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Ten Years of Community Revitalizationin Central Europe


By Roberta Brandes Gratz

(Poland, Slovakia, Hungary & Czech Republic)


By Roberta Brandes Gratz,based on site visits with David Sampson

March 2001


Ten Years of Community Revitalizationin Central Europe

Copyright © 2001, Roberta Brandes Gratz

Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc.437 Madison AvenueNew York, New York 10022-7001

Telephone: 212.812.4200Facsimile: 212.812.4299E-mail: [email protected] Wide Web: www.rbf.org


ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThis report would not have been possible without the support and vision ofWilliam S. Moody, Program Officer at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, who hasworked so creatively and tirelessly during the past decade at encouraging andnurturing the success stories presented here.

My thanks and admiration go to the dozens of activists in the four countries whonot only gave of their time to show me all the interesting work going on, but laterread portions of the manuscript to check the facts. Thanks, as well, go to Edward T.McMahon, Director of the American Greenways Program of the Conservation Fundfor his cooperation and encouragement throughout this effort. Great appreciationalso goes to Hannah Evans who, through years of living and working in CentralEurope, has gained extraordinary insight and knowledge, which she generouslyshared during the writing of this report.

Professor Anthony Mancini of Brooklyn College, a longtime personal friend andjournalistic colleague, provided invaluable editorial assistance. And Priscilla R.Lewis, Director of Communications and Special Assistant to the President of theRockefeller Brothers Fund, masterminded the transformation of a manuscript intoa report, with the able assistance of Anisa Kamadoli, Communications Associate atthe RBF, and Peter Scherer, of H Plus Inc., who was responsible for the design.And, of course, I am indebted to David Sampson, with whom I made most of thesite visits reported on here and whose wisdom, humor and vision is boundless.

Roberta Brandes GratzNew York CityMarch 2001

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 3


PREFACE .................................................................... 5

OVERVIEW ................................................................. 9Background ................................................................ 9Goal of Mid-Term Assessment .................................... 9Basis for Mid-Term Assessment ................................. 10Historic Perspective: The Total Landscape ................. 12A New Approach to Planning ................................... 13Central Eastern Europe at a Turning Point ................ 13As Much As Things Change, the More

They Stay the Same ............................................ 14Big Challenges .......................................................... 16

POLAND .................................................................. 19Cracow ..................................................................... 20Revitalizing Cracow’s Kazimierz ................................ 23Nowa Huta ............................................................... 24South from Cracow Along the

Amber Trail Greenway ........................................ 25The Jura Program ..................................................... 25Greenworks (Society for Active

Nature Conservation) ......................................... 26Kicznia Village Community-Based

Flood Control Project ......................................... 27Zawoja Project of the Polish Ecological Club ............ 29

SLOVAKIA ................................................................ 33National Trust of Slovakia for

Historic Preservation .......................................... 33Frantis ]ek Iron Works ................................................ 34Podbiel Village .......................................................... 34Zuberec Open-Air Museum of

Traditional Village (Skansen) .............................. 35The Orava Castle ...................................................... 35Vlkolinec–Historic Wooden Village .......................... 36A-Projekt–Sustainable Development

Alternatives to the Olympics .............................. 36Ruz ]omberok Citizen Group Fighting

Air Pollution from Paper Mill ............................. 39

Donovaly Tourist Village ........................................... 40S ]pania dolina ............................................................ 41Banská Bystrica ......................................................... 41Healthy City Project ................................................. 42Banská S ]tiavnica–Living in the

Center Citizen Initiative ..................................... 42

CZECH REPUBLIC ................................................... 45Prague ....................................................................... 47SOS Prague ............................................................... 47Transportation for the 21st Century.......................... 48Nadace Via ............................................................... 49Czech Greenway/Zelené Stezky ................................. 49Educational Biking Trail from Breclav to Lednice

through Restored Flood Plain Forest (Horní Les) 50Southern Moravian Wine Trail as Part of Greenway .. 52Oz ]ivení-Bohemian Greenways .................................. 55Partnership for Public Spaces (PVP) .......................... 55Restoration of the Jewish Cultural Heritage

in South Bohemia .............................................. 57Village of Hos]tetín .................................................... 58Kosenka Ecological Center in Valas ]ské Klobouky ...... 60

HUNGARY ............................................................... 63Budapest ................................................................... 64Clean Air Action Group ............................................ 65Selling Off or Tearing Down the City ....................... 66E-Mission Association ............................................... 67The Amber Trail/Hungary ........................................ 67Esztergom ................................................................. 68Szentendre and the Salamander Association .............. 68


CONCLUSION ......................................................... 75Specific Recommendations and New Challenges ....... 75

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 5


Autumn, 1989. In a sudden and momentous expressionof political change, the Berlin Wall falls and with it theiron grip of Communism in Central Eastern Europe.Freedom-hungry citizens take to the streets, cheering,dancing, celebrating. Church bells peal with a ring ofnew possibilities. Families and friends cross borders toreunite. Censorship becomes a thing of the past, andCentral Europeans absorb news from beyond the regionlike a wet sponge. Cafés with tables and chairs on thestreet open for unencumbered social meetings. Peopletalk politics openly on the streets, at cafés, in their livingroom. Citizens around the globe cheer them on.

Ten years later, political leaders, press commentatorsand ordinary citizens in the region and around the globelook back to understand the decade of change. Manytrumpet Central Eastern Europe’s political successes.The challenge of re-shaping economies after decades ofcommand-style central planning is more daunting thanever, but a few signs of progress emerge. The establish-ment of open societies with free and fair elections, a freepress and free assembly, and at least the beginning of amarket economy are obvious achievements. The peace-ful gains in this relatively short time are remarkable.

The soul-searching after 10 years spotlightedfailures and disappointments too, most commonlyinvolving disenchantment with national leaders andwidespread corruption and cronyism evident in theprivatization process. Clearly, the monopolistic, gargan-tuan industrial practices inherited from the formerregime would fail in a suddenly competitive environ-ment. Such industry was the first to fall apart and hadto be distinguished from other problems ofprivatization. But the road to privatization had manyruts. Poorly regulated banks, weighed down withcrippling bad debt accumulated by inexperienced orcorrupt bankers or inherited from past regimes, col-lapsed. The former financial system caused much ofthis. But no adequate new banking framework was setup to prevent further financial instability.

Integration into the global market has advancedconsiderably in the 10-year period. Many unanticipatedconsequences have followed. Global corporations and

international institutions now shape the future of thenewly free societies of Central Eastern Europe morethan observers and the local populace anticipated.Unless current trends are dramatically changed, CentralEastern Europe will undoubtedly be even more con-strained, if not more controlled, by such internationalbehemoths.

In the recent retrospective, a significant phenom-enon was overlooked. Thousands of small, grass-rootsefforts succeeded step by step to rejuvenate theircommunities, upgrade the environment, stimulate smallbusinesses, strengthen a local economy, preserve historicbuildings and revive stifled traditions. This vast assort-ment of varied successes gives the true measure of theregion’s gains and reflects genuine regeneration. Cumu-latively, these efforts have forged the foundation for afuture of progress that was once expected from thenational leaders of reform. That foundation, like anyfoundation, could only rise from the bottom up.

