Seoul wins Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize

Seoul's Yonsei-ro, which was transformed from a congested road into a pleasant transit mall for pedestrians and public transport.
Seoul's Yonsei-ro, which was transformed from a congested road into a pleasant transit mall for pedestrians and public transport.PHOTO: SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT

SINGAPORE - In the South Korean capital Seoul, highways and main roads have made way for public spaces for the people.

At Cheonggyecheon, in downtown Seoul, an elevated highway was removed to restore a stream and create a natural recreational space.

And Yonsei-ro, a 550-metre stretch of road lined with shops was pedestrianised so that visitors can enjoy the space more. Before vehicle access was controlled, roads there were congested and cars crawled at 10kmh.

Now cars in Yonsei-ro make way for people to enjoy public performances on its streets.

These car-lite moves in "shifting away from car-oriented transportation to people-centric spaces" were among the reasons Seoul was picked as the winner of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize. The announcement was made at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Centre on Friday (March 16).

Seoul is the fifth recipient, after earlier wins by Medellin in Colombia, Suzhou in China, Bilbao in Spain and New York City in the US.

The city beat 28 others to clinch the biennial award by URA and the Centre for Liveable Cities.

Hamburg in Germany, Kazan in the Russian Federation, Surabaya in Indonesia and Tokyo in Japan received a special mention for good practices in their city management.

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize is an international award honouring outstanding achievements in the creation of liveable, vibrant and sustainable urban communities around the world.

"Seoul once appeared as a city drowning in problems beyond solutions. Amazingly, strong creative leadership, building on deep citizen engagement and data-driven solutions, managed to turn things around.

"This mega city now leads the way in delivering inclusive, dynamic and forward-looking urban solutions. It is a truly worthy recipient of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize," said Nominating Committee Chairman Professor Kishore Mahbubani.

Seoul overcame challenges such as rapid urbanisation and the task of providing for a booming car-based society by introducing projects that repurposed urban infrastructure and engaging citizen participation in day-to-day operations.

Crediting Seoul's citizens for the win, Mayor Park Won Soon said: "I believe that this award is a recognition of the citizens of Seoul's retrospection of the past and insight into the future in order to make Seoul a 'meta-polis'."

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize comprises an award certificate, a gold medallion and a cash prize of $300,000, sponsored by Keppel Corporation. It is a highlight of the upcoming World Cities Summit, which will be held at Marina Bay Sands from July 8 to 12.