Pankrác Plain: from marketplace to shopping mall

Prague’s Pankrác neighbourhood has been a subject of many debates over the past months. Plans to build high-rise buildings on the Pankrác Plain have angered not only local inhabitants but also experts from UNESCO, who argue that the new skyscrapers would destroy Prague’s unique historical skyline.

Pankrác district in PraguePankrác district in Prague To be honest, I don’t really care about what the UNESCO has to say. There are already three tall buildings standing on the plain and another two, I think, won’t make that much of a difference. But I do care about what is cropping up in my neighbourhood, and Pankrác Plain is actually just a stones throw from where I live…

With the exception of just a few years, I have spent my entire life in this part of Prague and I have been watching the changes it went through in recent years. When my father moved to this district in the 1950s, it was a brand new suburb. For most of my life, the plain looked like a brown field with an unfinished building on one side (the building that was supposed to become a new seat of Czech Radio) and Prague’s only skyscraper Motokov on the other. It was an ideal place for flying kites.

And of course there was the famous Pankrácká tržnice, an ugly one-storey building with cheap clothes, fruit and vegetables. Ugly as it was, it attracted hundreds of pensioners everyday and you could hardly squeeze yourself into a bus heading in this direction. After all, it was one of the few places in Prague where you could buy fruit and vegetables from small growers…

The plain has always meant to be built up and it was just a question of time until it happened. A few years ago, the market place was torn down and the whole place enclosed by a fence. Whenever I was passing by, a huge billboard informed me that my life was to become better soon, thanks to 140 new shops and more than a thousand parking places. Last weekend, it finally happened. Yet another shopping centre called “the Pankrác Arcades” – has opened its doors to the public, with exactly the same shops and exactly the same feeling as the other 60 or so shopping centres in the Czech Republic.

Czechs seem to be experts in shopping. If they continue to build shopping malls at the current speed, the country is likely to top the European shopping centre rankings in just a few years’ time. According to a recent survey, Czechs are also the most efficient shoppers in Europe, spending a shorter time in shops than any of their neighbours. And, in addition to that, they are also Europe’s biggest shop-lifters…

As far as I am concerned, I wish Czechs would change their shopping habits, becoming perhaps less efficient but enjoying their shopping more and thinking more about where they want to shop. Perhaps they would realize that not every empty space remaining in Prague has to be turned into a shopping mall. Once it is built, a shopping mall cannot be torn down as easily as an old market place.