Cheonggyecheon was a natural stream that was polluted, covered up, and restored too quickly to go back to its natural process. Today, it’s a man-made stream and a lovely place to go for a walk.
The stream itself is beautiful, the seasonal decorations are cute, but the history of the stream was the most interesting part of the day.
The stream started out as a center for people to do things like gather water, do laundry, and the like. Eventually, as the city and surrounding areas urbanized, it got so polluted that the government decided to cover it up with an elevated highway. Eventually, as the highway got older it became unsafe to travel across.
In 2003, the mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak undertook a giant restoration project that was initially met with public criticism. Many said he was doing it too quickly, and the stream would go from a natural stream to a man-made one. Even today, the maintenance fees of the stream are high–the water must be pumped from the bottom of the stream back to the top to start the flow again. There’s also a section of the stream that must be restored after every flood season.
Today, the stream is much-loved, and a popular place for tourists and locals alike. It’s also a popular date place, so beware of this area in the evenings if you’re PDA-averse.
A little further down from the bridge that we stopped at (with the market nearby) is a museum and palace you can explore.
Fun fact: there are rocks along the stream, which serve three purposes. 1) to slow down the water current; 2) to serve as stepping stones if you must get across; and 3) to increase oxygen levels in the water.
Our tour guide mentioned that there are plans for a series of small projects aimed at turning the stream into a natural, self-sustaining stream once again.