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Culture ministry: Making the living environment more livable

Pocheon Art ValleyWe shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, stressing the importance of the living environment.

This is quite true. A sound environment helps nurture cultured citizens and a happy society, and the Korean government is pursuing multilateral approaches to give every nook and cranny of the country a touch up, so as to turn Korea into a pleasant and delightful living space.

The government is concentrating its efforts to help people enjoy their everyday life in their working and living space, said an official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to Gonggam, a government weekly magazine.

"Environmental engineering not only changes the physical dimension of places, but also breathes fresh life into their general atmosphere, even altering people’s characteristics and personalities. New York was once a city teeming with crime. The city government spent more time on environmental reform than on cracking down on malicious crimes. Thanks to this [innovative] approach, the city’s crime rate went down by half in the 1990s," said the official.

Dongseongno (Street) in Daegu, North Gyeongsang Province (Photo: Dong-A DB)When changing community environments, the culture ministry sticks to a couple of principles. First, it encourages local citizens to get involved in the remodeling, instead of forcing them into it, and spends enough time listening to their opinions. Second, the ministry seeks to preserve the traditional value and original shape of a structure intact as much possible. Consequently only a few cases need a total shake-up.

Among major upgrades carried out by the ministry is the realization of walkable streets. Dongseongno (Street) in Daegu, an art valley in Pocheon, and the area around Seoul Station are typical examples.

Dongseongno is a thoroughfare about a kilometer long running through the Jung-gu (Jung District) of the City of Daegu in Gyeongsangbuk-do (North Gyeongsang Province). Only a year ago, the street was filled with stalls and electrical facilities, but now it is decorated with lilies, oak trees, performance stages, a public square and fountains, thanks to the city government’s efforts. Street stalls have been replaced with road lamps and benches, making the street one of the most beloved places where citizens like to spend their time.

Pocheon Art Valley, an eco-friendly culture and art space in Gyeonggi Province, was established in an abandoned quarry with the support of the provincial government. The 140,000 square-meter plot of land now features a stone sculpture park, a public performance stage, an observatory and a 420-meter monorail which takes visitors to the peak of Cheonju Mountain from the valley’s entrance. The 50-meter vertical granite cliff is especially spectacular. The 7,000 square-meter Cheonjuho (Cheonju Lake) around the Pocheon valley makes visitors’ jaws go slack with awe.

Seoul Station renovation siteThe culture ministry in 2008 designated Pocheon Art Valley as a candidate place to be developed as an "Art Creation Belt," and a 1,200 square-meter space there will be filled with an education exhibition center and cafes by 2011, thanks to the injection of 5.3 billion won of government funds.

For the Seoul Station renovation project, the culture ministry has allocated about 20 billion won. The ministry plans to restore the building of the old and now disused station, National Historic Spot No. 286, to its original shape as it looked when it was first built in 1925. The building is known as one of the two most aesthetic colonial structures along with the Chosun central bank building (Historic Spot No. 280).

The station building will be reborn in March 2011 as a mega-sized cultural complex with a museum of modern history, exhibition and concert halls, seminar rooms and outdoor cafes.

When you go there now, you can view the long fence surrounding the construction site. Walking along the fence, you can enjoy photographs showing the over 100 years of history of Seoul Station. The photos show the completion of the building’s construction in 1925, famous Korean ballerina Choi Seung-hee arriving at the station in 1928, group of people cheering for Korea’s independence in 1945, scenes of the pro-democracy movement 1980 and more. Visitors to the area can also see the development of national trains, from steam locomotive, diesel train to KTX.

* Adapted from Weekly Gonggam Magazine

By James Ro Staff Writer

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