Would increased shop-regulation halt the exodus from Prague 1?

20-07-2007

Prague 1 has long been one of the city's most prestigious addresses. Stretching from Prague Castle down to the Old Town Square, the district contains some of the city's most impressive sites... but also the most souvenir shops and tourist clamour. As Prague 1 adapts more and more to attract tourist dollars, long-term residents are upping sticks at an alarming rate. Now, a Prague councilor has drawn up a plan to stop this exodus. He suggests that the council should approve all new shops opening up in Prague 1 and ask - do they meet the requirements of residents?

In the last thirteen years, the number of people living in Prague 1 has dropped by more than ten thousand. Earlier today I did, however, manage to track one down. I asked him about life in the heart of the city:

"It is really beautiful. It's in the middle of the historic centre, with beautiful views up to Petriny park. But I wouldn't like to live here forever, particularly not with a family. When you go out onto the street, there are masses of tourists everywhere. And there is no place for the children to play. But the main thing is that there are no proper shops. There is only one reasonably-priced pub left, which is of course permanently full, and all the restaurants are so posh that you can't just go out every evening."

It is the lack of regular shops in particular which drives this resident mad:

"The closest shops for normal people are small and badly stocked. Now, I go to Prague 6 to do my shopping. It's a twenty-minute walk, but if I'm not bringing back heavy, heavy things, it is a much pleasanter experience."

It is exactly this sort of complaint that city councilor Filip Dvorak is trying to address with his new proposal. He wants to regulate the number of, say, new t-shirt and souvenir shops opening up in the neighborhood, and encourage more grocery stores and dry-cleaners to open up in their stead. But not everyone is for this idea. Jan Cadil is from the Prague School of Economics.

"This idea to regulate the sort of shops in Prague 1, in my opinion, is not very good, and not very efficient. I really don't think that the main reason that people are 'emigrating' or moving out is down to a lack of services."

Okay, so what do you think the main reason is then?

"Well, there are probably several reasons. One of them is probably that flat prices and rents are very high, so people are selling their flats, if they own one there, and moving out to the fringes, and presumably getting quite a lot of money for that."

You may ask who these flats are being sold to, if the number of residents in the area is falling. Well, Prague 1 is an ideal and prestigious location for office buildings, and of course, hotels. But can anything be done to stop Prague 1 from turning into a ghost town outside of holidays and office hours? What would Jan Cadil suggest?

"Well, I think that some subsidies or something like that is a better idea than regulating the free market. Maybe there should be some subsidies for people who live there, I don't know. But on the other hand, well, quite a lot of people who live there are quite rich, and if they managed to buy a flat in Prague 1, then they don't need any subsidies, I think."

Demographers from Charles University are currently puzzling out what to do keep Prague 1 residents where they are. But we'll have to wait for their findings, because the report is set to be published in two year's time.

20-07-2007