These achievements are, however, not only unrecog-nized and undervalued, they are endangered by thegrowth of global forces beyond their control. Thedanger is double-edged. Global priorities threaten thesurvival of local and regional culture, commerce andcommunity. At the same time, new alliances betweenold-style Project Planners and new-style big businessinterests have been forged. A strong civic structure doesnot exist yet either locally or nationally to either balanceor control them. These alliances, in fact, work againstthe emergence of a strong civil society.1

The issue is not that international capital is goinginto Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Bratislava but that itis going in a way that minimizes the power of localcommunities to shape their own society and economy.Fledgling civic organizations and new and emergingdemocratic institutions are not given the opportunity toshape plans or help decide matters in a meaningful way.

1 Civil society encompasses the citizen-based organizations andassociations that function outside formal government structures andthat play an important role in advancing democracy and true publicprocess. Without the non-governmental sector playing a pivotal rolein shaping society, democracy is not complete.


Thus, world leaders from Václav Havel to MargaretThatcher could extol the virtues of rebuilding civilsociety and even occasionally celebrate a specific exampleof it, but none of the leaders in either Western orCentral Eastern Europe thought carefully or investigatedfully the question of how to meaningfully stimulate therebirth of civil society and how to nurture it further. Ifthey did, the evidence is hidden.

In the first years after the historic changes of 1989,policy-makers and environmentalists publicly empha-sized the importance of protecting an abused culturalheritage and restoring a damaged ecology. Then, in therush to become Western-style consumer societies,consumer values superceded environmental goals inpriority. Emphasis shifted to market solutions. Peopleaccepted the erroneous assumption that economic andenvironmental goals cannot be advanced together. Theshort-term goal of privatization supplanted the long-term vision of what kind of society and economy peoplewanted. The potential of short-term profits was irresist-ible. People embraced immediate, often deceptive,solutions. Investors came in at the top, overwhelmingthe energy emerging from the bottom. The pressures ofconsumerism and the influence of distant corporationsgradually took over the shaping of development.Commercialization advanced with overwhelming speed.

Now, more than 10 years later, loud voices ofdissatisfaction have risen again. This time, the com-plaints focus not on authoritarian rule but on a demo-cratic system controlled too much at the top, influencedtoo much by global commercial interests and interna-tional funding sources and unresponsive to a publicvision that does not want to see its traditions andcultures erased in a rush to make up for past decades.Crony capitalism and an anything-goes free market havedisillusioned many people. Václav Havel calls thedissatisfaction a “national foul mood” in the CzechRepublic, but that does not acknowledge the depth offeeling that exists throughout the region.

Significantly, in all the reviews of the first decade,the weaknesses and disappointments cited in varyingdegrees pertain to issues, leaders and institutions at thetop. The great successes percolating from the ground upexhibit few of the same weaknesses, disappointments oreven failures. Any look at grass-roots successes aroundthe region is quite revealing. While top-down policiesand institutions have not met expectations, genuinedemocratic success and economic potential at thebottom are exceeding expectations. Democratic successand economic potential at the bottom, though notwithout problems and pitfalls, are more significant than

recognized and need to be strengthened. It was anuntold story. We want to tell it.

This report includes a sampling of those successes.Many more can be found than are covered here. Theachievements reflect substantive accomplishments. Theyhave not and probably cannot yet be quantified. Theirinnovative, grass-roots nature resists reduction toformulas. These qualitative achievements demonstrate,however, alternative strategies to top-down policies.While the individual projects are unique and reflect theindividuals and places involved, they share qualities ofpublic participation, cost effectiveness, multiple envi-ronmental and economic benefits and future potentialfor more improvements. Each project is relativelymodest, but that modesty is deceptive. The impact goesbeyond any conventional statistical measurement.

Most significantly, some of the innovative projectsdescribed in this report demonstrate that the choice isnot between economic growth or environmental quality,new development or historic preservation, regional mallsor local stores, highways or rail, cars or public transit.One can achieve qualitative development rather thanmere quantitative growth. The issue is finding balanceand adopting strategies that achieve multiple values.

• Environmental improvements can bring economicgain.

• Modern consumer goods can be sold in existinghistorical centers, not just in distant hypermarkets.

• Sewage treatment can be low-tech, inexpensive andaffordable by a financially-strapped community.

• Cultural assets, heritage preservation and environ-mentally friendly tourism can stimulate economicgrowth as an alternative to the massive industrialgiants of the past.

• New residential opportunities can be created with-out destruction of small farms and historic land-scapes.

• Car ownership and car usage do not have to lead tocar-dependency.

• Mobility of people and goods by public transport ischeaper and more efficient than cars and truckstraveling over a network of superhighways that hurtsthe environment, economy and culture.

• New housing needs can be met in traditional butmodern forms whether in new construction orreconstruction.

In other words, modern life with all its advantages isattainable without destroying heritage, environment,local economy and character of place. In fact, qualitative

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 7

growth can not be achieved without the critical rolesplayed by history, culture, local identity and localeconomy.

If the goal is truly to encourage civil society,democratizing formerly authoritarian regimes, cleaningup the environment after years of degradation, andeconomic empowerment of a formerly deprivedpopulace, then the stories in this report offer manylessons. If, instead, the priorities are globalizing theregion, opening new markets to international andnational corporations and fueling consumer capitalismwithout regard to protection of local and nationalcharacter, economy or resources, then this report iseven more important and should prompt reconsidera-tion of those priorities. This analysis of the solid

progress of thousands of individuals and small groupscalls into question current directions and emphases ofnational policies.

The challenge of the next 10 years is dauntingbecause of the forces at work and the speed of change.This report addresses fundamental issues of economicdevelopment, ecological improvement, social concernsand cultural protection on a micro or small-scale basis.Local achievements can only be understood and appre-ciated closeup; they get lost in the quagmire of nationalstatistics. Macro or large-scale measurements can’tadequately highlight how small successes contribute tobig positive change. National governments and globalinstitutions can no longer afford to overlook theseachievements.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 9


BACKGROUNDIn 1990, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, The CharlesStewart Mott Foundation and the German MarshallFund established a three-country network called theEnvironmental Partnership for Central Europe (EPCE),three independent and self-governing foundations.Three became four in 1993 when Czechoslovakia split,and a fourth Partnership was established in Slovakia.Through small grants, technical assistance and training,the mission of the EPCE was meant to respond to theneeds of a growing number of grass-roots, self-helpenvironmental groups in Poland, Hungary and Czecho-slovakia. A dozen other funders from three continentslater joined the Partnership.2

The purpose of each Partnership was and continuesto be fostering the rebuilding of civil society throughfinancial and professional support of local environmentalefforts. The fundamental mission of the Partnerships is toanimate and mobilize local non-governmental organiza-tions (NGOS) and communities to take action onenvironmental issues, broadly defined. This innovativeinitiative was and still is unusual in its willingness to offerfast, flexible and non-bureaucratic assistance to NGOSand municipal agencies. The initiative has proven that:

(1) investment in committed people with vision iskey to achieving enduring positive change;

(2) investment in a bottom-up process of change isinfinitely more beneficial over the long term thaninvestment in top-down, large-scale projects;

(3) a diverse assortment of incremental locally andregionally based efforts, each modest in size,together leads to big, significant change;

(4) place-based community initiatives involve localpeople in the process of change, a necessaryfeature for rebuilding civil society;

(5) no program or project can become a formula ifthe initiative is local and shaping it engages thepeople affected.

