Czech Republic Insight

Manifesto for a sustainable and neighbourly Prague

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces us to rethink our lifestyle, more than 30 local organisations called on the Prague city hall, the local municipalities and the Prague Institute for Urban Planning and Development (IPR) to launch public discussions to debate the city’s future. prague sustainable

Among other suggestions, the signatories of this public manifesto for a sustainable and neighbourly Prague urge municipal authorities to take action to limit mass tourism, abandon plans plans to expand Prague airport and improve housing accessibility.

The original text in Czech, available here, has been translated in English with their consent.

At the beginning of March, when the coronavirus pandemic erupted in Czechia, Prague showed a new, non-touristic face. The hustle we were used to stopped. Bars and restaurants which were not accessible to local residents were closed, streets emptied, and tourist attractions disappeared from the public space.

Apartments which were until recently used as illegal tourist housing gradually came back on the market. The city center, which Prague residents usually make a habit of avoiding as much as humanly possible, can now be peacefully crossed on foot, and its architectural and urban landmarks are, once again, given room to breathe and stand out as they should. Let’s use the current situation to focus on the real needs of Prague residents. Let’s use this opportunity to debate ways to promote a sustainable approach to the tourism industry, an accessible and fair housing policy and let us discuss, together, the future of Prague’s urban development.

About 8 million tourists came to Prague last year. But those numbers, published by the Czech statistical office, only reflect travelers staying in official accommodation establishments. The real figures are likely to be about a third higher – meaning that a city like Berlin, three times bigger than Prague, attracts less tourists than our capital city. For local inhabitants who live in Prague, and shape it, tourism has become a serious problem.

This uncontrolled business has changed Prague’s character and identity. It chased away local residents and replaced the local atmosphere built on community life and neighbourly relations with a soulless “Disneyland”, unaffordable housing and business or development projects only intended for a restricted group of people. Essential daily life services disappear, while those catering to tourists skyrocket. prague sustainable

prague_quarantine_4

When we see, today, streets without tourists and overpriced souvenir shops closed down, it also reminds us of other things: the extent to which the city centre has grown apart from people who actually shape Prague – its inhabitants. At an ever-accelerating pace, life is disappearing from Prague and, along with its residents, the city’s own memory is fading away. Average citizens have trouble living in Prague, and the fundamental pillar of neighbourly life and social relations are being replaced by the illusion of quick profits.

A sustainable city is one that manages to take care of the needs of its residents, to protect them and to plan the future alongside them.

This is why we ask for the launch of a public debate (in the form of public discussions or round-tables, for instance) to discuss the following points:

The limitation of short-term rentals to flat-sharing only

Under the pretext of “sharing” and “renting”, 14,000 flats are being run as accommodation services, of which hundreds are owned by large firms and corporations. prague sustainable

Of these, 80% are rented as entire flats as if they were standard hotel rooms. Those flats could serve to house about 30,000 Prague residents, and pave the way for the come-back of a more neighbour-friendly, community-driven local life. Sharing should be limited to own’s own flat, in which one really lives.

The emphasis on affordable quality housing

Housing prices have been rising twice as fast as wages and Prague is, simply put, quickly becoming unaffordable for large parts of the middle class, as well as many families with children, students or pensioners.

And while the construction of flats has also increased in the last several years, luxury and investment-driven projects are no guarantee of a strong housing accessibility. On the contrary, they often contribute to gentrification, a spike in housing prices in the neighbourhood and the eviction of poorer population groups and households.

prague_quarantine_3

We urgently need to start focusing on municipal and cooperative housing projects, and require from private developers a certain share of affordable rental housing to safeguard the city’s diversity. Municipalities should also support Housing First programmes which have been successful in eliminating homelessness. If anything, the coronavirus crisis has shown us the fundamental role of housing for our safety.

The non-expansion of the airport

More and more people are flying into Prague every year. Most of them do not even stay for three days, while many only use short-term rentals and disrupt, in one way or another, the every-day life of people who live in buildings with illegal accommodation offers. The expansion of Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport aims to double the airport’s capacity by 2028: with almost 17 million passengers in 2019, the airport’s expansion would allow to cater to 30 million passengers every year.

