Dokodemo Door!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Journey to Seoul #2

I wanted to mention something about Seoul as a modern city, because there's really a lot of interesting stuff going on there; in some ways, it's on the cutting edge of technology and urban development.

For example, in the mid-1990s, the Republic of Korea made it a national priority to maximize the number of people who could access the Internet. This involved not only a massive investment in infrastructure and a revamping of the telecom regulatory system, but also included training programs aimed at connecting the elderly and people on the margins. That, coupled with a highly dense urban population, means that the country has the highest broadband penetration rate in the world, with connections being faster and cheaper than the world average. There are definite lessons here for further broadening Internet access in the U.S. (By the same token, the insatiable demand for online games has brought a problem of Internet addiction in Korea, which is something that necessarily comes with the territory.)

Anyway, down the street from the hotel was the starting-point of Cheonggye stream, which is a 6-km long park going through the downtown section.

The story is that in the 1970s, an elevated roadway was built over this route and the stream was pretty much paved-over. In 2003, the mayor of Seoul came into office and thought that the roadway was something of a ratty-looking eyesore that needlessly divided the downtown. He initated a project to rip it up and turn it into a greenspace. Since the stream had basically been destroyed, getting the "original" flow of water wasn't possible, so what you see up there has to be piped-in from elsewhere. But today, the resulting park is something of a hit with the residents and it's a nice place when it gets lit-up at night.

The mayor who did it? Lee Myung-bak, who is somewhat more prominent in international news nowadays.


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