A report on the Environmental Partnership forCentral Europe commissioned by the Partnership in2000, noted that:

“Over the years, each of the foundations has developeddistinctive areas of concentration and expertise fromwhich other members of the consortium can profit. TheHungarian Environmental Partnership is particularlystrong on energy issues and working with Roma. In Po-land the foundation has been leading the way in devel-oping productive relationships with the corporate sectoras well as reforming water and flood management. EPCESlovakia has developed an expertise in rural develop-ment as well as the creation of community foundations,which the Czech Environmental Partnership is now tap-ping for some of its own community development ini-tiatives. The Czech foundation has, in turn, led the wayin promoting citizens’ right to information and participa-tion in decision-making processes.”

The Environmental Partnership of Central Europeeach year has grown gradually, gotten steadily strongerand achieved a broader impact. The Partnership pro-gram illustrates how big, positive change (short ofrevolution) occurs in small, gradual steps.

The four Partnerships covered in this report— inPoland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics—are governed by national committees. Together theyhave made approximately 1,000 grants and organized orco-sponsored over 500 workshops, training events,fellowships and exchanges. Each operation has grown insophistication, stature and success. In less than 10 years,the Partnership, individually and as a group, has gainedattention, admiration and respect from all over the globe.

GOAL OF MID-TERM ASSESSMENTIn the Spring of 1999, the Rockefeller Brothers Fundand the Conservation Foundation asked urban affairswriter and author Roberta Brandes Gratz3 and formerHudson River Greenway Director David Sampson to

2 Pew Charitable Trusts, Trust for Mutual Understanding, ConanimaFoundation, Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt, Sasakawa PeaceFoundation, Moriah Fund, Sacharuna, Jennifer Altman Foundation,Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, Winslow Foundation, BarbaraGauntlett Foundation, Jurzykowski Foundation, Charities AidFoundation, Environmental Training Project for Central Europe(USAID Grant).

3 Roberta Brandes Gratz is author of The Living City: Thinking Smallin a Big Way and Cities Back From the Edge: New Life for Downtown(both John Wiley & Sons).


visit and comment on a selection of community-basedplanning and action projects. Most but not all of the projectsare supported in some way by the four Partnerships.

The first goal was to observe first-hand the results ofalmost a decade of investment in small, place-based,community initiatives intended to involve local peoplein the process of change within their communities, tohelp them shape that change in their own image and, asa result, assist the emergence of a civil society. Has itworked? If so, to what degree? Where did it not succeedand why? What are the lessons?

A second goal of the report was to place the localexperiences in the larger perspective of national, regionaland global change and development. Sampson’s 30 yearsof environmental work in both the public and privatesectors of New York State and Gratz’s 30 years’ experi-ence writing, commenting and advising on urbandevelopment were critical to shaping this assessment.

Following the collapse of Communism in 1989, thefocus fell on macro issues: the establishment of demo-cratic institutions, freely elected parliaments, an inde-pendent judiciary, pluralist political parties, a free press,as well as the institutions of free market economies likecentral banks, commercial banks, stock markets. Yetwhat happens on the most local, micro-level remainsthe essence of democracy. Democracy can’t exist, letalone thrive, without a foundation of strong localcommunities and a vibrant, knowledgeable andcommitted civil society.

After a decade of efforts to rebuild local communi-ties through economic and environmental action, it is agood time to look back.

The people interviewed for this report are mostinspiring. Many were directly or indirectly involved inthe revolution in their country and are now tirelesslydedicated to pursuing the principles for which theyfought. Some follow profoundly alternative life paths,regardless of what regime is in place. They are knowl-edgeable, practicing environmentalists and naturalists,and some were considered radical by their compatriotsbefore and after 1989. They range from the staunchadvocate to the very pragmatic. At both ends of thespectrum, they share a stability of vision, a fundamentalunderstanding of the issues and dilemmas of positivechange, and a sensible approach to determining solu-tions. One can only hope that they have the stamina,resources and capacity to continue to deal with currentand new issues as they arise.

These community and NGO leaders have beenincredibly productive catalysts for change. Investing inpeople is a profoundly difficult task. Knowing how toinvest in people is the biggest challenge for funders.

But from the successes represented in this report, thefunders clearly chose well. Now the challenge is for therespective governments, the European Union andinternational funders to learn the lessons of thiscollective experience.

BASIS FOR MID-TERM ASSESSMENTAs an organizing principle for the mid-term assessmenttrip, Gratz and Sampson followed the general routes ofboth the Amber Trail and Czech Greenway and visitedmany programs supported by the EPCE, although notexclusively.

In 1991–92, The Czech Greenway was establishedwith foundation funding to foster grass-roots economicgrowth and environmentally friendly tourism along aroute going generally from Prague to Vienna. Thisprogram was intended to focus on rebuilding localcommunities, encouraging eco-tourism, stimulating ofnew local businesses and linking communities incommon activities along the route. The model for theCzech Greenway was the Hudson River Valley Greenwayin New York State which, created and led by Sampson,encouraged and supported local and regional planningefforts using cultural and environmental resourceprotection as an organizing principle. Unlike its HudsonRiver counterpart, the Czech Greenway does not have asingle geographic feature like the Hudson River to tie itall together. Nevertheless, the Greenway was intended tobring Czech communities together to shape a commonpurpose and stimulate public participation in eachcommunity. Connecting neighboring communitiesthrough a shared vision is meant to encourage people tosee solutions close to home instead of a national or moredistant benefactor, to overcome narrow disciplinarythinking and to recognize the long-term benefit ofsmall-step change. After a few years and a shift inleadership, these broader goals fell firmly in place. In1998, The Czech Greenway became a project of theCzech Environmental Partnership.

In 1997, The Amber Trail Greenway (ATG), acomplex and ambitious program also learning from theHudson River Valley Greenway and drawing on theCzech Greenway experience, was launched as a jointproject of the Polish, Slovak and Hungarian Environmen-tal Partnerships. The Amber Trail seeks to revitalize localeconomies and build linkages across borders by fosteringrediscovery of a variety of historic trade routes betweenBudapest and Cracow through Slovakia. The currentATG wanders a bit from older established routes but ismeant more as a symbol and unifying principle and hasthe potential to become a significant connector of peoplesand places between northern and southern Europe.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 11

The Amber Trail Greenway could become a signifi-cant model for cross-border collaboration. The visionand impetus for ATG came from Slovak Partnershipdirector Juraj Mesík4 who was already familiar with theHudson River Greenway and the growing success of theCzech Greenway. But the origins of the two programs aresignificantly different. The impetus for the CzechGreenway came from outside. Its evolution into a trulygrass-roots, locally-based effort took a few years. TheATG came from within, making for a somewhatsmoother development.

Two Partnership directors met in Banská S ]tiavnicain 1997 with David Sampson to discuss Amber TrailGreenway possibilities. Mesík recognized the greenwayconcept as an innovative mechanism through whichenvironmental programming, participatory planningand economic development could be achieved in aproductive and organic structure. The bulk of the route,of course, from Cracow to Budapest is in Slovakia. Thepotential impact of the Trail is extensive.

Fortuitously, Mesík found Ján Rohác ], a geologistwho was equally energetic and enthusiastic about theATG concept. Having participated in the study programorganized by the Atlantic Center for Environment inNew England5 in the summer of 1998, Rohác ] wasalready familiar with the Hudson River Greenway. Helives in Banská S ]tiavnica where he has seen the benefitsand potential of tourism and actively involved citizens.He is well known nationally and is considered one ofthe most knowledgeable NGO experts in the field ofregional development.

