Cyclists in the Haenggung-dong neighborhood of Suwon City

It's exactly one year since the city of Suwon in South Korea practised an amazing experiment. In the Haenggung-dong neighborhood, 1500 cars were removed from the streets as their 4,343 owners volunteered not to use them for one whole month.

The Eco-mobility World Festival, as it was called, was an eminent success. Most residents on the world's first month-long car-free diet became convinced that living without a car was healthier, more sustainable, environmentally friendly and fun way to live and resolved to claim back the streets that had been designed to accommodate more cars and bring them back to the people.

According to the subsequently-produced report, "Haenggung-dong residents discovered that in a neighborhood without cars, the space between buildings transforms from car parks and conduits to safe and green places to gather, to enjoy leisure activities, to linger in, and to enjoy."

Suwon street after the changes to make them more liveable and  car-free

Suwon street after the changes to make them more liveable and  car-free.

The narrow alleys of the area had already been upgraded based on things residents had called for to create livable streets in the neighborhood.

Wheelchair users able to get around the accessible city streets of Haenggung-dong

Wheelchair users able to get around the accessible city streets of Haenggung-dong.

The Festival was the result of cooperation between ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and the City of Suwon under the inspiring leadership of Mayor Yeom Tae-Young. it included a 3-day conference attended by urban mobility experts from Japan, Mexico, Kenya and forty other countries, and organisations, such as the New Cities Foundation.

 Liveable public space in Haenggung-dong

Liveable public space in Haenggung-dong. 

Showing the future today - 11 min from The Urban Idea GmbH on Vimeo.

One year later, what has been the legacy?

A citizens’ round table was hosted by Suwon City last November. Around 300 participants called for speed restrictions, parking controls and one-way systems to be instituted, and for the project's area to be extended to include the entirety of Haenggung-dong. As a result, the immediate changes have been:

  • No parking on Hwaseomun Street and Sinpung Street
  • Speed restricted to 30km per hour
  • Car-free weekends
  • Residents allowed to have their free parking rights in parking lots renewed permanently, with free rental of bikes
  • Further street improvements to be continued.

New local government policies have been drafted, which include building more bike lanes, improving the public transport system and reducing speed limits.

Yesterday, the area held another car-free day event and throughout September citizens of the city are being advised to use public transport and bicycles more.

Moving forward, the Festival demonstrated that moving away from car dependency is feasible, beneficial and can improve quality of life for the citizens of Suwon.

"If the Festival had not happened, we would still be living with a mindset that cars are the only way of adapting to an urban lifestyle. The Festival offered us an attractive, feasible, more sustainable alternative, and for that we are forever grateful", says one resident.

"With this Festival, the City of Suwon has become a leader in advancing environmental and sustainability solutions," believes Park Won Soon, Mayor of Seoul City.

Hosting the inaugural EcoMobility World Festival provided Suwon with a launching pad for an expanded sustainable transport plan in the entire metropolitan area. Encouraged by the 2013 Festival, a series of annual EcoMobility World Festivals is envisaged, organized in another city on a different continent every year.

With over 1,000,000 visits recorded during the Festival duration, the question now arises: which city will be next to follow in Suwon’s footsteps and take the idea one step further?

“The goal is for the ecomobile neighborhood to be used as a prototype for other cities to replicate across the globe”, said ICLEI Global EcoMobility Coordinator, Santhosh Kodukula.

Is your city leader committed to prioritize citizens over cars? Do you want to show that taking away cars increases economic value? Do you want to show your citizens that there is more than one way to commute to work? ICLEI has the tools to transform your city; all they need in return is leadership from a city's administration. Contact [email protected] for more information.

Meanwhile, Suwon is now entering the WWF's Earth Hour City Challengea year-long competition among cities to promote renewable energy and prepare for climate change. Is your city taking part?