regenerating green spaces in the urban fabric


Sustainable Architecture Research Paper

Fall 2016, Regenerative Architecture

Professor Michael Garrison, the University of Texas at Austin

Collaboration with Isabel Albert

Solar Decathlon 2011 by University of Maryland



This paper deals with three projects which regenerated green spaces in urban areas. Some cities have been developed by unplanned land development without thinking of public spaces. The public spaces with green areas are essential to our life. This is due to the green spaces in urban area being significantly related to quality of life. The restoration of infrastructure project in Seoul, Turia riverbed park in Valencia, Spain, and ‘reconnect Austin’ project in Austin are discussed as well as the economic and social values for sustainable communities are examined.

Keywords: sustainable community, restoration, urban park, green space, public space



A public space is an open space that is actually accessible to people. It is a gathering place that helps to promote social relationship and a sense of community. Roads, plazas, parks, public squares, marketplaces, public greens, piers, and waterfront are typically considered public space. To a limited extent, government buildings like public libraries and private buildings that affect to pedestrians can also be considered as public spaces.

In the past, there had been unplanned land development without humanity, which had considered cars and infrastructure. However, many people today recognize benefits of green space that can improve human health, environmental health, and have economic values practically. For instance, the most ‘livable’ cities – and some of the world’s most famous cities – are as known for their open space as they are for their culture. Hyde Park in London, Central Park in New York, Phoenix Park in Dublin, all of them have attractions to their own neighborhoods and also visitors.

To be specific, there are numerous health benefits related to access to green public space and parks. It is able to has the potential to improve people’s physical activities, mental health benefits and reduce stress levels. The urban green space also contributes to environmental benefits that can promote natural landscapes for humans, wildlife and plants in urban fabric.

cheonggyecheon restoration project in seoul, south korea

The capital of South Korea, Seoul, has developed rapidly in recent decades. Seoul is considerably dense, its population is 10 million in 2014, which is a hundred times than that in Austin. During the rapid urbanization, a lot of high-rise buildings were built and a comprehensive network of highways and roads appeared to facilitate development and movement within the center of Seoul.

Cheonggyecheon stream is a 10.9km (7 miles) long in the center of Seoul, it was an historic area because many people started migrating into Seoul to live and settle down along the stream after the Korean War (1950-1053). The stream used for washing place for residents, however, was covered up with concrete over 20 years starting in 1958, and a 5.6 km-long, 16 m-wide elevated highway was completed in 1976.

The Cheonggyecheon stream restoration project started to change an elevated highway (that had covered the stream since the 1960s) into a multipurpose public space in 2005. New-built Cheonggyecheon river walk remarkably became a popular space for its residents and tourists. (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Evolution of the Cheonggyecheon valley section from natural to urban condition. Source: Deconstruction/ construction the Cheonggyecheon restoration project in Seoul

social and cultural benefits

The Cheonggyecheon restoration project generated a new cultural space and tourist attraction at the center of Seoul. According to a survey undertaken by the Seoul Development Institute in 2005 of 1,000 Seoul residents who visited Cheonggyecheon, 54.7 percent said that the restored stream was an appealing place to visit. Today, it approximately attracts 64,000 visitors per day. Of those, 1,408 are foreign tourists who contribute up to $1.9 million in visitor spending to the Seoul economy.

In terms of transportation, although removal of the multilevel highway, it could change transportation patterns to better ways. Rather than exacerbating traffic congestion in the center, the project actually reduced pressure on the central business district by increasing the transportation capacity of buses and subways, and redirecting motor traffic.

At the new public space along the Cheonggyecheon, numerous cultural events like concerts, exhibitions, parade are held almost every day, making the riverside a center for public activities in Seoul. It is remarkably quiet because the stream is more than 15 ft. (4.6 m) below street level and feels comfortable in a complicated urban area (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Cheonggyecheon stream is used as a gathering place.


economic impact

Economically, the Cheonggyecheon is said to have stimulated business activity in the surrounding area. Following the completion of the project, a large number of multipurpose buildings are being built near to the Cheonggyecheon. These phenomena affected to increase the price of real estate by 30-50 percent within 50 meters of the restoration project. This is double the rate of increase in other areas in Seoul. (Seoul Development Institute, 2005)

environmental improvements

The new public space as a clean and natural water running through the heart of the city was evaluated as a beneficial transformation of Seoul into an ecological city. After the restoration work, the number of wildlife species found in that area increased by 639% between the pre-restoration work in 2003 and the end of 2008. The changed number demonstrates an improved suitability for life.

Especially, with the green and water spaces, it has been a major role to reduce the urban heat island effect with temperature along the stream 3.3° to 5.9°C cooler than on other roads 4-7 blocks away. This results from the removal of the paved expressway, the cooling effect of the stream, increased vegetation and reduction air pollution.

Figure 3. Amenities in Cheonggyecheon stream


river turia project, valencia, spain


history and flooding problems

The city of Valencia has always experienced historic floods and just as a lot of Mediterranean river basins, the River Turia had tent to overflow leaving a historic city center on a risk.

The biggest catastrophe happened on October 14th and 14th of 1957 in which during this day and the following, the river overflow causing not only infrastructure damage but also human damage. In some neighborhoods, the waters reached heights of over five meters (17 feet). At least 81 people died in the Gran Riada de Valencia, and thousands were displaced after losing their homes. It was an epic disaster, and called for an epic response. (Powell,2015)

The Government Decided to develop a response plan. And so they devised the “Plan Sur” (South Plan) to deal with the Turia’s menace. The entire river would be diverted, its course to the Mediterranean re-routed through the fields south of the city. And as the water of the river Turia itself still runs from the mountains to the sea but where it meets the city of Valencia, it skirts around the livelihoods it threatened almost sixty years ago.