Developing tourism and nurturing new localbusinesses are common goals of both Amber Trail/Greenway programs. The ATG ties together most of theprojects spotlighted here. In each case, the Amber Trail,like the Czech Greenway, concept is an extremely useful

tool to get localities to take stock of their strengths, todevelop pride of place and motivate people of all ages toengage in their community’s future. The ATG empha-sizes building on existing resources (human, built andnatural) and adding to them, instead of replacing themwith projects that erase history, tradition and localcharacter. This approach to revitalization called UrbanHusbandry, is a problem-solving strategy that strength-ens what exists before building anything new.6

Managing Change InnovativelyFundamentally, both the Czech Greenway and AmberTrail Greenway are innovative strategies for managingchange and for insuring that change is shaped by localpeople and emerges from a democratic public processthat reflects a local vision. A greenway strategy cantackle both local and regional issues with a unifying andequitable vision rarely achieved in nationally conceived,top-down policies. Cross-border cooperation and sustain-able development7 have the greatest chance for success.

Most of the projects visited and described are alongthe routes of either the Amber Trail or Czech Greenway.Additional material and observations resulted fromnumerous trips taken by Gratz for research, lecturing andconsulting in Central Europe over a period of eight years.

One can best understand and fully appreciate theimpact of this decade-long activity through on-siteobservation, interviews with participants and groupdiscussions focused on their collective experience. Thestudy team looked at the full spectrum of these efforts.Standard or specific measurements were not applied.Value-based, not project-based change is the measurehere. Significant change takes years to have an impacton macro-statistics. The most important goals areestablishing the democratic, public participation process,demonstrating the potential of local initiatives toovercome dependency on a central government. Theachievement of these goals is difficult to measure. Theconstruction of one big project can be captured in onephotograph. The involvement of a community in theshaping of its own future is difficult to capture in asingle image. The least tangible and least easilyobservable might be the most valuable.

4 Juraj Mesík is a medical doctor with a degree from the ComeniusUniversity School of Medicine and was long active in the Slovakenvironmental movement before the establishment of the Partner-ship. He served as a vice president of SZOPK (Slovak Union ofNature and Landscape Protectors) between 1990 and 1993, co-founded the Green Party in 1989/90 and served as its first presidentin Slovakia from 1990–1991. In addition, he was a member ofParliament and an advisor to the minister of the Federal Committeefor the Environment in Prague.

5 The Atlantic Center for the Environment is part of the Quebec-Labrador Foundation (QLF), founded in 1961 to improve conditionsin rural communities of Quebec and Labrador. The Center, withconsiderable experience in encouraging land conservation andsustainable development policies and practices in the U.S. andCanada, directed its attention to Central Eastern Europe after 1989.While not officially covered in this report, the Center’s impact andinfluence is everywhere. Through its programs of fellowships, regionalworkshops, study tours to other countries and technical assistance, theCenter has helped train many leaders now active in the region.

6 Urban Husbandry is a term devised by Roberta Brandes Gratz todescribe the process of rejuvenation referred to here. Gratz focuseson this process in both of her books, The Living City and Cities Backfrom the Edge.

7 Sustainable development is development that does not contain theseeds of its own decay in its conception or the seeds of decay ofexisting places. Intelligent, farseeing and longterm, sustainabledevelopment combines as one value both economic developmentand environmental progress. Non-sustainable development, incontrast, is like a virus infection that may thrive but infect the bodypolitic around it.


HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE:THE TOTAL LANDSCAPECentral European towns and city centers in pre-Commu-nist times evolved naturally according to long-heldtraditions. But few escaped the ravages of World War IIand reconstruction under Communist rule, marked bywillful neglect of historic heritage. The historic fabric ofmany cities survived the Communists’ massive rebuildingschemes because, for the most part,8 central plannerschose to build massive housing projects and factories atthe edge or outside of existing towns and shifted thepopulation and local economy to these new communities.Thus, many depopulated centers remain, deterioratedfrom neglect but fundamentally intact and encumberedby local regulations that make difficult upgrading existingproperty or building new infill.9 In bigger cities, however,some whole neighborhoods were replaced by clusters ofhigh rise housing. This shift of residential and commerciallife should not be confused with the U.S. experience ofurban abandonment or the Western European experienceof high rise growth outside central cities. While the visualresult may sometimes appear the same, the cause and,therefore, the solution, may be different.

In the early 1990s, repair, restoration and newconstruction were visible in every community through-out the region. In many cases, it was tradition, however,that shaped scale, style and material. People restuccoedtheir houses and retiled their red roofs, in keeping withlongstanding practice. In many rural areas, new houseswere similar to old ones, somewhat bigger perhaps andsporting new flourishes. Few thought about doingthings differently because what they were doingemerged out of indigenous conditions and had workedwell. Why change for the sake of change? One couldobserve new ornamental touches, perhaps metal framewindows instead of wood, glazed tile for ornamentaround windows or doors and maybe some other newmaterials here and there. But the essential style, scaleand form were dictated by an accepted norm. Houseswere kept close together and within walking, biking,streetcar or bus distance from the center.10

The landscape of rich farmland and tree-lined roadslinking well-defined community boundaries had beensimilarly shaped by tradition. The landscape remains themost compelling characteristic of the region but isseriously threatened by suburbanization. Where and aslong as it lasts, the landscape, with its extraordinaryvistas, compact historic towns and sprawl-free country-side is Central Eastern Europe’s greatest asset. Thesprawl-less landscape differentiates the region andholds great appeal for visitors. The potential forenvironmentally friendly economic development isgreat. But the unique landscape and its opportunitiesare eroding fast. Car-dependent development of everyscale is already transforming large areas, eliminatingvistas, covering foothills, invading pristine mountainsand wiping out allees of old growth trees. Compactcommunities are dispersing. This does not have tohappen. Growth, change and even suburban develop-ment can occur in ways that don’t undermine existinglocalities and wipe out local economies. This goes tothe heart of community survival, tradition continuityand societal structure, the framework essential for a civilsociety to exist and endure.

Understanding Impacts of SprawlWorldwide, it has taken several years for the adverseimpacts of sprawl and misguided transportation policiesto be understood as critical to community rebirth,natural environment protection and genuine economicdevelopment. This understanding is growing butremains limited. Each of the Partnerships and mostNGOs herein are somewhat or totally unfamiliar withthese issues. Some issues are relatively new to the region.A sense of urgency has not yet arisen. Yet an increasedand urgent focus is the only hope that the whole regionwon’t go the way of international building formulas andthe Look of Anywhere.

Strong ties to old traditions are not enough to stemthe onslaught of contemporary sprawl. Since no publicdiscussion was possible until after 1989, sprawl andinappropriate development had not reached the publicconsciousness. Many people are still totally oblivious tothese issues. Others resist the negative news. Many aretired of hearing Americans and Western Europeans tellthem not to do what Westerners have done. Many hearit as “you shouldn’t want a car” or “you shouldn’t want atelevision” and, understandably, they want both. Anythingthat appears to threaten new consumer opportunities isnot heard. Many have no sense whatsoever that progress,economic development and consumer gains can come inenvironmentally-friendly forms that don’t erase theculture, traditions and the architecture. In other words,the economic, cultural and social landscape need not be

8 Rumania, especially Bucharest, is an obvious exception because ofCeacescue’s slash-and-burn approach to building new communities.

