In leaving Prague and the Czech Republic I’m struck by the stark contrasts with the country’s culture. On the one hand, the formerly mighty and now dead hand of the Soviet Union which still clutches much of the countryside. Massive hulking concrete structures and infrastructure abound everywhere. Even within the outskirts of the beautiful city of Prague exists busted up bridges, causeways, factories, roads, Coubusian Housing Blocks, some serviceable, some not. The Soviets dominated the post war Republic in every way, subjugating it in the 1968 uprising that was quashed harshly in the typical Soviet style. http://www.coldwar.org/articles/60s/CzechoslovakiaUprising.asp and Czechoslovakian Uprising 1968.
I like many of you, and certainly like many of the Czechs, remember these events…scary and dramatic at the time of the height of the Cold War. I’m struck by the contrasts between 25 years ago and now, with open travel, EU mentality, commonality, collective esprit de corps vs the barbed wire fences, check points, machine guns and scowling military guards with guns who in 1986 demanded of me upon my exit from East Germany “Do you have any of my country’s money?” The attitudes have fundamentally flipped from a dower dark, attitude to a bright and worldly belief in the future. The built environment of the X Soviet Union still reminds everyone of what could have been and by contrast, life is good, very very good!
By contrast, the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, Prague is by my standards the world’s leader in the new sustainability, “resiliency”! My X business partner, Christopher Smith used to say “The horse is dead, stop beating it!” when it came to sustainable design. Let’s coin a new phrase shall we? The old sustainability is the new “Resiliency” with a capital letter! Central and Eastern Europe are not recycling their plastic in blue bins, or trying to walk or ride their bikes to work one day a year, or thinking that LEED is the gold standard for buildings or how to use less water or whether to car pool or ride mass transit one day a week or how to reduce energy use by 10%. City planners and architects are not wringing their hands about adding one more transit stop or train line or reduce parking ratios or to create a “pedestrian district”. What is both “necessary and sufficient” for sustainable living? I must admit a shock every time I toss paper, plastic and metal into the same garbage bin as they do here, much like a little pinch. But like in China, all these issues have been dealt with downstream for decades and beyond. Systems are in place from a lifetime of trying to live sustainably at a very basic level. Life has been shaped by dramatic outside forces that create different priorities, priorities focused on a resilient city, society and life.
Saving energy or walking to work or riding mass transit or waste management or conserving water or turning down the AC are all part of life here as a resilient approach to a more collective way of life. Not in the socialist sense, but in the collective responsibility of living in a city or neighborhood or family. Esprit des corps, there’s that word again and one that fits or should fit well within the American lexicon. Maybe it’s a lack of abundance or maybe it’s a lack of entitlement, but it is a resilient and sustainable past, present and future. We know this. The per person use of everything from energy to water to gasoline to waste is a fraction of what it is in the US. As a result of the issues that have shaped much of Eastern Europe, and to the credit of the Soviet Union, they invested in all these resilient systems long ago. Resiliency, the new sustainability.
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities with the softest landing you’ll ever experience in a mainland European city. Everyone speaks English, the signs are in both languages, the people are friendly and happy to see you as tourist and excited to hear you’re from the US. The prices are cheap, it’s cheaper every minute you spend here in Prague than in Denver for everything! The weather is warm, sunny and it’s certainly one of the most incredible architectural, cultural, political, artistic, musical living museums in the world. The photos tell this story far better than me droning on about this and that. Check out the photos, it tells the story of one of the premier 21st Century Resilient Cities.
On to Krakow Poland, another UN World Heritage Site untouched by the conflagrations of WWII with all it’s medieval castles and churches!