An Interview With Tomáš Hudeček, Mayor of Prague
THE FIRST HUNDRED DAYS
The first hundred days has now passed since you took on the position of Mayor of Prague, which is the customary grace period for a function. Have you already prepared specific steps for the direction you want to take the city?
I naturally already dealt with the question of which direction to take the city before the elections in 2010 – it would have been irresponsible to run at all without a clear vision. At that time I asked myself what would make Prague a successful city. The key to success has two levels. Successful cities prepare for the future – they plan and coordinate, they work conceptually. Successful cities also activate the interest of their inhabitants in the environment in which they live. Thanks to this I was able to begin implementing individual steps immediately after I took on the function of mayor without the need for any "grace period", because my team and I were prepared. In fact I initiated a number of such steps even earlier – as a councillor.
What specific steps or projects have you already launched then as mayor?
Before I answer I'd like to say one thing – both you and I are speaking of the "function" of mayor. But I would prefer to say "service", because in all seriousness that's how I view it, even though it might sound like a cliché. But to answer your question – we've finally set a course for the 21st century. The thing is, most of the city's key plans have been designed with the previous century in mind. New documents are now being drawn up by top teams. These include the new Metropolitan Plan, Strategic Plan, the new Prague Construction Standards and the Public Space Manual. All these fundamental documents for the functioning of the city will be interconnected for the first time and will have a single primary objective – to create a city that is pleasant to live in, a compact city that is urban but also green. Aside from these conceptual steps we have also launched a great number of small projects with the same philosophy and from which, I trust, the inhabitants of our city will begin to profit very soon. These projects mostly concern improving the shared living environment – the public space.
So you see the city's greatest problem as the lack of a conceptual approach?
That's not a completely exact description, but in essence yes. We haven't yet spoken about economic matters. As you certainly know, just a few short tunnels ago the City of Prague was an affluent city. All it took was a couple of bad contracts and in the short-term it is now teetering on the edge of an economic abyss. We are taking a number of steps to stabilise the economic situation, such as bringing key public companies back under the city, but overall the fight against debt, moreover completely unnecessary debt, is very tough and brings with it negative consequences that are unfortunately felt by every inhabitant of Prague. A loan can be the motor for developing a company, but only if the economy of the whole company ends up profiting from it and not just the CEO...
It follows from your answer that one of Prague's essential problems is non-conceptual investments and the resulting indebtedness …
In an organism as complex as a metropolis, everything is related to everything. There is another thing inherited from the previous political establishment, perhaps even worse, and that's the complete loss of trust – the loss of trust of citizens in the city's leaders and the loss of trust of businesses in equal access. When I see today how the city was being run, I have to say that this loss of trust was justified. It will be difficult to win back this trust, but we have to try. Without it the city cannot function. Prague is called the Mother of Cities, but regrettably I have to say that for much too long it has acted more like an evil stepmother. And it has acted like this towards its greatest assets – its inhabitants as well as the businesses that wish to operate here. However I fully believe that this trend will turn around and I will work toward this goal. Prague has the potential to be a confident Central European leader.
Are you taking steps to renew this trust then?
Yes – we have launched the campaign "Tuning Prague", which is a platform for supporting civil society and active citizenship. During expert discussions on updating the Strategic Plan another quite fundamental topic came up. For a long time the city has essentially not been communicating with the academic institutions and important companies that are active in Prague. It has been overlooking the motors of its own economy, which is completely incomprehensible to me. It is with these partners that we should be searching for Prague's position in Central Europe and the city must be a transparent partner for these institutions. Naturally we must set clear rules for private investments, but we must also take care of these investments within the bounds of these rules, making our interest clear and preparing programmes to support them. Prague cannot survive without stable, serious and long-term investors, and it must learn to declare that.
Source: Leaders Magazine - www.leadersmagazine.cz