9 Local regulatory impediments vary but one that is common isrequiring excessive parking in any new development or reconstruc-tion. Permit approvals and cultural heritage opinions for remodellingor new construction in many centers are so difficult, some potentialdevelopment is gravitating to greenfield sites.

10 The attachment to traditional styles sometimes takes on interestingdimensions. The Communists built primarily flat roof buildings. Inthe village of Modra in the Czech Republic, local officials proudlypointed out the number of houses with peaked roofs that hadreplaced Communist-built flat roofs. Upgraded buildings all hadpeaked roofs. This was one of many things meant to undo Commu-nist handiwork.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 13

destroyed in order to own a car or a television or to havea McDonald’s or Ikea nearby.

For that matter, many Americans don’t know thiseither, but in America, this has rapidly become one ofthe biggest public issues. The erroneous developmentpath followed since World War II in the Western worldis finally getting serious attention in some quarterssimply because it has caused so many overarching newproblems. It would be a tragedy if Central EasternEurope, having missed some of the worst of thathighway, sprawl-creating strategy, embraces it just as theWest recognizes the damage and seeks to repair it.

Sprawl, large-scale shopping malls that are evenlarger than most in the U.S., highway planning andauto-based development is happening in CentralEastern Europe faster and on a bigger scale than evenhappened in the U.S. or Western Europe. Its destruc-tive impact could wipe out or overwhelm much of thepositive, community-based change achieved by thesuccessful projects described in this report.

A NEW APPROACH TO PLANNINGGreenways, Heritage Corridors, Nature Protection,Rails-to-Trails, Open Space Conservation, HistoricPreservation, Public/Mass Transit Advocacy and Com-munity-based Development are recent, increasinglypopular phenomena both in the U.S. and abroad. Theyare emerging in the form of NGOs in Central EasternEurope as well. Their significance has much broaderimplications than the specifics of their causes. Eachinitiative is:

(1) a natural, logical and manageable framework forencouraging positive change;

(2) a tangible idea which any member of a commu-nity can understand without being intimidated bya perceived lack of expertise;

(3) an integrative approach to problem solving; and

(4) a focused area around which a public process withgenuine public participation can form.

They reflect the principles of Urban Husbandry.The resultant public process is inevitably demo-

cratic and grass roots because it is place oriented andlocal by definition. This is not a guarantee of positiveand enduring change but the chances for it are infi-nitely better than any alternative.

The impact of these growing movements is moreprofound than usually realized. They are growing as analternative to old-style planning, allowing the public togenuinely shape its own destiny. Citizens participate in apublic process of “visioning” or “planning” for thefuture of their communities. A democratic process

evolves in a way that never would have if the typical,top-down city planning process had prevailed.

The common thread of these new strategies is theirinterdisciplinary and integrative nature. Environmentalists,historic preservationists, transit advocates, private sectorbusinesses and farmland protectors come together in acollaborative way that fosters an understanding amongthem that their issues are inextricably bound together.

CENTRAL EASTERN EUROPEAT A TURNING POINTOne of the overarching issues is funding from theEuropean Union. Most community groups are only nowbeginning to understand the full scope of harmfulimpacts that the tidal wave of EU money will bring. Thisreport does not evaluate the different EU fundingprograms. While some EU funds support the modestcommunity-based efforts described here, the overwhelmingshare goes to big top-down, large-scale expensive projects.It is not melodramatic to worry about how many recentgains described in this report will get swept away by ill-conceived policies and inappropriate, well-financed, bigprojects. It is not melodramatic to worry about howmuch incremental change won’t have a chance.

Proponents of EU membership cite the higherenvironmental and other standards the national govern-ments must meet to join. A built-in contradiction exists,however, in the environmental standards established bythe European Union. The standards will surely help inthe workplace and industry. Industrial effluents willdecrease. The workplace air will get cleaner, and so on.But the EU standards appear primarily to be consistentboth with high-tech solutions and with Western high-tech businesses. EU proponents also argue that somethings would never change without the pressure ofjoining the EU. That may be true. But the question is,at what price those benefits come.

A similar contradiction can be found in EU plan-ning and development policies. On the one hand, EUdocuments present spatial development policy andurban redevelopment guidelines very much in line withsustainable development, compact cities and againsturban sprawl.11 On the other hand, policies and financ-ing encouraging mostly big, highway-based develop-ment makes this goal unrealistic. Again, EU proponentsargue that without EU influence, local policies would beeven more destructive. That too may be true, especiallywhen one recognizes the degree of local corruption and

11 “EUROCITIES: Eurocities for an Urban Policy,” Brussels, October23, 1998. Also, EU position paper: “Sustainable Urban Develop-ment in the European Union: a Framework for Action,” Vienna,November 1998.


zoning for sale throughout the region. But the questionsremain, at what price are the outside influences comingand is this the appropriate strategy for reform.

Negative impacts are already painfully evident:• Farmers have been besieged with competition from

the West. This goes far beyond introducing basiccompetition which encouraged indigenous farmersto improve the quality of produce and delivery,terrible under the former regime.

• Trucks bringing in goods from the West clog theroads and pollute the air.

• Most farms and local businesses are too small tocompete in world markets and will probably getbought up by bigger companies, likely internationalones. The lack of a recent entrepreneurial traditionmakes survival of the modest-scale businesses evenmore difficult.

• Big, top-down development — i.e. car-based subur-ban developments, shopping malls and office parksfueled by big Western and multinational banks posea real danger to the stability of historic centers inboth big cities and small towns.

• Communism’s brand of centrally planned top-downdevelopment simply may have been replaced byanother form of centrally planned, overscaled, top-down development.

These negative impacts are particularly significant,given the impending flow of European Union infra-structure money. People are making choices and plan-ning projects based on the expectation of money fromBrussels, not necessarily on what is best long-term forthe country or specific communities. Many good,successful, locally based programs benefitted from earlierEuropean Union funding under the PHARE Pro-gram— the EU’s funding program for Central EasternEurope initiated in 1990. But most new fundingprograms for EU accession countries initiated in 2000emphasize big infrastructure projects instead of themodest ones that till now have been directed at genuineregeneration projects. Big money historically attracts bigcorporate players. Their interests and control, however,are a great distance from the locality affected.

How much of the new money can be secured formodest, community-based, economically productiveand environmentally sensible initiatives is a challenge allgroups face. They must now compete with large-scale,expensive projects promoted by big, well-connectedinterests with strong lobbies. The citizen-based not-for-profit sector does not enjoy equal access to decision-makers. Nor do they enjoy equal media exposure.Worldwide, small projects making a big differencenever get the media attention given big projects ofsometimes dubious significance. This lack of attention

definitely does not diminish the significance of thecumulative impact of small projects. Innovative newthings start small. Hopefully this report will help drawfresh attention to these local-based efforts and thelessons they offer.

Positive results of innovative approaches to commu-nity change are illustrated clearly in this report and offer aviable strategy for meaningful regeneration. People andgroups throughout the region—and beyond—can bothlearn from and be inspired by every experience includedherein. Policymakers can understand the broad potentialrepresented and be encouraged to shape government policyaccording to the lessons. The lessons can serve a broad usebeyond the four countries— i.e. the U.S., other Centraland Eastern Europe countries, Latin America.

