Sidewalk and Public Space Design Emphasized at 12th International Conference on Concrete Block Paving

Every three years, researchers, manufacturers, consultants, academics, and suppliers from around the world gather at the international conference on concrete block paving. The Korean Block Association hosted the October 2018 conference in Seoul. The event was co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Government of Seoul and the Korean Block Association. This amazing, very modern, safe city of 10 million people nestled next to North Korea, crowns a free, democratic nation to the south totaling 52 million people.

The conference included a group dinner at 777 ft tall Seoul Tower located downtown on the top of Namsan mountain park that gave stunning 360° views of the city. In addition, conference presenters and members of the Small Element Pavement Technologists received a traditional Korean dinner and music hosted by the Metropolitan Government of Seoul. The conference concluded with a technical/historic tour of downtown Seoul demonstrating the City’s commitment to segmental paving with visits to monuments, gates and palaces reflecting a history of persistence and creativity.

The Metropolitan Government has a special interest in concrete block paving because it is the standard pavement for sidewalks. There are some notable exceptions. Cut granite pavers are used in the downtown core around high-rent buildings and old stone units grace historic palaces, gates, courtyards and temples.

Like Europe, there is a 2000-year tradition of using segmental paving in Korea. This tradition continues via the Sidewalk Improvement Division of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. An impressive opening keynote address was given by Jong Hyeon Ha with the Seoul City Hall Safety Management Bureau. He demonstrated a continued tradition through a City policy called the Ten Commandments of Concrete Block Paving:

  1. All sidewalk construction or repair projects must display a sign with the contractor’s name and the inspector’s name and contact information.
  2. One strike-out policy: One project with weak or faulty construction by a contractor means that company is off the bidders list.
  3. Ensure pedestrian safety at all times.
  4. No sidewalk construction in winter.
  5. Compensation is assessed from any entity that damages the sidewalk.
  6. Citizens monitor and report sidewalk problem via a smartphone app—200,000 citizen reports are submitted annually.
  7. Citizen reports via cell phones must include specific inconveniences.
  8. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. The City removes cars parked on sidewalks.
  9. The City maintains a concrete block paving bank with spare paving units.
  10. Work with citizens by meeting regularly to discuss issues at the municipal district offices.
The downtown core boasts Cheonggyecheon Stream which formerly was a covered stormwater conveyance. Opened in 2005 at a cost of $900 million, the now uncovered stream transformed 6.8 miles of the downtown core into a major recreation space while serving as storage for flood waters.

In addition, there are Ten Commandments of Sidewalk Management which includes pavement, trees, utility poles, and street furniture:

  1. The City will clean the sidewalks for use by pedestrians.
  2. Adequate space will be provided on sidewalks for pedestrians.
  3. Utility poles will be consolidated to reduce their number, as well as transformer boxes.
  4. Reduce inconveniences especially lowering subway vents making them even with the sidewalk pavement.
  5. Enforce no motorcycles on sidewalks.
  6. The City will enforce removal of things that get delivered, stacked and left on sidewalks (usually blocking pedestrian traffic).
  7. Keep up with repairs to sidewalks and street furniture.
  8. Keep streets beautiful and use modern street furniture.
  9. Use a sidewalk management system to track condition and maintenance.
  10. Work together with citizens and citizen groups to improve sidewalks.

Since 2013, the City also hosts a “Pavement Block EXPO” with several dozen exhibitors from Korea, US, Germany, and Italy. This exposition brings new ideas and products to the City Sidewalk Improvement Division, a agency that supports an guestimated 16,000 km or 10,000 miles of segmentally paved sidewalks, or something like 17 square miles.

Example of sidewalk concrete block paving ‘holding down’ balloons and paving at a downtown folk art museum garden.

Dave Hein, P. Eng., Principal Engineer with Applied Research Associates, Inc. presented a second keynote address entitled. “Evolution through Innovation: The Road to Success” that traced the evolution of segmental paving from its start several thousand years ago to the present. This fit well against the background of a 2,000-year old culture with segmental paving continuing its use in sidewalks, public spaces and roads.

The conference attracted about 150 delegates from nine countries who were welcomed by Seoul’s Deputy Mayor. In addition, 52 domestic and overseas companies exhibited products. Keynote speeches and most of the 38 technical papers were presented, all with simultaneous English-Korean translation. (The papers will be available on in 2019.) One address by Professor Hyan Suk Shin, head of the Low Impact Research Center in Pusan, illustrated research testing and performance validation of permeable pavements as well as research progress in related LID technologies.