New neighborhoods preserve the best of old Prague

When Michal Mahdak, owner of Café Sladkovský, found the space for his café, it was “in complete ruins—just entirely destroyed on the inside.” After two and a half years of reconstruction, the café opened as one of the first renovated shops in Vršovice, a former working class neighborhood located four miles from Prague city center. Since 2010, Café Sladkovský has become notable for its eccentric personality with funky 1950s-style wallpaper and mismatched furniture.

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This transformation reflects the renewal of Vršovice, which in just a few years has evolved from a quiet decay to a thriving subculture. The distance from the city center provides a quieter existence that includes trendy cafes, shops and music venues.

“The center of the city has lost something with the crowds,” Mahdak says while sitting in a quiet corner of his café. “It doesn’t feel the same anymore because it is all made for the tourists.”

That means neighborhoods like Vršovice are on the radar today due to the increase of tourism in the center of Prague. Visitors from around the world who want to experience the historical significance of the city cause spikes in tourism and cultural ramifications. This results in “inauthenticity and disengagement, of self-consumption rather than neighborly love, of superficiality rather than depth,” says David Baggett, professor at Liberty University, who teaches courses in current issues, philosophy and pop culture. As a result, subcultures arise that try to defy that false authenticity. These renewed, trendy neighborhoods provide a respite from the busy tourist hubs and reveal Prague through a smaller, alternative lens.

In Prague, organizations like Auto Mat promote higher quality public living with a focus on public transportation use and increased walkability. When Jakub Hradilek and his friends founded Auto Mat, they wanted to “create a city we want to live in” by trying to induce “a positive change in streets and public spaces.”

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Auto Mat organizes mass cycling rides for locals and travelers. The mass rides and biking treks spread awareness of its urban renewal goal.

This push for better public space usage reflects the urban renewal movements happening in Prague and around the world. Organizations like CURE, or Creative Urban Renewal in Europe, spark urban renewal projects throughout the continent with creativity, culture and innovation. Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, Edinburgh and Vienna actively participate in these EU-sponsored CURE urban renewal projects.

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This focus on urban renewal is evident in other Czech Republic cities, including Plzen – the fourth largest city in the country and recently named a European Capital of Culture of 2015. This urban movement illustrates the growing support in the Czech Republic for more sustainable, livable cities. In Prague, Vršovice represents a similar wave of renewal that demonstrates the cooperation of locals who are neighbors, friends and partners.

“This neighborhood works because all of us, the owners, are friends,” Mahdak says. “We work together and cooperate in a way that many other neighborhoods do not. The pillar of this neighborhood is that synergy. We respect each other.”