Planning after the Fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia (the Czech Republic.) (Urban Planning)

Article excerpt

The 1989 Velvet Revolution ended four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and installed a democratically elected government committed to restoring a market economy. French journalists coined the phrase "Velvet Revolution," because the demonstrations were largely nonviolent, and the leaders of the revolution were artists and intellectuals whose work had been suppressed by the Communists. For planners, one consequence of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia has been a paralysis of the urban planning process. January 1993 saw the establishment of two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Communist legacy

Comprehensive physical planning prospered in Czechoslovakia under Communism. Goals and objectives were identified nationally by the Communist Party. Two principal goals of urban areas included expansion of manufacturing and the housing of all families in dwellings that met minimum code standards. Consistent with national goals, local planners produced twenty-year Master Plans with large areas for new residential and industrial construction.

Local planners could decide where new residential and industrial complexes would be built within the new neighborhoods for new schools, shops, day-care centers, recreation facilities, and other services. However, the national government set rigid formulas for local planners to use in calculating the amount of services needed in the new neighborhoods. To assure consistency with Party principles, the national government had to approve the local Master Plans.

Local planners did not have to worry about implementing the plans under the Communists because once the national government approved the plan it paid for construction and operation of new facilities. Localities had no municipal budgets apart from national government allocations. After all, how can property be taxed if the national government owns all of it?

Urban planning is now widely distrusted in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in part because of its association with Communism. Communist planners succeeded at accommodating nearly every Czech-oslovak family in a dwelling with hot water, central heating, private bath, toilet, and kitchen. But the price of providing housing that met minimum code standards was high: most of the housing comprised ugly, poorly serviced, suburban highrise apartment complexes.

Large construction firms turned out massive quantities of concrete modular units in a handful of shapes that were fit together to form gray blocks of high-rise apartment buildings. A young couple with one child could expect to obtain an apartment of only approximately 250 square feet, including living room, two small bedrooms, kitchen, and bath. Uniform kitchem, bath and toilet modules with flimsy walls and fixtures were dropped into the dwellings. Dark brown vinyl flooring and exposed wiring and pipes added to the spartan interior environment. The Czechoslovak Communists' ultimate "solution" to the problem of unattractive housing was to paint geometric patterns in earth colors on the exterior of some of the concrete modules.

Services that were supposed to accompany the apartment complexes in the new suburban neighborhoods were often delayed because of national financial problems. Buses typically provided access to the center and the industrial areas, but service could be erratic, especially during the winter. High-rises near tram lines are considered more desirable because trams are faster and more reliable than buses. Families that own cars rarely use them, because the cost of one gallon of gas-more than $2-equals nearly ten percent of the average weekly salary.

The other fundamental planning goal in Communist Czechoslovakia - investment in large manufacturing enterprises - also contributed to a degraded urban environment. Local planners had an obligation to accommodate industrial needs for land and infrastructure, because the factories were all owned by the national government. …