Thirdly, and most of all, we hope this reportinspires citizen activists to continue their work, to buildon their success and broaden their impact. New effortsare bound to grow out of the current ones.

The velocity of change in Central Europe is sodramatic that building on the successes represented inthis report is urgent.

AS MUCH AS THINGS CHANGE,THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME“The first lesson I learned was that many countries arenot dealing with the past, because the past is still withthem. In most of the former Soviet republics, the oldbosses are now the new bosses, now calling themselvesnationalists instead of Communists.”

Tina Rosenberg made this observation in theintroduction to The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’sGhosts After Communism (Random House, 1995). In somany ways, the comment appears still true, especially inthe middle echelons of government bureaucracy.Rosenberg was focused on the moral dilemma ofinterpreting and judging behavior under the formerregime. These same questions and challenges arise in thearea of community redevelopment.

Peter Zlonicky, a landscape architect and urbanplanning professor emeritus at Technical University inDortmund, Germany, for example, noted in an articleabout 20th century planning:

“The Bund Deutscher Architekten (Federation ofGerman Architects) managed to survive NationalSocialism by being ‘brought into line.’ The frame ofmind of those architects who remained in Germany hasbeen articulated pointedly by Helmut Hentrich inconversation with Werner Durth: ‘We heard the roaringof the guns coming from the approaching Englishbattalions as they reached the Lower Rhine; we putdown our pencils, only to pick them up again a fort-

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 15

night later without any way altering the project we wereworking on.’”

Plans created under the authoritarian regime forroads, sewers and flood control projects, for example,were simply dusted off, updated and are now beingimplemented by today’s bureaucrats, often the samepeople as in the former regime. Many of these plans andpolicies reflect old thinking and out-of-date strategies.Some plans are even holdovers from the Nazi occupationduring WWII when highways were planned to facilitatemilitary occupation, for moving troops not civilians andcommerce. Old plans were not reevaluated with newdemocratic goals or subjected to economic and environ-mental analysis. The mission of the highway engineer tomove vehicles without regard to impact on communitiesprevails over the goal of moving people and goods socentral to livable, economically viable places.

Current highway routes included in the PragueMaster Plan, for example, are a synthesis of schemesfrom the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s when ill-conceivedpave-over planning was at its worst worldwide. Much ofthe transportation thinking of those periods has beendiscredited. Wherever such policies prevailed, especiallyin the U.S. and Great Britain, monumental traffic,pollution and development problems exist today at greateconomic cost. Paradoxically in Prague, Czech activistPetr S ]te ]pánek points out, “the highway plan facedbigger public opposition during Communism when itwas seen as yet another destructive step by the Commu-nists.” The distinction between old Communist andnew Democrat, in this case, is blurred! Everywhere,development plans are being approved with totaldisregard for environmental and economic consequencesand, quite frequently, with total disregard for the lawand democratic participation.

Rafa¬ Serafin,12 director of the EnvironmentalPartnership of Poland, noted about Poland’s failedattempt to win the site of the 2006 Olympics forZakopane, the ski resort in the High Tatras: “Naturepreservation is the law yet the Polish government ispromoting a plan for the Olympics in a protected naturepreserve that is against the national law. Some things arestill dealt with in the old way with a new label.”

Another Pole noted: “The young are being taughtin state planning schools by old tenured professors withold ideas.” Top-down, autocratic and bureaucratic

governance is still a very strong pattern in CentralEurope. The dominant centralized bureaucracy has yetto be fundamentally reformed, opened up and madeaccountable for its actions.

In contrast, citizen-activists and NGOs are in thevanguard of innovative, positive change. A new day isdecidedly dawning throughout the region in large partdue to scattered, modest, grass-roots efforts. On thislevel, thinking is fresh and creative. In nature conserva-tion, tourism, historic preservation, community organiz-ing, organic farming, landscape renewal, sewer, road andenergy infrastructure, general problem solving withgreat potential for significant change is evident. Aston-ishing sophistication and technical knowledge is repre-sented in the private, not-for-profit sector. In fact, inmany cases, more stability exists in the leadership ofcitizen-based organizations than in the upper echelonsof most governments and many corporations. NGOability to build awareness, their capability to makedecisions and capacity to implement programs, putsthem ahead of many local administrations and govern-ment bureaucracies. They often serve as principalconvenors of multi-interest, multi-disciplinary issues,bridging longstanding hostilities.

Yet, formidable hurdles remain.Capitalism is often confused with democracy. So

pleased to finally have access to much-desired consumergoods, many people tend not to recognize the trade-offsand compromises.

Old feelings remain and old habits are hard tobreak. The Communists, for example, compelled peopleto attend public meetings and participate in communityprojects. This was called Ideological Mobilization.Planning was centralized, top-down and totally unre-sponsive to community wishes. Now, a fierce anti-planning mindset translates into “the market will takecare of everything.” What people think “the market”actually is remains somewhat mysterious. Local residentsoften are skeptical about efforts at genuine publicparticipation and resist opportunities to get involved.Others, however, exhibit a real thirst for it, or at least awillingness to try it out.

Planners limit themselves to the obligatory“consultation” process rather than encouraging“participation.” This reinforces public skepticism aboutthe planning process and gives no encouragement tothose willing to participate productively. Democracycan’t exist without an active citizenry. Confusion existsover the roles and responsibilities of citizens in a democ-racy. The concept of volunteering carries negativeconnotations from when volunteering was compulsoryand meaningless, a Communist holdover.

12 Rafa¬ Serafin, Polish director since 1996, has degrees in the environ-mental sciences and geography from universities in Waterloo andToronto in Canada and East Anglia in England and a special expertisein urban and rural planning and ecological economics. While born inthe UK, he lived most of his life either in Poland or Canada, UK andAustria. He returned to Poland in 1990 to participate in the country’seconomic, political and environmental reforms.


The idea persists that the state should and willtake care of things, leading people to wait instead ofacting independently. As one Pole observed: “For 50years, Poland was divided into us and them. Peoplecomplained if things didn’t get done or weren’t takencare of. Now they don’t believe they can do somethingon their own.” Often, people don’t believe they canaffect change. In recent elections to the Warsaw munici-pal government, the most important in Poland, theparticipation rate was only 10 percent.

Paradoxically, people who fear or resist participatoryplanning frequently wait for government to do every-thing. Often, the biggest hurdle to positive change is themindset of waiting for government to do it.

The above hurdles converge into one of the biggest ofall, what one Polish observer calls, “the problems ofdomestic ignorance and distorted values held by largegroups of the population so eagerly embracing consumer-ism and shying away from civic involvement.” Consumerbehavior is shaping civic values and planning policies.Hypermarkets are generally loved by consumers. Nounderstanding is apparent of the complex linkagesbetween hypermarkets and urban sprawl, destruction ofthe environment or erosion of cultural heritage. Plannerseither don’t know any better or don’t try to educate thepublic to a different perspective and available alternatives.No voice is heard educating the public to differentoptions, options that combine economic progress andenvironmental improvement and bring big consumerchoices without destroying existing places.

