Guided tours with a difference have been launched in Prague – instead of highlighting the attractive cultural monuments favoured by the usual tour guides they put the spotlight on those examples of urban blight, dilapidation and thoughtless construction. And the ugly face of the capital’s development provides no shortage of routes.
On a not too warm weekday evening around 40 to 50 people had turned out for a two-hour guided tour of the Albertov district of the city. It featured the crumbling Vyšehrad station, an Art deco jewel whose patched roof is failing to keep out the rain with plaster falling onto the road, a 1930’s spa building that has been disused for more than a decade and was the target last year for a highly publicised occupation by squatters, and some not too sensitive development alongside the city’s historic walls.
The tour is the brainchild of a new civic organisation, PragueWatch, that was created last year. One of the organisers is social geographer Michaela Pixová.
“The main reason why we organised these guided tours is because we wanted to provide a critical perspective on Prague and its areas and certain acts of negative urban development.”
As well as the guided tours, PragueWatch runs a webpage which highlights urban development issues in the capital: threatened monuments, plans to put green spaces under the bulldozer and developments which seem more inspired by quick profits than respect for the surroundings or benefits to the community.
“In the beginning the idea stemmed from one of our founding members who was disgusted that Prague is always promoted as a beautiful cultural spot and that there is an abundance of tourism. But the tourists who come here just see a few monuments and they leave excited thinking that this is a beautiful city where everything is great. But the reality is not so bright.”
The initiative is the result of a feeling that Prague city hall and local councils only pay lip service to public consultation or public wishes when it comes to planning or development issues. As a result, the powerless public has often withdrawn from the debate or been sidelined.
“There are many different things that people do not often se or do not even think about. People often just perceive them as given, that this is the way it is and that nothing can be done about it. They think this is the way things work nowadays and that nothing can be done about it. We want to turn their attention to problems that they either do not see or don’t know what to do about. We also want to educate them about how to contribute themselves to improving the environment.”
The next tours lined up will feature Wenceslas Square and the Žižkov rail cargo terminal site.
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