What would it look like to live our daily life without cars? What if we realize what has only existed in our world of imagination? “EcoMobility World Festival 2013 Suwon” turned the imaginary world into reality in Haenggung-dong, Suwon, Korea, where real residents created ecomobility of the future in their real life in real time. The world’s first experiment and project venue, Haenggung-dong, became a car-free village for a full month. Over one million visitors from over 50 countries around the world came to the site of project launched by 4,343 residents in the land area bigger than 63 soccer fields with 13 billion won investment. In the village where over 1,500 private automobiles disappeared, some 40 international companies provided ecomobile vehicles. The project comprised of exhibition and experience of ecomobility, expert conference, and various cultural events invited central and local governments, transport experts, NGOs, companies, universities, bicycle users and pedestrians’ organizations, and local and foreign media.
Prior cooperation with residents
Residents’ reaction to the plans for the project was mixed, showing complex emotions of passion, curiosity, interest, and objection. To plan a month-long event, workshops, symposiums, and education sessions on ecomobility were held to collect the views of residents and summon their active support and participation. In particular, to ease the concerns of residents who worry about uncertainties during the event period, a prior event of car-free day was held for two days for their pre-experience. Furthermore, City employees paid personal visits to Haenggung-dong residents and explained about the project. Thanks to these efforts, two days before the opening of the Festival, 70% of Festival opponents switched to approval.
Urban regeneration of Haenggung-dong streets
Makeovers of Haenggung-dong streets carried out for urban regeneration played an important role in changing residents’ perception about the festival project. Based on the demand of the residents found in a 2012 survey, Suwon City made efforts to make the neighborhood livable. Sewage infrastructure was improved, and power distribution facilities on the ground were buried. Roads in the entire area were flattened and repaved through large-scale reconstruction. During the first week of the Festival, one of the main roads in the city, Jeongjo-ro, was transformed into Suwon ecomobile road, with two lanes assigned to bus and taxi, and the other two to bicycles and non-motorized modes of transport and light electric vehicles. Ecomobile village was designated as a car-free zone, and residents were free to use carbon-free modes of transport provided by rental centers. Furthermore, facades of buildings were neatly refurbished, and alleys were renovated through public project programs.
Exodus of automobiles
During the full month of Festival, over 98% of registered cars remained parked in designated parking sites. This was possible thanks to the support and cooperation of residents who voluntarily removed their cars from the streets. The discussion on removal of cars from the ecomobile village started one year before the Festival was held. The situations and demands of residents were recorded, and plans were developed while addressing residents’ needs through consultation. Volunteers were recruited to guide traffic at each gate of the ecomobile village. During the Festival period, shuttle buses on six routes that link the village with four provisional parking sites operated every 15 minutes, and a 24-hour support center for citizens was run to respond to emergencies of residents. Moreover, over 400 units of bicycles, electric scooters, electric bicycles and baby carriages were provided for free during one month as a means of ecomobility. Postal deliveries were made with electric vehicles and the police patrolled the area using light electric vehicles.
Various ecomobile vehicles and printing of local currency
A broad range of ecomobile vehicles from 10 different countries attracted a keen attention of visitors, who were curious to learn about future transport modes. 35 types of ecomobile vehicles were displayed at vehicle exhibition, alongside a state-of-the-art wireless tram. More than 176,000 visitors tried out electric bicycles, electric carts, Velo taxis, electric scooters, baby carriages, truck trailers, and multi-purpose tricycles, exploring alternatives to their conventional cars. In addition, as part of an effort for the international festival to revitalize the local economy, local currency (coupons) was printed amounting to 300 million won, which was adopted by 169 stores (85% of total) in the festival area. Visitors taking part in charged tour programs were given matching local currency equivalent to their tour price. Sales with local currency amounted to around 190 million won during the festival period.
Ecomobile village life
The true highlight of the festival was the day-day life of village residents who were getting used to taking ecomobile vehicles. Haenggung-dong people bore witness to changes being made to their village: parked cars and electric poles disappeared creating safe, green, happy spaces where people can gather and enjoy their leisure activities. Residents in the village either walked or relied on pedaled motor and low-pollution transportation to go to work or school and to live their daily lives such as shopping and leisure without resorting to conventional modes of transport.
Communication and going viral via media
The Festival let the world watch how a town at the heat of a city can live without a car for a full month, drawing a keen attention of worldwide media and experts. UN-HABITAT’s ecomobile blog content contest and video content contest evoked huge interest, and videos with various interpretations of ecomobility went viral via SNS. Local terrestrial broadcasters and cable channels captured the life of ecomobile village and produced and aired documentaries, drawing an explosive attention of the public with Haenggung-dong ranking one of the top search-words in major portal sites.
Legacy of the Festival
The project of the Festival helped the world to appreciate the significance of human-oriented transport system and conveniences of the street and set a new milestone in Suwon’s transport plan. Although the Festival was over in one month, the Suwon City Government made decisions about the future of the ecomobile village with its residents. Citizens’ roundtable came up with an agreement to designate no-parking zones, set automobile speed limits, continue to have car-free days on weekends, and make additional refurbishment of streets in Haenggung-dong. And over 60% of ecomobile vehicles shipped from overseas for the Festival were donated to Suwon.
A full car-free month of Suwon sensationalized cities around the world and became a target of benchmark. 2nd EcoMobility World Festival was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in October 2015, and 3rd EcoMobility World Festival in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in October 2017. Johannesburg and Kaohsiung officials visited Suwon before they held the Festival and toured Haenggung-dong to learn know-hows of successful ecomobility festival.
Meanwhile, the Suwon City Government deployed various ecomobility policies to carry on the legacy of Ecomobility Festival 2013 and to propagate “sustainable, human-oriented ecomobility culture.” Marking one year anniversary, ecomobility village community center was opened in 2014, and in 2017, ecomobility village alley museum was opened to spread the knowledge of ecomobility to visitors from Korea and around the world. Starting with four areas in 2014 and in eleven areas in total until last year, 166 events of “Car-free Day” were held, where 210,000 people participated accumulatively. Suwon is receiving constant visits from local municipalities across the nation, which try to benchmark Haenggung-dong’s ecomobility and urban regeneration project.
This year, commemorating the 5th anniversary of EcoMobility World Festival 2013 Suwon, “EcoMobility World Festival 2013 reminder festival” was held in September 7-9. Ecomobility programs of novel bicycle experience on the “car-free street” and climate change experience were implemented, and a seminar was held under the theme of “change and the present of ecomobile village.” A citizens’ parade was also held, where citizens joined by walking along and riding unicycles and shared bicycles (Mobike), reliving the touching moments of five years ago when the village ushered in a new era of ecomobility.