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Take Me to the River

by Jay Walljasper - February 4, 2008

There's no better place to contemplate all that's possible for our urban future than the riverfront in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city. A river-walk lined with sidewalk cafés meanders through the heart of town, and on sunny days it seems practically the whole city gathers there. Even on long, chilly winter evenings, you still find plenty of people strolling along the water.

Yet until a decade ago the river was buried beneath a busy boulevard filled with cars and trucks. Looking for a way to beautify and enliven their city center, citizens of Aarhus decided to liberate the river from the culverts where it had flowed for many years.

This process, known as "daylighting," is a growing trend, which offers inspiration that we can do more than prevent future problems in our hometowns—we can repair damage done in the past.

This was dramatically accomplished in Seoul—South Korea's capital of 10 million—where a six-lane freeway was bulldozed in 2005 to create a five-mile green oasis along the Cheonggyecheon River in the center of town (see before and after photographs here. "Our life has been changed," local actor Inchon Yu told the Guardian newspaper. "People feel the water and the wind. Life becomes slower."

Similar projects are now being proposed for Shanghai and Tokyo. Meanwhile, the Seoul mayor who carried out the controversial idea, Lee Myung-bak, was elected South Korea's new president in December (IHT).

In Los Angeles, green activists have long urged that the Los Angeles River be resurrected from the concrete tunnels where it is now largely hidden. This once-crazy idea now seems to be picking up steam, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has visited Seoul to study the new parks along the Cheonggyecheon where for years people could see only traffic,—not water,—flowing.

Friends of the Los Angeles River: http://www.folar.org/