Thousands of people enjoy the restored Cheonggyecheon stream in the centre of Seoul (Photo: Korea Herald)

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Seoul discovers that environmental
care can produce economic benefits

By Jin Hyun-joo, Korea Herald

4 October 2005: The restoration of Cheonggyecheon stream in the heart of the Korean capital Seoul means that South Korea, one of Asia’s most industry-driven nations, has started to demonstrate greater concern for the environment and nature. The rejuvenated stream also has a positive economic impact on the city, officials of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said.

The new stream creates a distinctive image for Korea, which contributes to promoting the nation in the international market and luring foreign capital, OECD officials said during a special session at the Seoul World Mayor's Forum on 1 October 2005. A study by the organisation says that the result (of the restoration of Cheonggyecheon) was a stream with clean water, green spaces and plenty of cultural amenities. “But, what seems to be most important to us here is that the Cheonggyecheon project actually provides Seoul with very strong assets from which to create its territorial branding strategy," added OECD speaker Kim Soo-jin.

Seoul’s city administration will now build on this brand to increase financial and human capital along with promoting well-being in the city's hub.

However, OECD officials said Korea faces other challenges before it can attract more foreign business, including overcoming the current low level of direct foreign investment, a lack of specialization in economic zones and severe traffic congestion.

The Seoul World Mayor's Forum was first held by the Seoul metropolitan government to coincide with the completion of Cheonggeycheon and featured 700 mayors, deputy mayors, and other civil appointees.

The 5.8-kilometer-long stream has been reborn by removing cement that covered its course, laid down as part of the government-led industrialisation efforts 50 years ago. A total of 22 bridges, a mix of renovated originals and newly built replicas have also been completed as part of the project.

Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak stressed that the ultimate goal of the restoration project is to make the city liveable for everyone. "The restoration of the environment, history and culture results in economic effects. The city has become livable for foreigners and friendly to foreign companies," Mayor Lee told reporters.

The Mayor added that he would develop the Cheonggyecheon area as the financial centre of Northeast Asia, adding that he will announce an integrated plan to achieve this goal by late November. The mayor's plan is in line with the OECD's suggestion that Korea should "convey a comprehensive image of the capital region as an economically dynamic and culturally vibrant location to live and invest in."

The OECD cited New Zealand and Singapore as examples of nations, which have successfully integrated promoting tourism and business. It added major challenges were ahead for Korea to become a business hub in Northeast Asia. Korea ranks only 24th among OECD countries in terms of incoming direct foreign investment as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product.

Seoul's bad traffic congestion also resulted in foreigners staying away from the city, as evidenced by a finding that Korea loses three or four per cent of its GDP through time lost in traffic. "I don't know what kind of public or private transportation our Korean friends here used to get here today. But you will probably be reminded of the many hours that you spent in Seoul, trying to get from one place to another," OECD spokesman Kim said.

The central government has long tried to tackle the congestion issue, and under its most recent and drastic plan, it plans to relocate most of its agencies in the Yeongi-Gongju region, some 150 kilometres south of Seoul. But 200 lawyers and other people have filed a petition with the Constitutional Court against the government's bill to build a new administrative town. The petition is currently under consideration.

The key measure taken by the Seoul metropolitan government is to reform the metropolitan transportation system. Under the revamped transportation system, implemented in July 2004, the government has streamlined bus services according to route demands and made it easier and cheaper for passengers to transfer between buses and subways.

Other measures include encouraging drivers not to commute with their vehicles for one day of the five-day working week. The benefits for participants of the No Driving Day campaign include receiving discounts on parking fares and a penalty called congestion fees. Even though about 160 drivers display badges that say they're participants in the campaign, some do not really observe the day and only enjoy its associated benefits.

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