BIG CHALLENGES• A lack of serious concern and activism in regard to therapid proliferation of malls and hypermarkets guaran-tees serious problems in years to come. The public andgovernment on all levels are ill-equipped to handle theseinevitable problems. Local governments don’t negotiate orset conditions for these malls, some of which make Wal-Mart seem intimate. Narrow zoning standards, such asroad frontage and traffic considerations, are the onlyconditions these developments must meet. Planning andzoning regulations, however, do little to mitigate the scale,velocity and impact of development. Little understandingis evident that this kind of car-based development leadsinevitably to more and more of it. Eventually, sprawlprevails, the center withers and a dysfunctional placeresults. Furthermore, programs or provisions that helpboth small businesses and local entrepreneurs compete aremeager and bureaucratic, a serious deficiency. Theundermining of locally owned businesses, however, is justthe beginning of the problems that come with this car-

based mall development. Dominance by distant corpora-tions is the inevitable result.

• Cars are the big status symbol. It is easier to convincepeople of the perils of nuclear energy than the perilouschange that comes with a rebuilt landscape designed toaccommodate so many cars. Monolithic Chernobyl anddisparate car development are equal dangers. This is truein Western Europe as well. The phenomenon of carsresults from a large number of small, individual deci-sions, albeit promoted by very sophisticated corporatepropaganda. However, Chernobyl is “real” and large andcan be viewed more easily as an “enemy.” CentralEastern Europeans remember Chernobyl and awarenessof its danger remains, but they don’t believe Westernsprawl will engulf them. There is little understanding ofauto-related costs—air pollution, health, publicservices, runoff and the whole catalogue of externalcosts. Erosion of towns and cities occurs in smallsteps— a building here, a new road there, a gas stationhere, a small shopping center and many, many conve-nience stores at scattered road intersections here andthere—until piece after piece, the cherished landscapethat has endured for centuries is gobbled up. Thisuniversal process is little understood. Culture, heritageand tradition erode in equally small steps.

Cars represent freedom and status, things for whichCentral Europeans have waited a long time. They don’trecognize the distinction between owning a car whilestill having the choice not to have to use it and depend-ing on it for everything.13 Few understand that it is inthe interest of car drivers that access to cheap, comfort-able reliable and safe transit remain available to thosewho want that alternative. The more people choose atransit alternative, the better it is for those who drive.

The real consequences of auto-based developmenttrends are ignored or minimized, just as they were in theU.S. and Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s.Highway decisions are not being made as part of alarger, long term vision in which the public participates.The people are absent from the process. Decisions arebeing made by a combination of government officialsand private businesses, often with shared vested intereststhat conflict with public benefit. The idea has beensuccessfully promoted that highways are needed to beWestern, and whatever it takes to get them seemsacceptable. It is nothing short of startling, and surelyalarming, that Prague, for example, could seriously bepursuing plans for two highway rings with several

13 The good news is that the cars are still small with high mileage andgas is still expensive. Cheaper gas and the Sport Utility Vehicles nowchoking U.S. roads and air, can’t be far behind.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 17

highways radiating out, crisscrossing the city, guaranteedto choke Prague with traffic and decimate its historicallyrich cityscape. A map of planned highways around theregion looks like a Los Angeles freeway interchange.This is nothing less than the planned destruction ofPrague. The city least destroyed by war faces over-whelming destruction by choice.

• Only a lack of funds may contain serious sprawl. Polishobservers point out that not enough government infra-structure money exists to keep up with the randombuilding on land without roads, sewers, running water orelectricity. Thus developers must build their own infra-structure which raises costs. One Cracow suburbandevelopment is right off a highway but has only a pitifulroad connection dating from the 1970s. The road is hardlymore than a dirt path. Some of these homes have environ-mental toilets (self-contained composting toilets) instead ofplumbing, lanterns instead of electricity and no runningwater. This is, reportedly, typical. Observes one Pole:“As long as we don’t have big infrastructure development,we won’t have big sprawl. The government is not interestedin servicing these big developments and hasn’t enoughmoney to do so anyway. Individuals and small developersare building these projects.” Small developers don’t havethe political clout to demand government investment.Undoubtedly, if big developers with political clout exhibitinterest in developing where infrastructure does not yetexist, the governmental response surely will be different.This may be good news, for now, but how long it lasts isopen to question, especially as EU infrastructure moneypours in.

• Sprawl is occurring in guises unrecognizable tomost people. In cities like Cracow and Prague, forexample, as private apartments empty and come on themarket, rents are rising steeply, becoming out of rangefor most residential tenants. As apartments becomeempty, businesses paying the higher rents frequentlyreplace residents. Restrictions should, but don’t, reserveupper floors, for example, to residential use whichwould keep a lid on some rent increases while permit-ting commercial occupancy and rent increases on thefirst and second floors. Limitations like these wouldtemper change without stopping it. Without suchappropriate policies, the displaced move out of thecenter to find affordable rents. Stores downtownserving a local population subsequently close eitherwhen the customers disappear or, more commonly sofar, when tourist businesses come in paying more rent.Others are put out of business by the new chain stores.The appeal of the Center diminishes when access tonecessary goods and services disappears and real estatebecomes unaffordable.

• A built-in contradiction exists in EU environmentalstandards ostensibly established to improve theenvironment of the region. As noted earlier, the stan-dards will surely help in the workplace and in industry.Industrial effluents will be reduced. The workplace airwill get cleaner, and so on. But the EU standards appearprimarily to be consistent with high-tech, big projectsolutions for infrastructure problems offered by Westernhigh-tech businesses—dependent often on EU subsidies.Once small, low-tech alternatives are presented as farm,water, development and other solutions, EU standardsbecome a problem and the low-tech alternatives don’tfulfill EU expectations.

• Excessive highway planning, emerging sprawl, andthe erosion of historic centers endanger both thenatural environment and the historic and culturallandscape that have evolved over centuries. Theseenvironmental threats are not as easily articulated andvisualized as threats to a forest or a frog.

• Challenges to road plans and demolition/newbuilding proposals are erroneously perceived as athreat to new freedoms and consumer opportunities.Yet, built environment challenges are as daunting asnatural environmental ones, probably even more so.The solutions are more politically challenging and thelobbies resisting those solutions are formidable. Whilethe EU is demanding improved natural environmentconditions, it is inconsistently promoting developmentand transportation policies that guarantee new envi-ronmental problems of enormous scale and, in someways even more difficult to solve.

• Too much is simply taken for granted. Traditionalplaces, customs and lifestyles are clearly being undermined,mostly in gradual, not obvious ways. Some activistsunderstand this turn of events but haven’t begunseriously to take on these issues or to encourage othersto do so. Others understand but pursue other priorities.Top policy-makers avoid the issues almost entirely, anegregious error. Sadly, the only one in a position to forcegovernment to confront these issues is the alreadyoverburdened NGO community.

The successful NGOs represented herein are unevenin their ability to compete with seasoned, well-financeddevelopers and to make an impact on policy. But toparticipate in a policy dialogue means partners ingovernment are willing to listen, especially at the highestlevels. That has yet to be the experience of most peoplein this report. The four partners of the EPCE haveachieved extraordinary problem-solving successes.Whether national or international policy-makers arewilling to absorb the lessons of successes is an openquestion. Those successes are widespread and can’t be


ignored. Those successes, visible in a large number ofmodest projects, add up to significant change.

Miroslav Kundrata, director of the Czech Environ-mental Partnership,14 apologizes “for having less of animpact on policy than we would like,” but adds, “don’tunderestimate the impact of the programs that aresucceeding.” This is the remarkable truth that willbecome apparent in this report.

