The Greening of a City: Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project

31 March 2016

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With the ultimate goal of making Seoul a great city, then-mayor Lee Myung-bak made Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project—the most expensive river restoration to be undertaken in the world—a centerpiece of his administration in 2002. Not only was the project extremely expensive, but the massive scope of construction was expected to disrupt city life and commercial activities in the area. It was not a popular, nor an easy project to sell to the city’s stakeholders. 

To sell his idea of a revitalized Cheonggyecheon, Mayor Lee, schooled in the “institute of hard knocks,” went out of the comforts of his office to meet one merchant after the other in the area and promised to patronize their shops and help them relocate. While Mayor Lee commanded respect, he also had his fair share of critics. More than a decade later, however, Cheonggyecheon River had become the green centerpiece of tourism in Seoul.

The residents of Seoul benefitted from the project according to the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s findings from its several years of gathering baseline data and measurements. The rebirth of Cheonggyecheon became a win-win situation for all the stakeholders. In fact, the Cheonggyecheon experience became a model for several restoration projects not only in the Republic of Korea, but in other countries as well. As of 2015, 19 million tourists visited Cheonggyecheon.

This case study was developed by the Asian Institute of Management for the Asian Development Bank. 

Geographical Focus: 
Korea, Republic of
Type of Content: 
Project Stories


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