Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration

Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration project involved the transformation of one of the main highways of Seoul passing through one of the most vibrant business districts of the city into a modern recreational space. The project can be considered a revolution in the era of urbanisation, the efforts to conserve the environment and the attempt to preserve lost culture became an exemplar for other economies. Evolving along the Hangang River, the stream stretches for a length of 10.9 km and the public space covers 5.8 km length including 22 pedestrian and pedestrian/car bridges. The project was a milestone among urban planning and design practices for its historical, cultural and environmental conservation efforts and implementation of sustainable development. It intrigues planners, urban designers and architects for its vision to achieve sustainability by unique means. 

Figure 1- Restored Cheonggyechoen Stream 
Cheonggyecheon stream is a naturally existing stream in the heart of Seoul and holds great historic and cultural significance in ancient Korea owing to its location and flow direction. The kings of the Joseon kingdom were concerned with controlling floods. During the reign of King Taejong, the third king of the Joseon Dynasty, efforts to overhaul were undertaken which included bolstering the banks and in the year 1441,  "Supyo" an underwater column with ridges was erected as a flood management intervention. King Yongjo's efforts remain the most significant as he mobilised 200,000 men to widen the stream. However, under Japanese rule, in the 1920s people migrated to Seoul and resulting in the formation of shanty towns along the stream. The shantytown sewage led to pollution and became a serious social problem. Between the 1960s to 1980s, a 10-lane roadway and 4-lane highway were constructed to conceal the deteriorated stream. Eventually, their "solution" became the cause of greater health issues, environmental degradation and traffic congestion. Seoul Metropolitan Government thus introduced the unprecedented project of Cheonggyecheon Stream Restoration in 2003. 
The key objectives of introducing this project were to improve upon the quality of life led by residents, the revival of the stream's historical and cultural significance, ecological restoration and recovering utility of the space. The project was estimated to be over 386 billion won and took approximately 27 months for its completion.

                   Figure 2- Before, During and After the Restoration Process   Source- KoreaBridge

The organizational structure for the implementation of the project involved the collaboration of three bodies- Civic Committee, Headquarters and supporting Research Body. The Civic Committee was responsible for policy proposing and promoting the project among the citizens. The Headquarters was in charge of the action plans and collaboration with different authorities. The supporting research body was a temporary research body set up by the Seoul Development Institute and it undertook the task of conducting surveys and plan preparation. 

Restoration Plans for Cheonggye Stream & the City Center (2002 – 2006) |  서울정책아카이브 Seoul Solution
                                     Figure 3- Organizational Structure              Source- Seoul Solution 

The project was phased into 5 periods-

  1. Scaffolding (July 2003) - It involved the barricading on the construction site for safety and traffic management purposes.

  2. Highway Demolition (August 2003) - This step comprised the removal of the highway by dismantling it into smaller parts. 

  3. Covering of Road Demolition (January 2004) - This involved the dismantling of piers of the highway, transportation of the smaller pieces and their storage. 

  4. Construction of Road and Bridges (May 2005) - Two-lanes roads were prepared along the stream. 

  5. Landscaping ( May 2005)-The last before the grand opening of the project was the landscaping of the recovered areas, light fittings, installation of safety equipment etc. 
    In October 2005, it finally opened to the people of Seoul. 


The restoration project made enormous contributions to ecosystem restoration

  1. It successfully increased the overall diversity by 639% from 2003 to the end of 2008. There was an increase in the available plant species from 62 to 308, bird species increased from 6 to 36, insect species from 15 to 192, amphibians from 4 to 8, mammals from 2 to 4 and fishes from 4 to 25; contributing to Sustainable Development Goal 14 and 15- Life below water and Land on Land

  2. -4.5% reduction in urban heat island effect was observed, 35% reduction of small-particle air pollution, 76% increase in pedestrian movement, 15.1% increase in bus ridership and -45% decrease in vehicular volume expediating Sustainable Cities and Communities and focusing on Climate Action(Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 13).

  3. Interventions for flood protection for up to a 200-year flood event and sustain a flow rate of 118mm/hr.

 Figure 4- Landscaped Recovered Areas

It also combatted social issues-

  1. The stream attracts approximately 64,000 visitors daily making it a centre of Seoul citizens’ cultural activities.

  2. The working population increased in Cheonggyecheon by 0.8% as opposed to the decrease in the working population by -2.6% in the surrounding areas. 

  3. An innovative intervention taken up is " Coins of Love". People drop coins for their loved ones, their health and prosperity. These coins are collected daily for domestic and international charities. 


 Figure 5- Seoul Lantern Festival is held at the stream each year

The economic impact of the Cheonggecheon Stream Restoration-

  1. Increase in businesses by 3.5% Cheonggyecheon area thus uplifting the local commerce along the stream, in compliance with Sustainable Development Goal 8 (Decent work and economic growth)  

  2. The project also contributed extensively to the land values. 30-50% increase in property prices were observed, double the rate of increase in land values in the rest of Seoul. 

  3. 2.1 billion won worth of foreign visitor spending to the Seoul economy is generated daily on an average.

  4. Furthermore, the revitalisation and rejuvenation of the downtown was a byproduct of the project. Dongdaemun Design Plaza, separate flea markets for local merchants, roads preventing urban flooding etc were following the Sustainable Development Goal 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. 


The two major challenges were the backlash from local merchants who were previously located at Dongmyo Flea Market and traffic congestion. The agitated street vendors mentioned traffic congestion, the decline in business and hindrance in accessing their business as their primary concerns. The government provided financial support, relocated the vendors to new markets and in doing so, the conducted 4000+ were conducted. The bottom-up approach helped the citizens take an active role in the planning process. The demolition of the major urban backbone corridor that directed 170,000 vehicles every day introduced traffic simulation as another challenge for the project. This was combated by harnessing the public transportation system. Vehicular movement through the city was discouraged and even the new two-lane roads constructed replacing the highway was prepared with space to allow for flood flows underneath.


Polluted Streams, encroached channels and seasonal rivers like Adi Ganga in Kolkata and Mambalam Canal in Chennai, are fairly common sights in India. Dumping of untreated waste, encroachment and shanties remain a common issue with most urban waterbodies. The introduction of similar restoration projects addressing local issues may assist in the conservation of our urban water bodies. 

The urban renewal project changed the paradigm across several fields. Prioritising ecosystem and environmental restoration over concretisation and focusing on sustainability over rapid urbanisation is the biggest takeaway of the project. Although the project highlighted the significance of historical, environmental and cultural conservation, the project was also criticized for not being financially sustainable. The initiatives for people’s participation such as the bottom-up approach of planning, interviewing citizens for their vision of the project, “wall of hope” and other practices helped in people-oriented planning and thus set examples for the world to look up to. Development is often equated with the destruction of urban ecosystems, the role of planners as well as governing bodies becomes crucial to ensure balanced development.                              



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