Festival offers different perspective on Czech cities

19-09-2014

People in Prague will have a unique opportunity to see the city from a completely different perspective this Saturday. Dozens of streets in the capital, as well as other major towns, will be closed to traffic and turned into temporary pedestrian zones, as part of the event Zažít město jinak or Different City Experience Festival. I discussed the project with Jan Šindelář, one of its organisers:

Photo: Jan Krčmář / Zažít město jinakPhoto: Jan Krčmář / Zažít město jinak “The basic idea is to support in educational way the traffic calming not only in Prague but also in other major larger cities in the Czech Republic. The main characteristic of Zažít město jinak is that the traffic calming is actually pursued from the bottom principle, using local community support. That means that locals have the possibility to point out to the difficulties or disadvantages of their living, in this particular case in Prague.”

How does it look in practice? Do you close streets and open them up to pedestrians?

“Exactly, all of these street and neighbourhood parties happen in one day, this Saturday. It is not necessarily only streets, but also sidewalks and other places, usually old playgrounds no one has been using for years, and they are closed for car transport and open to pedestrians and cyclists. With the open streets there is either a chill-out zone with tons of sofas and other possibilities to sit down and read a book, or places where you can visit the stands of different community actors, such as local NGOs and other institutions. They have presentations, discussion groups and so on. So it is very active.”

Jan Šindelář, photo: archive of Auto*MatJan Šindelář, photo: archive of Auto*Mat One of the main aims of the festival is also to strengthen the sense of community in the Czech Republic. Would you agree with that?

“Exactly. You could say that there are two major goals. First one is stressing the need of traffic calming and the second one is that you cannot achieve this goal without involving community. You cannot just make them want to do it; you are using their support in achieving this goal.”

Would you actually say that the Czech attitude has changed over the years?

“Definitely, and it is not just from the point of view of the citizens but also of the local authorities. You cannot just make your party as you want to. You have to cooperate, you have to get different permissions and support from local authorities. So it is very important that all these different parts of the society are actually working together. What is also very important is that during those nine years we have changed the structure of the project. We are just coordinating, we are helping with the know-how but it is the locals’ job to do the parties and street festivities.”

What are the highlights of this year’s event?

Photo: Jan Krčmář / Zažít město jinakPhoto: Jan Krčmář / Zažít město jinak “I think the major highlight is actually that the streets will be open and you will have a one-day opportunity to see Prague from a completely different perspective: very calm, very open-minded, open to people of all generations and of all interest. But to answer your question, you can try to take a little ferry from Karlín to Holešovice for the first time. You can go to many places with local historians for a walk where they will explain what it looked like couple of decades ago. You have different little theatres for children or a little circus in Plaská Street. It is hard to stop naming all of the possibilities.”

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