currently under construction,” he adds. This serves as a solution to one of the problems. Others are to be solved through the project’s goals regarding culture, intended to divide up the river into three sectors, each with their own theme. This allows the individual sectors and parks to develop a specific theme on which to center their projects. 

 

 

 

Problems of the project

Even though this grand project is scheduled to take 30 or more years, and much money is invested in it, blind spots can be found in its implementation stage. Although one of the main goals of the scheme is to recover the natural environment of the Han River, many of its construction works have been destroying the life around it. One issue is the installation of illuminating bridges. In many countries around the world such bridge lights are on the decrease because they affect negatively the aquatic creatures. However, the illuminations have been recognized as quite a sight and are serving as tourist attractions. Many people are quite concerned about the newly built bridges, all with these decorative lights.

In addition, the installation of docks and marinas has been a threat to preserving the ecology. Many homes of wild birds have been destroyed, and willow trees and various wild plants are also endangered. Furthermore, if the reservoir is newly constructed for the convenience of cruise ships, about 60% of the willow swamp will be sunk under water.

Moreover, the various attractions and installations have incited the appearance of fancy high-rise apartments along the river, fuelling the rise of land prices nearby. Thus, the plan to balance out the economic disparity between the north and south sides of the river has backfired, causing citizens to move out to more affordable areas, away from the riverside.

Moreover, many are concerned that the project is being pushed too hastily. This is because, despite the stated intention of the project to benefit the people, its progress has not been wholly satisfactory. One cannot ignore all the discomforts that the current changes are producing, and it seems that some feel that the sudden rush of construction and remodeling outweighs the possible positive results of the change.

Song Hong-yeop (Prof., Dept. of Electrical and Electronic Engin., Yonsei Univ.): I have been to the river many times, for personal leisure, and also for my Freshman Seminar on Walking 100km along the Han River. It is the perfect place for exercising freely and conveniently. Now the construction sites are hindering such comforts, but we have to know that within a few years the river will be reborn with much better facilities. Personally, I am quite satisfied with the recent developments, especially the renovated kiosks and bathrooms. It seems that the Han River is becoming more convenient and approachable; thus, I think the various restoration projects are heading in the right direction.

Kim Kab-sung (Prof., Dept. of Urban Planning & Engin., Yonsei Univ.): Many large cities are often located near a body of water. So Seoul is not an exception. The Han River is a useful resource for us, although it could do with some more developments. For example, it needs a developed marina in order to provide us with many water sports activities and leisure. Also, there have been problems with its approachability, but this issue is now being addressed. I think these changes and developments should be viewed in a positive light, but I am worried that such projects are being carried out in a rush. If the government would give it some time and put in more effort by going through a gradual process, the project will be more successful.

Jung Sei-jin (Sr., Dept. of English Language & Lit./Dept. of Business Admin., Yonsei Univ.): I have taken quite a bit of interest in this project, and I think that the intention of providing an environment-friendly park and cultural spaces is good. With Seoul being such a big and heavily populated city, it needs such a desirable project. Our city tends to be a bit monotonous in terms of color. Therefore, sometimes I had the impression that it was a bit bland. With this project, I think many improvements have taken place concerning the design. This project will be better if the opinions of the citizens were more reflected, and if the government would not focus only on creating speedy results. Because this project is to provide a likeable Han River for the citizens, the government should try its best to satisfy the people by carefully dealing with each problem.

Kim Jun-kyu (Soph., Dept. of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engin., Korea Univ.): While walking across the river on the bridge, I realized that the footpath is too inconvenient. It is not too narrow or anything, but I wished that there were benches or resting areas in the middle of the bridge, because the length of the bridges are quite long. In regards to the riverside, I thought that overall it could be made into a more user-friendly setting. The public spaces such as the bathrooms could be cleaner, and the roadsides would be so much more accessible if not so much construction takes place at the same time. Moreover, the riverside seems too bare in the spots where there are no parks or decorations.

Shin Jae-won (Soph., UIC, Comparative Lit. & Culture, Yonsei Univ.): Although I have been to the Han River for various reasons before, I have felt that it wasnt so accessible. The river is quite near, yet it feels so far away. When university students think of the Han River, they usually picture a group of youth drinking on the riverside. If the government could hold more events for the citizens to participate in, perhaps the river wouldnt seem so distant for the people. Moreover, better facilities and advertisements informing people of such services would attract many more citizens to the river. Perhaps there is already a lot of equipment in the parks, ready to be used. However, because the people are not well-informed, they do not really know much about what is really there. In addition, more approachable pathways that lead directly from public transportation to the riverside would be helpful.

 The future of the Han River

    There are many pros and cons to the new project. Indeed, if the project succeeds, it will bring forth a new epoch. Seoul will be presented with a new attraction not only for tourists, but for Seoulites as well. Many people are anticipating the completion of the project, and have been contributing bright ideas on ways to help improve it. “I think it’d be great to implement rising buildings near the Han River,” says Kim Kab-sung (Prof., Dept. of Urban Planning & Engin.). “The Han River has faced many floods in the past. It would be a good idea to have buildings on the riverside which rise with the water levels, in order to prevent the buildings from drowning underwater,” explains Kim. Other such creative ideas have come up, many of which are already being carried out. One such example is the floating island, which is an artificial island that is being constructed. Ever since the ideas competition held in 2008, the construction work has been taking place. This new project is still controversial, and is faced with criticisms regarding its necessity and plausibility. Many are hoping that the current project will turn out to be a fundamental renovation, solving both the existing and potential problems.

*   *   *

   The various projects that have taken place related to the Han River have always brought up high hopes, but these expectations were not always satisfactorily fulfilled. Yet, many people are now worried that the actual purpose of the project is concentrated on producing tourist attractions, and simply making changes for show. The main concern and goal of the renaissance should be focused on the citizens, and not anything else. It is time that the project takes a moment to reconsider the true reasons behind the tasks being undertaken, and focuses on creating something that will last, not something that will need to be taken apart and reborn – again.

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