Seoul, a sparkling example of environmental recovery

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am

Seoul has been held up as a guiding light through the smog that frequently shrouds Hong Kong's famous skyline.

While the experience in the South Korean capital is far different, Seoul's mayoral office believes there are always lessons that can be learned and adapted.

Under the leadership of outgoing mayor Lee Myung-bak, the city has experienced a dramatic turnaround. And while city hall may have provided the muscle and financial capital, it has been the determination of the capital's people that has changed its once dismal fortunes.

Since 1990, 96 per cent of households have switched to natural gas.

In conjunction with the Ministry of Finance, all buses also run on the less polluting gas and owners of vehicles over five years old have been encouraged to fit gas-powered engines. By 2014, the number of vehicles running on gas will have reached 380,000, from 43,000 today.

Then there was the complete reconstruction of the transport system and the building of a subway, which won an award last year from the World Association of Major Metropolises - and encouragement for previously car-addicted citizens to find other means of getting to work once a week. The government claims that programme alone cut traffic volume by 7 per cent and reduced annual pollution from vehicle emissions by 13 per cent.

And the result?

'People can see clearly to the sea at Inchon from Seoul Tower,' a city hall spokeswoman said.

Last year saw the opening of the Seoul Forest, an ecological park of 115 hectares inside the city.

Another improvement, of which Seoul is particularly proud, is the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream - once a fetid, polluted mess covered by a web of highways and buildings and now a centre point for the city. Workers line the banks during lunch hour, and the government claims 210,000 people visit the stream each day.

'No one imagined that a stream can flow into the heart of a city packed with skyscrapers, especially when the stream has long been covered with concrete and elevated highways,' the spokeswoman said.