Prague: A single speed for progress
A city’s brand is pivotal for its position in global society, particularly in global competition. Indeed, a city has many aspects of a commercial product. The very strong international brand that I represent is Prague, the million-strong capital of the Czech Republic. Public perceptions of this brand generally focus on its cultural heritage, such as the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge, as well as its leading industries, science and research. This perception is an accurate one, and is how our city wishes to be seen.
But there is much more to the city than that, for Prague has another attractive quality that is rare in most cities around the world, even a luxury, which our inhabitants take for granted. I am referring to Prague’s territorial balance. The people of Prague can freely move and live anywhere in the city without having to worry about social, cultural or economic segregation. While there are differences in locales, it is up to people where they choose to live, whether in a quiet neighbourhood with parks and rivers, a dynamic shopping centre, or a suburban atmosphere with single-family houses and playgrounds. There is no segregation by any social criteria. The prospect of mobility within the city based solely on personal preferences is a major asset when it comes to integration. In such a united whole, it is much easier to help disadvantaged groups throughout the region to become integrated in society without threatening their identity.
The advantages of this urban uniformity are clear when comparing Prague with what could be called “multi-speed cities” elsewhere. The non-uniform structures of these cities make it hard to deal with unevenly distributed challenges and disadvantaged locales, whether on the social, cultural or economic front. A key danger of this approach is the marginalisation of those caught in the slower speeds, in the interest of false correctness, as becoming aware of the differing development and key specifics such as income, housing, healthcare, safety and the environment is the first step to improving the situation and unifying the standard of living. I do not presume to claim that Prague has mastered the approach in this regard, but the city does at least advance as a unit, slowly but surely. This single-speed attribute is reflected in the everyday life of Prague’s inhabitants. The goal of multi-speed cities is acceleration, rather than a unified city that has the same conditions throughout its territory. This effort is Faustian however, because urban development is not an abscissa with clearly defined points, but a line that starts in our past, with its inherent strengths and weaknesses, and then continues on into the future. And because single-speed urban development allows for deeper co-operation to take place, with sharing of experiences among cities and regions, it helps sister city partnerships to work better. Partners help one another just like siblings of the same family, and they work together to make development easier. Only under a single-speed approach is it possible to nurture inclusive growth that is both sustainable and flexible.
Thanks to our inclusive approach, inhabitants can partake in the opportunities and challenges of economic, social and cultural life, and satisfy their own personal objectives. This also requires providing quality public services for everyone, regardless of segment group, and assuring basic living standards in all areas of the city, in education, healthcare and job opportunities, as well as the likes of safe and secure transport to and from work, and secure and well-serviced housing. The city’s inclusiveness is demonstrated by the fact that its inhabitants do not have to make do with a lesser good, but can choose where they wish to live, according to their own personal tastes.
Inclusion, in my view, is also about sharing. For environmentally sustainable urban growth, it is worth considering sharing based on groups of people with similar preferences, rather than just individuals. Connecting people’s interests in this way would bring other benefits too, including economic growth and social progress.