Seoul / Reshaping the Streetscape (II): business relocation and urban gentrification

One of the aspects that must be considered when evaluating the sustainability of the restoration project is the economic benefits brought to the community. The immediate impacts brought to the Cheonggyecheon neighbouring areas has brought about the transformation of streetscape along the artificial river. Due to the obstruction by the construction site and rise in property price after Cheonggyecheon was revitalized, the old business were relocated to outskirt of the city and replaced by large compartment blocks that aligned with the Downtown Development plan.

The area along Cheonggye Expressway was originally the home of 6,000 buildings and 100,000 small shops (Kwon, n.d.). Different business types agglomerated along the highway, including wholesale and retail stores selling electric devices and garments that settled in the Dongdaemun area, retail shops selling shoes in northeastern area and 500 street vendors in Hwanghak-dong. (Hwang, 2007) The local merchants showed great resistance to the project and requested for financial compensation as they were afraid of losing their business opportunities.

A multitude of measures have been done to the local merchants. Besides providing financial support to them, such as loans and grants, the Seoul Metropolitan Government also made relocation plans. Most merchants in Hwanghak-dong were relocated to the Dongdaemun Stadium where they could continue their business as small stores in the flea market. When the stadium was demolished in December 2007, the flea market was relocated once again to cheonho-daero in Dongdaemun-gu, which is near to Hwanghak-dong where the merchants originally agglomerated in. Moreover, the Munjeong-dong area in Songpa-gu that is located at the south-eastern edge of Seoul was redeveloped into a commercial street and outlet shopping centre for fabrics. Some merchants were relocated to the area and continued their business. (Hwang, 2007)

The relocation process of local merchants (Map credit: Google)

The restoration project has in general brought great economic benefit to the city. This is due to the effect of “urban entrepreneurialism” proposed by David Harvey in 1989 that land values nearby the revitalized green area soar up and property owners along the belt requested for higher rent. (Ribadeau-Dumas, Perez, Jon, Mouton, Penna, Zondi and Guillet, 2012) The original slum area was cleared and new affluent residents and shops choose to settle down in the area, taking the advantage of the convenient transportation, cleaner environment and higher living quality after revitalization.

Despite the enormous sum of approximately US$1.98 billion capital investment that was attracted the area along Cheonggyecheon (Hwang, 2004), it is still controversial whether the local merchants were left as the losing minority in the project. As the urban area adjacent to the restored stream is now occupied by higher-end business, they are forced to relocate and lose the locational benefits of their original shops. The urban gentrification process has altered their past business habits and forced them to adapt to new customer groups and living community. Some merchants complained to reporters that their profit decreased due to decrease in customer flow and lack of space for business. (Chung and Kil, 2004) It is not surprising that some may not able to adapt and got expelled from the business circle.

The packed business environment in Dongdaemun Stadium in 2004 (Chung and Kil, 2004)

1. Chung, N.G. and Kil, Y.H. 2004. 청계천보다 잔인한 동대문 (The crueler condition in Dongdaemun than Cheonggyecheon) on Hankyoreh 21. Accessed on 19 December 2015 from
2. Hwang, K. Y. 2004. Restoring Cheonggyecheon Stream in the Downtown Seoul. Seoul Development Institute.
3. Hwang, K. Y. 2007. Restoring Cheonggyecheon Stream in the Downtown Seoul. Accessed on 19 December 2015 from
4. Kwon, K. K. n.d. Cheong Gye Cheon Restoration Project: a revolution in Seoul. Seoul Metropolitan Government.
5. Re:streets. N.d. Cheong Gye Cheon Stream Restoration. Accessed on 16 December 2015 from
6. Ribadeau-Dumas, H., Perez, L., Jon, I., Mouton, M., Penna, C., Zondi, N. and Guillet, C. 2012. Restoring nature in the urban fabric: the ambiguities of the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project.

2 Comments on “Seoul / Reshaping the Streetscape (II): business relocation and urban gentrification

  1. The relocation of business or residents is indeed a common tough issue of revitalization project. In the post although you have acknowledged the overall economic benefits brought by the project, the attitude towards the impacts on the local merchants is prone to be negative since the relocated site might not be as good as the original one. On the other hand, in your group mate’s post of SEOUL / AGAINST THE TIDES: CHEONGGYECHEON’S SOCIO-POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT, the author seems to have a counter-argument that due to the intensive coverage of media, a great flow of people visit the new shops and the business operation seems to be fine. Maybe you can take a look at each other’s sources to have a even more comprehensive understanding of the issue. And relocation models in other revitalization projects that was proved to be more effective can be suggested as cross-references.

  2. Thank you for your thorough reading into our research posts. I believe that the discrepancy between the views on local merchants relocation comes from the sources of quotation. The restoration project of Cheonggyecheon in general receives positive review from foreign countries in admiration of such a bold and efficient move. Yet, deeper research into local Korean newspaper sources provides us some alternate noises that are not recorded by international media. The difficulty in reading Korean sources may have caused the inconsistency in different research posts, and it is possible that some merchants have really benefited from the relocation while some have higher reluntance to move away from their original community.

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