SEOUL/ Walkability as New Modernity: Moving Away from Automobile, Turning to Pedestrian Rights (II)

This post is going to further discuss Jane Jacobs’ concept of urban life with Seoul’s approach to walkability and pedestrian rights. This comparison is much inspired by Sung, Lee and Cheon’s article [1].

In Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” published in 1961 and the social movement on saving Manhattan from being “dissected” by an expressway, her main argument is that the city is a complex system that is more than automobile and efficiency. She promotes pedestrian activities, as a vital part of urban life [1]. And put forward the claim that the “death” of urban life is “due to new highway construction and large-scale urban development projects” [1].

Walkability as New Modernity is a valid concept in Seoul because this time the Seoul Metropolitan Government is not only talking about removing the past [2] , as said by Mike Wallace, an American historian, “Modern in the 20s means – dump the past, break with the past, think new, think Art Deco, think streamline, think projectile, think…tear down the old stuff”. In this particular case, the Seoul Station Overpass is kept.

Photograph: Plug-in shop and  observatory on the renewed Overpass, Seoullo 7017
(Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government)

A dilemma arises from the Overpass renewal project if one tries to analyse under circumstances raised by Jane Jacobs. The vital urban life described by Jacobs is one that forms naturally by street, and the social economy that comes along with streetscape. However, Seoullo 7017, the renewed Overpass, can be marginally considered as “street”. From close observation, it acts more like a park then a street that is integrated within the streetscape. Though efforts were put in staging the shops on the side of the Overpass, they are quite discrete and lacks the intimacy of a neighbourhood.

The Overpass has functioned as street in the sense that it allows people to connect destinations by foot. Also, the project has promoted Seoul as a city that values pedestrian rights over automobile in the new modern continuum. Yet, the bigger picture of enhancing walkability and pedestrian-rights should also concern for the vibrancy of urban life.      


  1. Sung, Hyungun, et al. “Operationalizing Jane Jacobs’s Urban Design Theory: Empirical Verification from the Great City of Seoul, Korea.” Journal of Planning Education and Research, vol. 35, no. 2, 2015, pp. 117–130.
  2. Burns, Ric, director. Jane Jacobs vs Robert Moses: Urban Fight of the Century. PBS Documentary, 12 Dec. 2018.

2 Comments on “SEOUL/ Walkability as New Modernity: Moving Away from Automobile, Turning to Pedestrian Rights (II)

  1. It is an interesting article to compare Seoullo 7017 and Jane Jacob’s theories in the 1960s, of turning “walkability” as a “valid” concept in modern times. Seoul government did not entirely remove the past but tried to keep the fragments of the old highway, emphasizing of using the original form of the highway as a new habitat for pedestrian activities.

    Referring back to the dilemma stated by the author, there is still a lack of intimate pedestrian activities in Seoullo 7017 as stated by Jane Jacob, a vital urban life should be naturally formed by the street. The add-ons and programme arrangement of Seoullo 7017 direct the pedestrian merely as a “user”, for instance, observatory and souvenir shops could not provide an incentive for the local pedestrians to stay, let alone encouraging social connections. Also, even though the usage as a highway was eliminated, the stripe form of the highway, still limited the possibility of how a pedestrian space could be.

    Sense of place is a complex idea comprised history, social relations and local culture. Keeping the old historic artifacts of the overpass can enrich the story behind, but also restrain the imagination of “walkability”. How could the idea of urban life cooperate with an overpass, compromising efficiency with living quality?

  2. Hi April, to build on Minia’s point, I wonder if this discussion on urban vibrancy can be further reinforced by evaluating the nature of the connections of this project, from an architectural and socio-economic perspective. The scale and adjacencies are clearly different from that of Hong Kong’s elevated walkway system, so perhaps this can offer a different angle of critique.

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