Yongsan Garrison U.S. military base in South Korea to become green park in heart of Seoul


Former U.S. military base in South Korea to become green park in heart of Seoul

Yongsan Garrison, lengthy the house of the U.S. army in South Korea, is
going to be remodeled right into a park within the coronary heart of Seoul that the
authorities says will develop into a signature attraction within the dense
megacity. Photograph by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, July 1 (UPI) — For nearly 120 years, Yongsan Garrison has been off-limits to South Korean civilians — however now the walled compound within the coronary heart of Seoul is popping right into a public park that officers say will rework town.

Starting final month, residents had been in a position to enter the previous headquarters of the American army on a pilot tour — and metropolis leaders say the longer term Yongsan Park will develop into Seoul’s “new face.”

“Similar to Central Park in New York Metropolis, Yongsan Park will present the biggest leisure house [in Seoul] for residents,” Oh Jang-hwan, director of the strategic planning division for the Seoul metropolitan authorities, instructed UPI — including that the mission will present a much-needed expanse of inexperienced to the densely packed metropolis of 10 million folks.

For 2 weeks in June, visitors had been allowed to tour a small part of the bottom that features sports activities fields and a former residential space for officers.

The officers’ single-story ranch-style properties with tiled Spanish roofs and entrance yards made a putting distinction to the encircling metropolis, a leafy slice of suburban America within the shadows of Seoul’s gleaming high-rises.

It was this glimpse of a special world that drew Oh Ji-eun, a 25 year-old nurse, to hitch a guided strolling tour final week.

“I used to be curious to go to as a result of it appears just like the U.S.,” she mentioned. “I have never ever seen something like this earlier than in Korea.”

Historic photographs and displays had been arrange on among the lawns, whereas tour information Im Jong-hwa identified quirks of the bottom, together with its twin units of utility poles — some carrying 220-volt energy traces and others feeding properties the American-standard 110 volts.

Im detailed the historical past of Yongsan, which was established in 1904 by Japan throughout its colonial occupation of Korea and has remained off-limits to the general public since. The bottom in the end grew to become the headquarters of U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command from the Korean Conflict within the Nineteen Fifties till 2018, when each instructions relocated to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 40 miles south of Seoul.

“Not many Korean folks know the historical past of Yongsan, that the Japanese had been right here,” Im mentioned. “Particularly the youthful ones.”

Different guests, nevertheless, had lengthy needed an opportunity to see the compound’s historical past firsthand.

Choi Ha-yeon, 74, mentioned that he’d been close to the bottom many occasions however had by no means been allowed to set foot inside — till now.

“This can be a very massive a part of [Korean] historical past,” Choi mentioned. “I needed an opportunity to see it earlier than it adjustments. I hope the federal government preserves among the historic websites.”

Detailed plans for Yongsan Park are nonetheless within the works, mentioned Jang Seung-Gueon, deputy director of park coverage for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which is overseeing the mission.

“Builders did the essential investigation with the assistance of the U.S. Military,” Jang instructed UPI. “However there may be nonetheless a dialogue whether or not they are going to protect, transform or do away with among the historic items.”

South Korean residents haven’t been allowed entry to the positioning for nearly 120 years, since Japanese colonizers first established a army facility right here in 1904. Photograph by Thomas Maresca/UPI

The ministry arrange suggestion mailboxes at a number of areas across the web site, trying to get guests’ suggestions in regards to the park’s growth.

Plans for a handover from the U.S. army to South Korea date way back to 2003, when it was first introduced that American forces would transfer to the brand new base in Pyeongtaek. That switch was anticipated to be accomplished in 2008, however delays and building points pushed last relocation again by a decade.

A grasp plan for the park’s design by Netherlands-based agency West 8 was chosen in 2012, however solely a small portion of the bottom’s land has been turned over thus far, and the Korean authorities and builders haven’t been in a position to conduct a full survey.

In early June, america handed over a parcel of land in its third switch of the yr. South Korea has thus far obtained about 30% of the garrison’s roughly 500 acres.

Jang mentioned it’s going to take seven years from the ultimate handover for the park to be accomplished. He added {that a} timetable is in place with the U.S. army to finish the method, but it surely hasn’t been launched publicly.

Curiosity in the way forward for the bottom has picked up as not too long ago inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol moved his presidential workplace to the previous protection ministry headquarters, which is positioned proper subsequent to the Yongsan web site.

In the course of the pilot opening, visitors had been in a position to go to a discipline close to the president’s workplace and pose for photographs with a ceremonial car and a protection helicopter.

The mission, although, isn’t with out controversy. A small group of protesters was stationed close to the doorway to the bottom as guests entered, warning of the excessive ranges of contaminants, equivalent to benzene, that had been found in groundwater there after many years of oil leaks.

Seoul has been cleansing the realm across the base for the reason that early 2000s, and Jang mentioned there are presently no security considerations.

The protesters, nevertheless, accuse Seoul of giving america a “free cross” on the problem.

“Our opinion is that the U.S. authorities needs to be in cost as a result of that is U.S. Military air pollution,” activist Kim Eun-hee mentioned.

Most guests on the pilot tour, nevertheless, had excessive hopes for the way forward for Yongsan Park — seeing it as a once-in-a-lifetime alternative to rework a logo of army occupation and conflict right into a signature inexperienced house for Seoul.

“The damaging historical past makes this place extra wonderful,” mentioned Lee Jong-ju, a 27-year-old programmer visiting the bottom.

“Once they open this up, I hope it will likely be an iconic park for Seoul.”

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