Seoul / Against the tides: Cheonggyecheon’s socio-political involvement


There were a lot of oppositions toward the project.  The traffic department is the first to voice out, as they could not foresee where to relocate the congested traffic flow from the highway.  If it is demolished, there would be 170,000 cars running elsewhere in Seoul which may cause a huge burden to the existing traffic network.  Apart from that, most people in the government are afraid that the construction is not necessary.  Unnecessary work is the most unfavorable culture among bureaucrats.  The local merchants and peddlers were also reluctant to make any changes to the current situation.  Although the environment is bad in terms of air quality and living standard, the existing business network is strong and the community is very well established.  Neither one of them would expect to be disturbed.

Lee Myung Bak, mayor of Seoul of the time, insisted on the implementation of the project.  He had held hundreds of meetings with peddlers and agreed to reallocate them to Dongdaemun Stadium, where later become one of the important cultural hubs.  Although the negotiation did not go completely well, still some peddlers remained there and protest against the government (there was violent protests and even one vendors suicided during the incident).

After that, the project has successfully received certain attention from the media, and coverage on this is huge.  The social media has turned the tide against development into support towards the trend of preserving quality of life and in hope of a healthier Seoul.  Time also proven that due to the mass media coverage, more and more people are going to Dongdaemun Stadium to visit the reallocated market, which defeated the previous doubt about adverse effects on peddlers’ livelihood.

Table 1    Attitude of print media coverage (number of articles)

Attitude Very negative Negative Neutral Positive Very positive Total
Frequency 40 58 129 66 57 350
Percentage 11.43% 16.57% 36.86% 18.86% 16.29% 100%

Source: Lah 2003.


Another difficulty faced is the water.  This essential element resemble the function of the river dated back when people are still honoring it as an important Feng Shui element.  The water in Cheonggyecheon nowadays is actually not from the original source of the river, instead it is extracted from Hang River and underground water from the metro.  The water is treated elsewhere to make sure that it is drinkable when it comes to Cheonggyecheon.  This procedure took the government a high maintenance cost of 1.7 billion annually.  The cost had been paid to the water company until 2005 when cooperate agreed to provide this transition of water for free due to public interest.



Hefu, L. (2008). Midnight 5am: The Biblography of Lee Myung Bak. Taiyuan: Shanxi Commune Publish.

Rudiger Frank, James E. Hoare, Patrick Kollner, Susan Pares. (2010). Conflict Management in Urban Planning. In Korea 2010: Politics, Economy and Society (pp. 85-112). Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Rudiger Frank, James E. Hoare, Patrick Kollner, Susan Pares. (2007). Korean Modernism, Modern Korean Cityscapes, and Mass Housing Development: Charting the Rise of Ap’at’u tanji since the 1960s. In Korea 2007: Politics, Economy and Society (pp. 85-112). Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Lah Tae-joon (2003), ‘Analyzing the contents of press reports on Cheonggyecheon restoration projects’, in Journal of the policy analyzing and evaluation committee, 13(2), pp. 149-67.

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