In the mid-nineteen-fifties the Cheonggyecheon stream was the symbol of poverty inherited from colonialism and the Second World War. The open sewer system in the very heart of the city of Seoul was a major problem that was simply «covered up» with a busy motorway. Fifty years later, the area was the noisiest and most congested in the capital of South Korea. The only way of resolving the problem was to intervene directly on the motorway built over the stream.
In June 2001 Lee Myung-bak was elected mayor and, fulfilling one of his electoral promises, demolished the motorway and started the process of regenerating the stream. The objective was to revitalise the area economically and to transform it into a focus that attracts tourists, business investment and international financial organisations. The project also sought to recover the lost national pride and the values of traditional culture through the restoration of some of the historical structures such as the Gwangtonggyo bridge (a representative construction built during the period of the Joseon dynasty, the last reigning family in Korea). The restoration of the stream was completed in the year 2005. The project was supported by the majority of the inhabitants of Seoul, as much as 79.1% of the population.
The restoration of the stream seeks to create forward-looking urban surroundings in keeping with the era of environmental awareness, understanding these surroundings in terms of both nature and humanity, with both coexisting in harmony. The restoration works can be viewed as the starting point from which green areas for Seoul are to be generated.
The project has involved the preservation of the urban centre as an historic and educational zone, the management of traffic through the creation of exclusive pedestrian zones, the improvement of the area’s competitiveness through the creation of a financial district, the recovery of historical resources from traditional cultures and the creation of various eco-friendly zones. At the same time, it has become an example for the rest of Asian cities with a similar set of problems as, for example, in China, where they view Seoul as a model to be followed.