Some Recent Cheong Gye Cheon Images

June 28, 2010 § 4 Comments

Visitors crossing stepping stone bridge across Seoul's Cheong Gye Cheon creek

One of L.A. Creek Freak’s perenial favorite posts is our earlier coverage of the Cheong Gye Cheon stream project in downtown Seoul, South Korea. It’s an impressive project where a visionary mayor lead the charge to remove a freeway in order to daylight the historic creek where the city of Seoul began. Sounds familiar, no?

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Daylighting in the Heart of Seoul: The Cheong Gye Cheon Project

April 24, 2009 § 18 Comments

Last week I attended the standing-room only talk entitled “The Cheong Gye Cheong: a good example of sustainable development” by Dr. In-Keun Lee.  Dr. Lee is the Assistant Mayor for Infrastructure for Seoul, South Korea.

For many years I’ve used the following pair of images when I speak about the future of the Los Angeles River:

The Cheong Gye Cheon - Before

The Cheong Gye Cheon - Before

The Cheong Gye Cheon - After

The Cheong Gye Cheon - After

That pair of pictures are worth a couple thousand words… but I will add another couple thousand words to tell you more about the project that I learned about the project at Dr. Lee’s talk – and some of its implications for Los Angeles.  It’s a somewhat familiar story, echoing many aspects of river projects throughout the world – but inspiring in scope and in the rapidity in which it was accomplished. 

The Cheong Gye Cheong about 100 years ago (image from Seoul City Website)

Laundry and bathing in the Cheong Gye Cheong about 100 years ago (from Seoul city website)

Cheong Gye Cheon means more-or-less “clear stream creek.”   The Cheong Gye Cheon runs through the heart of the city, and is a tributary to the much larger Han River.

The Cheong Gye Cheon has its history of flooding, dredging, straightening, and plenty of other degredation as a consequence of intensive human development in its watershed.

In the 1950’s, while some folks in Los Angeles were “improving” our river by adding tons of concrete, Seoul decided to solve their stream’s issues (mostly related to sanitation) by concreting over their creek.  Cheong Gye Stream became Cheong Gye Road.  In the 1970’s, to add insult to injury, the Cheong Gye Freeway was added atop the road atop the buried creek.

In 2002, an ambitious mayor (now president of Korea), Lee Myung-bak, was elected after campaigning on a promise to restore the Cheong Gye Cheon.  From 2002 to 2005, at a cost of about $380 million (U.S.), the city tore down the freeway, ripped out the road, and daylighted 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) of their stream.

The primary opposition to the project was from businesses and drivers who feared traffic congestion… to address this, the city invested in public transportation, including creating bus-only lanes and pedestrian bridges, reforming parking policies, etc.  Per Dr. Lee, Seoul embraced a “paradigm shift… from car to human-oriented street.”   Many merchants are pretty happy now to be next to the “most preferred destination” in all of Korea.

An interesting feature that Dr. Lee showed that I hadn’t seen before are these pillars rising in the middle of the stream:

Ancient Pillars in the Cheong Gye Cheon (photo by Steve)

Ancient Pillars in the Cheong Gye Cheon (photo by Steve)

They are indeed remnants of (and reminders of the folly of) the  former highway that occupied the space.  I think that these sorts of leave-behinds create interesting historical interactions.  Another example of this is Northside Park in Denver, Colorado.  Designed by Wenk Associates, the new river park has some remnants of concrete structures from a former sewage treatment plant.

There a lots of beautiful features: art installations, signature bridges (many just for pedestrians), and even these wonderfully ancient-feeling stone step bridges: (note the side step in the middle, just in case two people meet in mid-crossing and one needs to step to the side)

Stepping Stone Bridge across the Cheong Gye Cheon (from Seoul city website)

Stepping Stone Bridge across the Cheong Gye Cheon (from Seoul city website)

The city has studied the project and found increases in fish, bird and insect diversity,  and also in property values.  Even though I think that this is a great project, I will pass along some criticisms.  The water in the stream is actually pumped from the Han River; it’s highly treated to ensure that it’s safe.  This is good for the public interacting with it… so it doesn’t function so much as a drainage… but more as a water feature… though it’s clearly dramatically better habitat than the double-deck freeway had been!  There also appears to have been a fair amount of gentrification and displacement.

Nonetheless, the story of the Cheong Gye Cheon is inspiring.  It’s a very dramatic transformation.  There’s lots of documentation online – from virtual tours to videos to history to how the engineering works – all available in English – at Seoul’s official Cheong Gye Cheon website.  You can even get your own commemorative Cheong Gye Cheon sports towel (to my friends and family – I’m putting you on notice that I’d love one of those for my birthday.)

Lastly, here are a couple lessons that I think we draw from this that apply to Los Angeles:

Vertical Channel Walls:
   The cross-section seems very smart – vertical channel walls, with paths below grade, accessible via ramps.  This allows for a great deal of flood capacity, with good access and visibility.  I suspect that it also creates a fairly cool and quiet place.  This sort of configuration could make sense for many places on the L.A. River (and Arroyo Seco, Rio Hondo, Ballona Creek, etc.) where there are currently sloped walls and very constrained rights-of-way.  Places like downtown Los Angeles.

