Green heart of Seoul
South Korea's capital is transforming itself into a model of eco living. A visit has one looking forward to the future
Unlike South Africa's football pitches this month, the World Cup Stadium in Seoul is decidedly quiet. It has been eight years since the world's most watched sporting event was held here. And eight years since Sky Park - the highest situated of five areas that make up World Cup Park - has been turned from a garbage dump into an enlightened hilltop oasis.
Looking at the vast stretch of grass that leads the eye to pale, distant buildings, you wouldn't for one moment suspect the park's humble history.
Low-lying plants such as thistle and clover, as well as man-height feathery pampas grass, cover the hilltop and the view of the city from the 22 lookout points is striking - much like the softly gleaming, metallic pod seats next to them.
Taking it all in, I feel like I'd beamed down from the SS Enterprise into a Star Trek world of enlightened urban planning. Certainly, the green principles of reuse and recycle apply here.
Having been converted from a landfill into a usable public space, the park is an example of up-cyling. What's more, the area's energy is supplied by a sustainable source - in this case, graceful wind turbines that meld into the landscape. Classical music is played from the sound system.
In one space, science is combined with culture, the rustic with the futuristic, greenery with panoramic views. The result is surprisingly pleasant.
The view down under
There will be more of these spaces as Seoul transforms itself into a model of green living. Spearheading the developments is the city's newly-re-elected mayor and environmentalist Oh Se-hoon. In the long term, the city plans to replace all its buses and taxis with electric or hybrid vehicles. More parks and green trails linking major landmarks will be created.
One of Seoul's premier green attractions, however, can be enjoyed now. Like Sky Park, Cheonggyecheon Stream works its magic slowly, and so best appreciated with a cuppa and snack in hand.
Cheonggyecheon Stream is much more than its name suggests. It's not just a body of water, it's a lush garden-cum-creek situated below street level that stretches for 5.8km through downtown Seoul. And like Sky Park, it exhibits a breezy loveliness that belies its dirt-filled origins.
The stream used to be polluted, so was covered with concrete to make way for roads. It was cleaned up and opened in 2005 by then-mayor - and now South Korea president - Lee Myung-bak. Lee received "Hero of the Environment Award" from Time magazine for the project.
Cheonggyecheon today is a place for Seoulites from smartly-dressed youths to suited salarymen to gather, picnic and promenade, making it one of the best places to people watch in the city.
Like many visitors to Seoul, I've come ready to trawl the city's famous shopping districts - Insa-dong with its side streets of tea gardens and art galleries, and the fashion universes of Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun and the like.
Sky Park and Cheonggyecheon are pleasant diversions. So, too, a liberating bike ride along the banks of the Hangang, which divides the city into north and south. On a typical day, the stretch fills ups with locals indulging in all manner of activity - from rollerblading to jetskiing, to children splashing in the public pools.
The river area is set to change dramatically by 2030 as part of the Hangang Renaissance. When completed, there will be three artificial islands offering gardens, cafes and cultural venues; and eight waterfront towns connected by river taxis.
One of bridges that span the Hangang, the double-decked Banpo, boasts the world's longest bridge fountain.
Installed last September, the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain makes art out of river water by pumping it out in rainbow-coloured sprays to the music of Vivaldi and other classical works.
The transformation of Sky Park, Cheonggyecheon and Hangang, lend an intriguing dimension to a city that at first glance looks like any other built-up metropolis. But Seoul is eager to distinguish itself as a tourist destination, and not only with its eco projects.
Last November, the city launched its first gourmet food festival, Amazing Korean Table, where top chefs from around the world were invited to cook with Korean ingredients.
This year, it was named World Design Capital 2010, allowing it to highlight its urban projects and design plans. The centrepiece is Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park by renowned architect Zaha Hadid which will merge architecture and nature into one seamless whole.
Beam me down to that green patch, Scottie.
Recognising that visitors may have difficulty with the language barrier, the city has rolled out a free application that shows the user's location as well as hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions. iPhones with the application which can be borrowed free of charge at the SHOW Global Roaming Centre at Incheon International Airport, Gimpo International Airport, or City Air Terminal near Coex. More information at www.visitseoul.net
From TODAY, Travel; source article is below:
Green heart of Seoul