Seoul has embarked on a 79.1 billion-won ($71.4 million) project to make Gwanghwamun Square at the heart of the capital city greener and more pedestrian-friendly, city officials said Monday.
The 555-meter-long, 34-meter-wide square, which is currently located at the center of a 12-lane road, is expected to turn into a more vibrant public space where people can rest and socialize, with a new park and wider pedestrian-only street.
“Gwanghwamun Square, which is the heart of the city, will turn into an ecological civilization area with more green spaces,” acting Seoul Mayor Seo Jeong-hyup said in a press conference at City Hall.
Construction work will be carried out in two phases.
The first phase began Monday for the expansion of existing roads on the east side of the square to seven to nine lanes, replacing the current six lanes on each of the east and west. Some 10.1 billion won from the city government’s budget will be spent for the work, which is expected to be complete by the end of February next year.
The second phase involves creating a park-like gathering space by converting six lanes on the west side into a pedestrian-only street.
While creating a larger space for pedestrians, the city will form a park by planting over 100 species of flowering trees and laying grass in the square so that visitors can experience the full four seasons. The work is to take five months from May through October next year.
Regarding concerns over traffic congestion that could be caused by the project, Seo said the current speed will be maintained under the city’s new measures to control and disperse traffic flow in the area. Only one lane will be blocked at a time during the construction period, he added.
On Monday, nine civic groups including the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice called on the city to suspend the renovation project.
They said decisions on Gwanghwamun Square should be left to the next Seoul mayor, who will be elected in next year’s April by-elections, rather than carrying out the project in a hasty manner in the absence of an elected mayor. Former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who led the capital for 10 years, had pushed for the renovation before he died in July.
“The project is the result of consultation with citizens in more than 300 meetings over the past four years. We will push ahead with it so that efforts we have made won’t be wasted,” Seo said.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org