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Connected thinking: East meets West
Zoe Welman

The city of Seoul

"I was able to learn about one of the most innovative, technologically advanced global metropolises in the world through direct experience."

As part of my master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Birmingham, I took part in the 29th Seoul Case Study Programme in Seoul, South Korea, while also extending my travels to Japan to visit the Mott MacDonald Tokyo office.

At the Tokyo office, I conducted a presentation providing an overview of the UK planning system and the Mott MacDonald town planning practice, I then had the opportunity to showcase several projects the practice has been involved in. Working in a multidisciplinary global management and development consultancy, this provided a great opportunity to extend connections face to face to an internal audience, largely unfamiliar with the Mott MacDonald planning practice. It also provided an opportunity to learn and share knowledge about sustainable development principles practiced internationally.

Following this, I took part in the Seoul Case Study Program. The main purpose of the program was to expose young scholars to a body of knowledge seldomly captured in a conventional graduate program. It provided an opportunity to carry out a comparative planning study through first-hand investigation in an international context including meeting key representatives from the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) to discuss their planning approach in the mega-city of Seoul. Among other things, their brand identity is to create a ’Walkable City, Seoul. Walkability is increasingly sought after by cities all over the world as sustainability becomes increasingly important; the movement of a prominently vehicle-orientated city to a pedestrian friendly city was a key theme that emerged during the week.

Seoul experienced profound industrialisation and urbanisation during the 1970s. Correspondingly, a modernist urban morphology centred around the motor vehicle was formed with the perception of this promising urban competitiveness, somewhat similar to Manzoni’s vision of the concrete collar in Birmingham. Consequently, little space for the pedestrian was left. To tackle significant environmental and social issues associated with this, the SMG have employed several of the policies to inaugurate Seoul as a pedestrian friendly city.

The Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project showcases this. Following rapid urbanisation, negative by-products, such as sewage and water pollution, became a serious problem. A motor vehicle orientated approach by the SMG meant the river was covered with the Cheonggye Expressway. This became one of the busiest roads in Seoul with momentous damaging environmental and social impacts. In pursuit to create a city for the pedestrian, this has been radically restored with a linear park running for 3.6 miles, providing a natural endowment of serenity where people walk and play among the hustle and bustle of the mega-city. In doing so, this brings about significant social, economic and environmental benefits including flood prevention, biodiversity, air pollution and reducing the urban heat island effect.

Cheonggyecheon River Restoration Project

This radical transformation of the urban environment is not unusual. A number of other projects exemplify this further, including Seoullo7017 and Seoul Plaza. This revolutionary, forward-thinking and innovative response is inspiring. The SMG have committed to making Seoul a pedestrian friendly city coincidentally tackling key environmental, social and economic issues.

This trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience. While being able to connect with colleagues in Japan, external connections were made with other participating universities, the University of Seoul and representatives of SMG. I was able to learn about one of the most innovative, technologically advanced global metropolises in the world through direct experience. Both Japan and the city of Seoul were fascinating, and as a town planner it was gratifying to see such emphasis in Seoul’s planning approach to tackle sustainability issues and improve the quality of life for Seoulites. I would like to express my profound thanks to Mott MacDonald, the University of Birmingham, Seoul Metropolitan Government and the University of Seoul for this unforgettable trip.

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