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The Underbelly (again)


Yet another post about a non-Brno issue. It seems important though and, since many of the decent English-language news sources on the Czech Republic deal largely with Prague, I often write about these issues and link to the articles so that my non-Czech-speaking friends can read them if they choose. Or perhaps I just needed to rant about something on a grey Saturday morning. Anyway, it appears that Prague's main train station is finally routed for renovation. Not only is the site in a sad state of decay, but it has become an unfortunate center for drug dealing and prostitution, the less savoury side of Prague's neo-capitalism. On top of that, it seems that authorities are doing little to improve the social situation.

A company called Grandi Stazioni was selected to plan and oversee the reconstruction. According to Czech Rails spokesperson Aleš Ondrůj, the new station will look "more like a shopping mall, like a center of both traveling and other activities. Today it is not only about traveling; it is about meeting friends, going shopping, going to services like hairdressers, medical services, cinemas, and that is the way we would like to follow here in Prague. That is the reason why we have selected Grandi Stazioni." Judging by the pictures that accompany the Radio Prague story, the renovations will be largely cosmetic: addition of new ceilings, pillars, arrival boards, and a change in color scheme from drab to white, glassy, and modern. This is all well and good, although I wonder why they have picked Rome for a model rather than Budapest, Dresden, Vienna, or Berlin, all of which have modern or refurbished stations too. Perhaps their designs were not as successful in integrating the historical parts of the station. In fact, according to the LN article, Grandi Stazioni "promises that Czechs will no longer recognize the station after the reconstruction."

It seems that there are more than a few disagreements about the new project. Alena Šramková, an architect of the 1970s reconstruction, complains that the new design will destroy some of the city's mid-twentieth century architecture. "I would like to see it listed among sights of historical interests," she says, "We should protect the architecture of 60s and 70s." I think she's right - the major problem with the station is that it's dirty, in disrepair, and neglected. What it needs is a good cleaning and refurbishment. There is a certain charm to the unlikely combination of the art nouveau building and the fascist communist structure. Of course, they are planning to save the oldest parts of the building and the Fanta coffee house (named after the architect, not the soda).

The new design seems to make no provisions to solve the social problems that haunt the main station. As Petr Kotas, described as the "brains behind the project," says: "Changing the environment at the main train station, changing its character and surrounding, is going to push away those groups - they will not feel comfortable there anymore. It is a paradox that these days it is the other way round, which is wrong; the main train station feels safe and comfortable to the homeless while the rest, the 95% of people who use the station as passengers, don't feel safe and comfortable at all." Sorry, but five percent is not completely insignificant, and the new design does nothing to address the problem: these people need services and more help to keep them off the streets. Presumably nothing of the sort will be provided under the ODS government since it's an issue that would need more NGOs and non-profit aid organizations, like the Šance House for abandoned children.

Moreover, it seems that the new design is meant to make the station the most un-Czech and modern facility possible. Said Kotas: "The main purpose is that there won't be groups of people that expect the same services as at a street market. What we want are clients similar to those at an airport. And for sure there should not be stands with sausages, bread and mustard served on plastic plates and beer in plastic cups." Obviously, gentrification is the main goal. Well, at least they will probably serve high-quality Czech beer (in glass mugs), even if it is accompanied by wafer-thin slices of aspic served on silver platters.

Previously on NvB?: Prague Weekend and The Dark Underbelly of Prague
Quotes and photos from the Prague Radio story: Prague's main train station set for extensive renovation in coming years
Lidové noviny story (14 June 2006): Nádraží budou i centry obchodu

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Comments:

Blogger Karla said . . .

How can there possibly be a Hlavní nadraží without sausages and mustard? You wouldn't catch the Germans trying to do away with their wurst at the Bahnhof. Not to mention, where are the homeless supposed to go to get out of the weather?    

9:33 PM, July 01, 2006


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