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[Newsmaker] Gwanghwamun restructuring put on hold in face of strong opposition

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Thursday its plan to restructure Gwanghwamun Square would be put on hold to gather public opinion in the wake of opposition from the relevant ministry and some civic groups.

However, the government still plans to restructure the current square, which has been compared to an isolated, gigantic traffic island, but it will revisit the current blueprint and take more time to draw up a final scheme to reflect public opinion, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said.

“We will complete (constructing) the new Gwanghwamun Square by more rigorously reflecting public opinion,” Park said at a press conference, adding the city would not be adamant about sticking to the earlier timetable for the project.


The government has pushed to expand the current square, which has become a symbol of democracy following months-long candlelight vigils that led to the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye, by May 2021, forming the capital’s cultural, historical and transportation hub.

The remodeling plan “Deep Surface” was unveiled in January, and the 104 billion-won ($87.1 million) project was expected to be launched early next year.

The original plan involved expanding the square westward toward Sejong Center by reducing the current 10-lane boulevard to six lanes, and restoring its historic ambience with the recreation of Yukjo Street, the main street of old Seoul.

But the plan was met with strong resistance from some civic groups, which have taken issue with traffic disruption, inconvenience to people living and working in central Seoul as well as procedural flaws in communicating with residents, leading the central government to step in.

Following the unveiling of the plan, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said it had never given its approval. It sent an official notice to the city government on July 30 demanding that the project be suspended, citing that the new square may cause traffic problems and interfere with normal operations at the Seoul Government Complex.

Dismissing concerns over conflicts between the city and central government, Park said his government has reached a “solid consensus” with the central government to cooperate on revamping the square.

The current masterplan, however, will still be taken into consideration in the process of devising a final plan on how to remodel the square, Seoul Deputy Mayor Jin Hee-seon said.

At the center of criticism is the lack of communication, despite some 100 meetings held with a citizens’ board over the past three years.

Addressing the criticism, a new channel to better gather and reflect public opinion will be created, Jin added.

By Ock Hyun-ju (