Greenways or freeways?

Greenways are a breath of fresh air in polluted, crowded cities. Now researchers have found that a greenway can attract office workers and boost nearby employment density, revitalizing urban areas that have lost businesses to the suburbs.

The team studied the Cheonggyecheon greenway in Seoul, Korea, a stream flanked by landscaped pedestrian walkways that replaced an elevated freeway. Completed in 2005, the project was intended to reverse the decline of Seoul’s central business district. Over the previous decade, many companies had decamped to the suburbs, and the number of employees working downtown dropped by nearly a third.

The researchers analyzed government data on businesses gathered from 2001 to 2006. The companies spanned a variety of industries, including architecture, engineering, design, entertainment, finance, health care, food service, retail, construction, and transportation. The team then mapped the location of each business and calculated how far the office was from freeway ramps and greenway entrances.

Companies in office sectors tended to cluster within about 800 to 900 meters of pedestrian entrances to the greenway, the authors report in Urban Studies. The greenway offers a relaxing spot for workers to stroll after lunch — which might improve productivity — as well as cleaner air, cooler temperatures, and new restaurants and stores lining the walkways. Before the greenway was built, service businesses were more common near freeway ramps, perhaps because the employees and customers liked the convenience.

The greenway also increased employment density up to 1.2 kilometers away, the team found. In contrast, the freeway had boosted employment density only within 600 meters.

The results suggest that “supplanting the freeway with an urban greenway has been an effective public investment in Seoul,” the authors write. Freeways often result in congestion, pollution, and urban sprawl, the team says, while greenways can act as hubs for knowledge exchange among office workers and bring new life to urban cores.Roberta Kwok | 19 February 2015

Source: Jang, M. and C.-D. Kang. 2015. The effects of urban greenways on the geography of office sectors and employment density in Seoul, Korea. Urban Studies doi: 10.1177/00420980.

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