In terms of its architecture Prague has long ranked as one of the most beautiful capitals in the world, but fifteen years ago it was also a site of devastation: a city full of crumbling facades and long-neglected, run-down buildings. Today it is unrecognisable. Every year since 1989 the city has seen millions of crowns of private investment pour into the restoration of the fabric of the old city, under the cautious supervision of conservation officers. Now the work of Prague's conservation office, as well as some of its successes, and some of the city's conservation disasters can even be viewed on a new internet site.
Every year Prague's office for the conservation of historic buildings oversees dozens of public restoration projects while issuing - and sometimes rejecting - permits for private renovation plans. Anyone who has ever owned property in historic areas knows how much of a headache it can be: to change an historic façade or build an add-on in your backyard, indeed to make any changes to your property, you must get the city's permission first, and that process takes time. It can often lead to frustration and, ultimately a "No." In Prague there have also sometimes been claims of shady deals to speed up the process, although none have ever been proven.
Now, to make the process more transparent for property owners - to help understand the process as well as to save time - but also for those just wishing to learn how the city uses public funds, the office for the conservation of historic buildings has launched a new web-page, and on that site one can find everything from general guidelines, to the city's success stories, to bones of contention: cases where property-owners have not respected legislation governing historic sites.
On the one hand, you can view the successes: information and photos of buildings that have been lovingly restored - a classical building, a Baroque fresco, and a palace in the Empire style.
On the other, areas of dispute: a garish historic facade painted green and yellow with a sign reading "Fish & Chips"; the windows of a building lost to the eye because of a giant ad; countless butchered entrances, facades, roofs, and arches. All are testimony to some of the challenges the office has to face.
Finally, for property owners who have to deal with the office for the conservation of historic buildings there is a section where they can send their queries and comments, presumably to counter charges of ineffectiveness or even corruption in the past.
If you own a turn-of-the-century villa you might not be allowed an open-air Jacuzzi in the back; but at least you can tell city hall what you think.
www.praha-mesto.cz/pamatky. The site's English pages are still under construction but shall be up shortly.
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