April is World Landscape Architecture Month, an international celebration of landscape architecture. WLAM introduces the profession to the public by highlighting landscape architect-designed spaces around the world. Today we visit Seoul, Korea to highlight the transformation of Cheonggyecheon River from concrete waterway to a revitalized urban park.

Photos by Wendy Chan

I like to visit urban parks while on vacation. Visiting parks allow me the opportunities to people watch and observe how different cultures use and interact within public open spaces, especially in dense cities where open space is often rare, but easily accessible by public transit.

I recently visited Cheonggyecheon, a 3.6-mile-long stream corridor located in downtown Seoul, South Korea that attracts over 60,000 visitors daily. For years, the Cheonggyecheon stream was paved over with concrete with an elevated highway built above it. But recently, the government removed the roadway and transformed the once concrete channel into a public open space. The stream was restored with vegetation, walkways, stages, crossings, water play, and seating areas, creating a multifunctional and sustainable public space for the citizens of Seoul.

Conceptual site plan presented in 2002 by the Research Center Director of the Seoul Development Institute, Seoul Metropolitan Government.

The Cheonggyecheon River is supplemented by potable water pumped from the Han River, but the benefits to the surrounding community, biodiversity, and quality of life is still apparent. Depending upon the access point, visitors can experience a slowly changing landscape – from an urban experience with concrete walls and edges to a more natural stream experience. The redesign kept remnants of the highway that once covered the stream. Art, historical photos, and monuments of cultural significance related to the stream were integrated in the design.

The park never closes. I’ve visited the park during the day, but also during the late evening and early morning. No matter the hour, I’ve always felt safe walking through Cheonggyecheon. The urban park is heavily populated at all hours with people leisurely walking, exercising, and commuting to their destination without having to worry about cars. While walking the Cheonggyecheon’s length I thought of our own Los Angeles River, an urban waterway slowly undergoing a similar transformation from an inaccessible concrete channel to a thriving open space. My only interaction growing up with the Los Angeles River was through the backseat car window driving across the Broadway Street Bridge in Lincoln Heights. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be if Angelenos one day are able to access the entire river from start to end at the ocean, our very own version of Cheonggyecheon River linear park.

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