This investment is in contradiction with the ecological concerns and the existing environmental impact study. Prague should draw inspiration from cities like Barcelona, which announced it won’t expand its airport, or from the U.K., where a court declared an airport’s enlargement illegal considering the climate crisis. prague sustainable

Moreover, the budget of 55 billion Kc (more than €2 billion) earmarked by the state to expand Prague airport’s capacity could serve for the construction of around 20,000 affordable housing units. In the face of an unprecedented housing crisis and the worsening climate emergency, this investment would make much greater sense.

prague_quarantine_5

The support to local businesses and everyday services for residents

Services that are essential to daily life are being replaced by tourist shops. In Prague’s centre, you can barely find any domestic, every-day life products, and won’t be able to spot a quality hardware store anywhere.

Ordinary and essential shops are disappearing, replaced on every street corner by people selling cannabis ice cream for 50 Kc (about €2, more than half the minimum hourly wage), or a “traditional” trdelník pastry. Russian dolls, fake crystal or Thai massages have absolutely nothing to do with Prague or the Czech Republic, and the city is already drowning in visual smog. Even shops and businesses catering to tourists could be more elegant, ecological and abide by higher standards of quality.

Greater emphasis on public spaces

Let’s enlarge parks and green spaces, quiet down the streets and truly start inhabiting and seizing what the public space has to offer. People must not only feel safe and welcome in it, but it should be as accessible as possible, both physically and financially. prague sustainable

Greater accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists instead of shared electric scooters scattered everywhere. Well-maintained resting areas and spacious streets instead of inaccessible and ubiquitous terraces reserved for touristic bars and restaurants, unpleasant beer bikes and other alcohol-touristic activities – this should be the vision for Prague in the next few years. Otherwise, Prague residents will feel increasingly frustrated and alienated from their own city.

prague_quarantine_7

Greater civic involvement in decisions on Prague’s development

The construction site starting next to the Masaryk train station is a text-book example of the way the lack of transparency is used by public authorities to side with developers while treating the participation and involvement of citizens and residents as a mere formality. Do Prague inhabitants need another luxury office and a hotel in the centre that will only increase car traffic? Don’t they need a park or a kindergarten, a library or affordable housing instead?

Even when residents do take part in Prague urban projects, private developers come out on top and the project’s profitability remains its priority. But this approach tragically ignores two of the biggest crises today: housing and the environment. Prague’s Institute for Urban Planning and Development (IPR) should start working as a critical platform to defend public interests, promote civic debates and facilitate the involvement of residents and citizens.

The resident-friendly protection of Prague’s cultural heritage

Permits should not be delivered for construction and real-estate plans changing the architectural identity and urban structure of Prague while failing to enrich it and only serving, ultimately, developers and investors.

For instance, the monitoring report of the UNESCO and ICOMOS mission, whose inspectors visited Prague in March 2019, expressed concerns regarding the city’s ability to protect its cultural and architectural heritage due to the pressure from developers and the private sector.

A healthy environment, a reduction in urban heat islands and in car traffic

For any big construction projects within the city, we should therefore require that green spaces be included to compensate for the formation of urban heat islands, that dimensions are not excessive and that they do not lead to a deterioration in air quality as a result of increased car traffic.

We must accelerate transport infrastructure projects meant to lower the number of cars in the inner city by turning to non-polluting alternatives like new tramway lines, the expansion of the metro and suburban railways, or safe bike lanes.

prague_quarantine_1

Signatories:

Snesitelné bydlení v centru Prahy, z.s.
Spolek pro Červený Vrch
Spolek pro Komořany
ZaPět, z.s.
4-občanská, z.s.
Gaudium z.s.
Spolek Cibulka, z.s.
Chodovský spolek
Prokopovo, z.s.
55 miliard pro budoucnost, nebo do luftu?
Spolek přátel sídliště Prosek a Střížkov
Náš Braník
Spolek přátel sídliště Ďáblice
Sousedský spolek Letná
Přidej se a strhni to – proti nelegální reklamě ve veřejném prostoru
Za lepší Smíchov
Domov Michle
Klimatická koalice
Komunitní centrum Kampa
Přátelé Malvazinek, z.s
Paměť města
Architekti bez hranic
Piráti Praha 1
Bike Kitchen Praha
Kampus Hybernská
Zelení Praha
Žižkovská noc
Arnika
AutoMat
Klub Za starou Prahu
Stop Airbnb
Letiště Praha Nebourat, Nerozšiřovat
Univerzity za klima
Limity jsme my!
Vzpurná Praha
Fridays For Future Česká republika

Photo credits: André Kapsas

0 comments on “Manifesto for a sustainable and neighbourly Prague

Had a good read?

%d bloggers like this: