Imagine that you are standing in your apartment looking out of a wide corner window over the Prague Old Town. Your house is a little bit messy and you´re hungry but the last thing you would want to do is to clean or cook. You call the reception and ask whether there are any free tennis courts or if training is available on the golf course down in the park. Suddenly the doorbell rings. You open the door and it is the neighbour you know from the fitness centre. You decide to go swimming, in the meantime your apartment is cleaned and the supper is getting ready. After you return home, starving to death, the meal is brought to you on a silver tray…………….WELCOME HOME, welcome to Žižkov!
Welcome to where?
Žižkov, a Prague district located north-east to the city centre, is a product of the industrial revolution. In search of a better life, people full of expectations streamed to the cities, into its factories to earn money for living. The areas Holešovice, Karlín, Libeň and Žižkov arose as the working-class parts of the city with Žižkov becoming the main residential area. The houses at that time sprang up spontaneously one after another, without any urban planning. As a result the streets of Žižkov are narrow, run in all different directions, uphill and downhill as well, shabby and without much free space (I suffer in particular because the windows of my room face onto Husitská Street with the heaviest traffic in Žižkov). The inter-war building activities made Žižkov look like a little bit like the neighbouring Vinohrady – with nice apartment houses, only the streets were narrower and dirtier. The communists planned to tear down the entire area of lower Žižkov and to build modern blocks of flats instead. They did not make it; only a small part of that area was torn down and rebuilt in socialistic way. The Žižkov television tower became the pride of socialistic construction abilities. The rest of the houses fit for demolition gradually decayed and certain parts of Žižkov became sort of “no-go areas”.
After the fall of the iron curtain Žižkov is once again being built up, but it has managed to retain its high density of pubs, playrooms and red-light night clubs. Nowadays the social structure of its inhabitants is quite diverse – a mixture of tough Žižkov locals, Roma people, labour migrants from Ukraine and the CIS states and, because of its pubs and cultural life it has becomme popular among students and artists. It developed an open-minded, alternative atmosphere. The question is, for how long it is going to stay so…
I consider the Parukářka park (“Paruka” to the locals) a genuinely authentic place, and a place that’s existence is immediately endangered. It is located on Sv. Kříže hill in the heart of Žižkov. Originally a vineyard, it got its name from a wig (“paruka”) factory at the bottom of the hill. At the beginning of the 90´s a group of locals installed a kiosk on the top of the hill to provide refreshment for the visitors of the park. Over the years, as the place became more and more popular, the owner of the kiosk, Mr Gregůrek, replaced it with a wooden hut, installed a platform on top of the public toilets and paved a place for barbecues.
Even though some people may perceive the park as an “alternative” place, you meet many local people walking their dogs, hanging around with children or drinking their beer in the pub. Every year a number events take place there: open-air concerts, from reggae to folk, drakiádas (flying the paper kites in autumn), tankiádas (on the anniversary of the invasion of ally Warsaw Pact armies in 1968 the locals dress in communist uniforms installed a couple of paper tanks in the park and organise some competitions for kids) as well as events for disabled children.
Currently Parukářka is endangered in two ways, both fatal for the present state and atmosphere of the place. In 2004 the Prague City Council received a request to change the the Žižkov urban plan. Generally the urban plan ensures that new housing developments correspond with the overall character of the area. The inquiry to change the urban plan concerned in particular the restrictions on the height of the buildings. The Central Park Praha Development (CPP) bought a barren storage area next to the Parukářka Park and intended to build three twenty-three story luxurious apartment towers there. CPP intentionally put forward the extremely controversial version of the plan that significantly disturbed the skyline of the city. In consequence, the proposal to build ten twelve storied buildings was presented as a compromise with significant concessions on the part of CPP. Finally in 2005 the Prague council approved a plan to build twelve luxurious apartment towers next to the Parukářka Park.
The Central Park Praha Development (CPP) advertises six-star living, a green oasis in the midst of the city with a beautiful city view. Me and a friend of mine, Jan Kuchař, went to take a look at a model of the entire residential area that is presented in the CPP office. We entered a beautifully designed cafe-type room and were immediately greeted with a cup of coffee. We, in our worn out clothing, were approached as serious clients and were guided through a model apartment with huge photographs of the view offered from ‘our’ living room and were told about all the facilities and services that we could enjoy – a private park adjacent to the Parukářka park, a sports and wellness club with a swimming pool, fitness studios, golf facilities, tennis and squash courts, shops, cafes and restaurants. The area will be partially fenced and guarded by a security service. And, as our guide reminded us at the end of our tour: “If you are eager to watch your new house being built, do not hesitate and log on here. There is a camera installed on the Žižkon television tower that transmits progress so of the construction activities.”
Meanwhile the pub, a favourite meeting place for Žižkov locals and others, has its immediate existence endangered through a clearance order issued for the wooden hut and its surroundings. To make a long and complicated story short: when enlarging the kiosk Mr Gregůrek did not obtain all the necessary permissions needed for building. Since 2003 the town council is trying to remove the pub and to build a new restaurant in place of the wooden hut. The town council claims Mr Gregůrek built the pub illegally, Mr Gregůrek claims he did not need to obtain regular building permission for a wooden hut. A civic initiative “Občanské sdružení Parukářka” was created in order to preserve the park and the pub in the present state. Two petitions and 8 500 signatures were collected in order to persuade the city council. So far, their effort has been unsuccessful and the clearance order remains valid.
In contrast to many locals, who believe it is possible to preserve the present state of the park, I see the issue of constructing new luxurious apartment houses and the existence of the pub and its atmosphere as interconnected. It is not possible to stop building the luxurious apartment blocks anymore, which means the character of the place is likely to change significantly in the long-run. The bar tender at Parukářka pub intends to move out from Prague, because: “it is becoming a huge money making factory .” But at the same time he did know much and did not care about what is being built in his neighbourhood. I guess for the rest of us, in case we are not particularly excited about leaving the place we consider to be our home, the only possibility is to stay informed and oppose activities that try to transform our homes to luxurious residential areas, shopping centres or skyscrapers.
Web page of the Central Park Prague Development