Decision making

One of the challenges that this type of developments faces has to do with the decision making. In the case of the River Turia, when the 1957 catastrophe happened a lot of options where put on the table to make a decision. But the development of this garden took a lot of decision making. There were originally three proposals: north, center and south plan.

The government originally was more interested in the plan center which planned to convert the former riverbed into a highway, but citizens protested and formed a movement named “el riu és nostre i el volem verd“: the river is ours and we want it green.  This movement was a very important event for the future of the city nowadays, because although it took a while, these people where eventually heard and in 1986 the Turia Riverbed Park was officially inaugurated.

Figure 5. The Turia Riverbed park


economic and social value for a sustainable community

The park itself is seven kilometers (4.3 miles) of length and 120 hectares of dry riverbed, running from the BioParc (in the west) to the City of Arts and Sciences (in the east). Over twenty bridges span its width, a few of them are new, but others were built out of stone, many centuries ago. Some of these bridges where design by valencian architect Santiago Calatrava as well as the City of Arts of Sciences which represent a very big attraction for tourist and therefore a economic benefit. Also as a real park for the people, it is also home to an athletics track, artworks, climbing walls, football pitches, cafes, ponds and flowers. (Phelps, 2012)

All of this events and spaces lead to making this place a very attractive green space that instantly becomes the city’s lung as it contains a series of parks and zoos as well a very extensive grid of bicycle and walking routes. Since the park was inaugurated, it has become a really important element of the city as it not only surrounds the whole historic center but allowed the city to expand on the other side of the riverbed while keeping it connected to the downtown.


reconnect austin

Like a lot of other highways, the I-35 has historically been an infrastructural barrier between west and east Austin and it is the 4th most congested highway in the US. Reconnect Austin intends to develop a solution to solve the traffic problem and design a new space for economic green development.

The group of volunteers from the team claim to envision a lively, walkable, civilized urban space, with mixed-use buildings full of restaurants, shops, offices and residences, and significantly improved accessibility for all.

The idea is to depress the main lanes of the interstate below grade from south of Holly St. to north of 15th St. and support the structure to hold a new cap along the entire corridor. Also the current bridges of the highway are over 50 years and they need reconstruction. The new bridges will work for pedestrians and bikes and those critical transit connections, taking car trips off our congested roads and providing much better access into downtown.

Currently the TxDOT’s (Texas Department of Transportation) is in charge of the highway as is a state governmental agency and plays a key role in order to take this project into action. As TxDOT itself says, “we cannot build our way out of congestion with highways. But we CAN reduce it by expanding peoples’ transportation choices.”



The current situation of the I-35 represents a very strong barrier between east and west Austin and not only creates a so-called “ring of congestion” but eliminates the old grid of the city. By bring this grid back the downtown could become the economic engine of the Central Texas Region.

Figure 6. Reconnect Austin

The Reconnect Austin team envisions a series of economic benefits that could make this a reality:

  • Ignites development in previously degraded or nonexistent parcels, by creating a more desirable place to work and live with mixed use programs and therefore that will expand the tax base.
  • Generates revenue to pay for the cap of the freeway.
  • The opportunity corridor. The project will leverage taxpayer investments because the success of current development projects in both sides of the highway, like the new University of Texas Medical District, will be enhanced.

Therefore, the economic basic statement of this project would be that great urban design creates economic development.


social value for a sustainable community

Reconnect Austin intends solve a transportation problem in Austin with a solution that itself solves environmental and density problems in the density. The idea claims to achieve a series of benefits like:

  • Removing the historic social, economic, and racial divide by putting together different neighborhoods and inviting them to this public space.
  • Creating a new open green space.
  • Mitigating the noise pollution and CO2 emissions.
  • Adding a flood control.

Figure 7. 6th street bridge, looking West. Source: Reconnectaustin



Developing good quality public green spaces is an element that communities need, especially in the current environmental situation that we are facing in the world. As cities expand and become denser, more infrastructures are being built in order to help with new connections within the city, but in some cases forgetting about designing public spaces for people to gather and enjoy their environment.

Having a look at these three examples give us a very broad view of the benefits of these spaces and help us understand how the quality of life can be improved. By making them attractive enough so mixed use development can happen and therefore economic growth for the city. Also the common thread that these case studies share is that they all faced different historical situations and had to develop a response, and therefore a lot of decision making. In some cases, these decisions prioritize budgets and car traffic but forget about the improvements that these spaces can bring in the long run. Finally, it is important to remember our responsibility to take into account the importance of these green spaces in order to grow into sustainable communities.



Lee, Y., Lee, C., Choi, J., Yoon, S., & Hart, R. (2014). Tourism's role in urban regeneration: Examining the impact of environmental cues on emotion, satisfaction, loyalty, and support for Seoul’s revitalized Cheonggyecheon stream district. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 22(5), 726-749. doi:10.1080/09669582.2013.871018

Busquets, J. (2011). Deconstruction/construction: The Cheonggyecheon restoration project in Seoul. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Lee, J. Y., & Anderson, C. D. (2013). The restored Cheonggyecheon and the quality of life in Seoul. Journal of Urban Technology, 20(4), 3-22. doi:10.1080/10630732.2013.855511

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