Use of Street Right-of-Way: 
   Many parts of the L.A. River (and other local waterways) are constrained by freeways and streets.  Naturalization generally requires more right-of-way than the river currently has.  The more vegetated the channel is, the rougher it is, hence the roughness slows down the water, decreasing flood capacity.  To restore vegetation in the riverbed, we will need a wider channel to maintain flood capacity.
   In my dreams, I say that we take out at least a few lanes of the 5 Freeway from Griffith Park through Frogtown… and of the 710 Freeway from Vernon to the Pacific Ocean… and of the 110 Freeway from South Pasadena to Lincoln Heights!!!
  More realistically we might be able to narrow streets like Valley Heart from Studio City to Sherman Oaks and Avenue 19 from the River Center to the old City Jail.  Use that additional right-of-way to create more natural and more pedestrian-oriented green space.  Let’s do it! 


Enjoy the clean safe cheongyecheon!

News and Events – 16 April 2009

April 16, 2009 § 1 Comment


South East Trees' Latest!

South East Trees' Latest Masterpiece!

> The new Cudahy River Park opens along the southeast stretch of the Los Angeles River!  What will North East Trees think of next?

> L.A. Streetsblog looks at federal stimulus money going to California bicycle projects – looks promising that funds will go to the lower Arroyo Seco Bikeway.

> Friday-tomorrow noon is your deadline for entering L.A. Creek Freak’s first-ever contest.  Win the Audubon Center at Debs Park’s guide to Animals of the Los Angeles River by merely commenting on our blog.  Right now the odds are better than 1 in 10.  No purchase required.  Void where prohibited.  Your results may vary.

>Friends of the Los Angeles River’s 2008 fish study is now on-line!  Creek Freak reviewed it here – one of our most perennially popular posts! Now let me tell about that one that got away…


>Tomorrow, Friday April 17th at 2:30, the City of LA hosts a talk  on the revitalization of Seoul’s  Cheong Gye Cheong river.

>This Sunday afternoon, April 19th, Long Beach’s Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance hosts tours of the Dominguez Gap – a restored wetland park along the lower Los Angeles River.    Creek Freak visited the site recently and the wildflowers are blooming beautifully!

>Also this Sunday, April 19th at 3:30pm, Friends of the LA River hosts a walk along the scenic Glendale Narrows stretch of the L.A. River.  Meet at Steelhead Park, on Oros Street in Frogtown.

>Support your local bloggers Joe Linton and Damien Newton as we teach you how to blog like we do – plus mucho other useful free stuff on the web at our Internet Skills Class on Tuesdays April 21st and 28th.  We teach it again May 4th and 11th.

Spring cleaning opportunities abound:
> This Saturday April 18th at Taylor Yard with North East Trees.  Yo! it’s Earth Day!
> Next Saturday April 25th at Taylor Yard with North East Trees and local Obama folk.
>Saturday May 9th at Taylor Yard and many many other sites with Friends of the L.A. River.

>On April 25th and 26th, Urban Photo Adventures leads their Los Angeles River photography tour – see and capture some of the grittiest industrial sites along the mighty Los Angeles.

Bike the Emerald Necklace on the San Gabriel River and the Rio Hondo with the city of El Monte’s Tour of Two Rivers bike rally on Saturday May 16th.  Then bike the Los Angeles River on the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s River Ride on Sunday June 7th.

News and Upcoming Events – April 9 2009

April 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

Artist Linda Gass Wetlands Dream Quilt - click image to see more of her work

Wetlands Dream quilt by artist Linda Gass - click image to see more of her work - copyright Linda Gass

Creeky News:

>Rainwater harvester Brad Lancaster tours the Tujunga Wash Greenway and Stream Restoration Project.   More on the water harvesting front: Alternet tells about multi-benefit rainwater harvestingin Africa; the L.A. Times explores harvesting rainwater in Downtown Los Angeles.  Lancaster’s blog features a very good guest blog entry by Julia Fonseca critiqueing the use of crushed rock (decomposed granite.)

>Frederick Reimers‘ excellent article about the Los Angeles River kayak expedition is finally on the web (after appearing in print last December in Plenty magazine).

>Minnesota Public Radio talks about why the Red River floods Fargo.  (Thanks Judith Lewis.)

>The L.A. Times reports that California may approve new more civilized greywater regulations.  Creek Freak Joe Linton is still loving his unpermitted greywater system.

And for bridge geeks only:
>Bridge Photo of the Day blogger is working his way down the Los Angeles River
>Is Pasadena’s Colorado Street Bridge over the Arroyo Seco haunted?

 Freaky Events:

Cheong Gye Cheon river in Seoul South Korea - Photo: Wikimedia

Cheong Gye Cheon river in Seoul South Korea - Photo: Wikimedia

Dr. In-Keun Lee,  Assistant Mayor of Infrastructure of Seoul, South Korea, will be giving a talk about the dramatic revitalization of the Cheong Gye Cheong.  Seoul, South Korea, actually removed a dozen lanes of double-decked highway to daylight the historic creek that was buried below.  The free open-to-the-public talk takes place from 2:30pm-3:30pm on Friday April 17th, 2009 at the Edward R. Roybal Board of Public Works Session Room (Room 350) at Los Angeles City Hall – 200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90012.  Entrance is on Main Street.  Easy access from the Metro Red Line Civic Center Station.

Bloggers Joe Linton and Damien Newton teach you how to use lots of cool free stuff on the web at our Internet Skills Class on Tuesdays April 21st and 28th.

President Obama invites you to clean-up the Los Angeles River at Taylor Yard on Saturday April 25th.  Then go back and do it again at Friends of the Los Angeles River’s La Gran Limpieza at more than a dozen sites on Saturday May 9th.

Bike the Emerald Necklace on the San Gabriel River and the Rio Hondo with the city of El Monte’s Tour of Two Rivers bike rally on Saturday May 16th.  Then bike the Los Angeles River on the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s River Ride on Sunday June 7th.

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