• The biggest challenge of all is persistent and wide-spread corruption and cronyism in the privatizationprocess throughout the region. It is easy to declare afree market and to establish the form of a democraticsociety. But as New York Times correspondent ThomasL. Friedman notes in his incisive book, The Lexus andthe Olive Tree, “What’s difficult is to establish even-handed enforcement of equitable laws and commercialcodes, with courts that will protect people from unfet-tered capitalism.”15 The prevalence of laws that can be

easily ignored, decisions being made with under-the-tablecash transactions and financial systems vulnerable toabuse will become apparent throughout this report. Thisis a shortcoming undermining all progress in the region.

Friedman sums it up appropriately:

“It is not only critical in this era of globalization to learnhow to compete without walls on the outside of yourcountry, it is also critical to learn how to remove thewalls inside. The more transparent you are inside, themore your government is grounded in the rule of law,the more you are willing to share how and wheredecisions are made, the less likely it is that corruptionwill remain hidden, and the more likely others will bewilling to stick with you. An efficient, transparent andhonest legal system— where citizens can get an accuratepicture of how their government’s policies are perform-ing and investors can be assured that private propertyand intellectual innovation will be respected and theplaying field will be relatively level — is essential forsustainable growth.” 16

14 Miroslav Kundrata, director since 1994, holds a doctorate in physicalgeography and was a co-founder of the Czech Union of NatureConservationists and of the environmental quarterly VERONICA.

15 (Anchor Books, April 2000), p. 153.16 Ibid., p. 230.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 19

Poland is the largest and most populous of the fourCentral European countries visited for this report. With38.5 million inhabitants, Poland is also the nationwhere environmental conditions remain so alarminglybad that one cannot imagine long-term economicprogress without a more serious environmental strategythat draws lessons from the kind of successes describedin this report. Closing the monstrous polluting factoriesof the Soviet era made an early dramatic impact but itwas only a start. The problems are so fundamental thateven the best centrally developed national policieswould be insufficient without effective, widespreadlocally based efforts.

A published report of the Central Statistical Office(GUS) noted, for example, that no unpolluted ground-water resources remain in Poland. Untreated wastepours into the country’s rivers, lakes and sea every year.Poland’s waste treatment rate is 13 percent compared tothe Western Europe norm of 70–90 percent. Conven-tional, top-down thinking worldwide is typicallydependent on high-tech solutions — capital intensiveprojects that require big financial investments and areusually implemented by large, often foreign, contrac-tors.

But the Polish water problem is simply too vast andtoo expensive to be solved in such a manner. The WorldBank has estimated that meeting EU environmentalrequirements will cost 35 billion Euro.17 Just over half ofthat alone, 18.1 billion Euro, would go toward improv-ing water quality, since the EU requires that to gainmembership every community of more than 2,000 haveits own sewage treatment facilities. Powerless to dealwith a problem of such scale, the Polish governmentrequested a 10-year moratorium on the requirement, arequest resisted so far by the EU.

Poland is not alone in this and other daunting prob-lems. Flood protection is equally pressing, especially sincethe devastating floods of 1997. Water treatment was aprimary concern at most of the sites visited for this report.Communities that had invested in expensive, complete

treatment systems had no money for anything else. Otherscouldn’t imagine where funds would come from if notfrom the national government, since the local populationwas already too poor to afford more taxes. Only at somelocally initiated, environmentally friendly projects, devel-oped with some extraordinary NGO expertise, did weobserve innovative, low-cost solutions that went beyond justsolving the technical challenge. Public participation andbroader community revitalization were advanced in theprocess of solving environmental problems.

Serious environmental issues beyond water-relatedones will be obvious in the stories of individual projects.

• Polish farmers have long played a central, if generallyunacknowledged, role in maintaining the traditions,culture and environmental health of rural areas. How-ever, environmentally sustainable practices of farmers arethreatened by the influence of the EU. Poland’s smallband of two million farmers cannot compete with EUimports, for example. Experts predict that two-thirds ofthose farmers will not be able to earn a living followingEU membership. Worse, farmers are too poor to buyexpensive western chemicals, fertilizer or equipment.Banks and some government programs offer loans forsuch products, and the western Europe chemical salesmen









Baltic Sea



ZawojaRabka Lacko


17 1998 Report, Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation.


are quite busy luring farmers to new practices that usetheir product. Chemical marketers are quite effective.Gradually, intensive, highly organized, chemically-orientedagriculture depletes the soil and makes farmers morevulnerable by raising their costs. As farmers go deeperinto debt and are less able to compete with cheapimports, they are more likely to sell out to big agri-business corporations, further threatening the culture,traditions and physical landscape uniquely Polish.

On the other hand, non-sustainable practices ofsmall farmers are not being addressed. One Polisheconomist notes: “Farmers own very fragmented piecesof land. In many places, they spend much energy onconstantly moving among these small parcels. A tractorgets used most for making trips between them...Farmersuse leaking septic tanks and deplete water from deepwells. Untreated waste ends up in runoff or in smoke.”Small farm problems are many. The answer to theseproblems, however, is not to put them out of businessbut to introduce sustainable practices within thecontext of their continued existence.

• Only 10.9 percent of the forests are classified “healthy.”

• Less than one percent of ancient forests are strictlyprotected.

• Wildlife of all kinds is threatened. This is true elsewherein Western, Central and Eastern Europe, but it isuniquely more important in Poland than in othercountries. Poland is one of the last European countries(Ukraine is another) which still has wildlife that used tobe common ALL over Europe. Poland still has, forexample, European bison which are exceedingly rare—larger than North American bison, and they don’t liveon the plains but in forests. They still thrive along theeastern Polish border and, a little bit, in Slovakia.Wolves, severely depleted or entirely gone in the rest ofEurope, also roam the region. Bears, golden eagles,cranes and lynxes still live in Poland. The reason thisbio-diversity exists is fundamentally tied to developmentpatterns. Especially with relatively large mammals withbig ranges (wolves, bears, lynxes), highways and sprawlring the death knell. Poland’s tradition of compactcommunities and limited highway development withlots of undeveloped, open land has allowed theseanimals to thrive.

One observer noted: “No one talks about this.Western European (EU) policy-makers are unaware ofthis issue. Polish decision-makers don’t want bio-diversity issues to impinge upon the prospect of futureeconomic development. The same old ‘we can’t afford it’argument gets repeated and repeated. By and large,Polish, like Slovak, Czech and Hungarian nature

protectors are experts and knowledgeable but not greatat public relations and politics.”

Except for the small farm question and the impor-tance of Polish wildlife preservation, all the issues listedare germane to all the other countries in this report.

What follows are stories of locally based projectsthat are achieving both environmental and civil societyimprovements. While offering great promise, they areinsufficient—without broader support—to withstandthe pressures of sprawl, car dependency and globalcorporate control.

Alarming trends include:• An evolving truck- and car-dependent society with

costly, inefficient and environmentally devastatingtraffic congestion that cannot possibly be mitigatedby more and bigger highways.

• A meagerly subsidized national transit system thatforces schedule reduction, ticket price increases andclosure of intact short lines and local bus services.Local transit systems mirror the condition of thenational system. Communities become isolated.Without access to transit some wither away. Morepeople rely on cars. New and bigger public invest-ment is required to solve newly created environmen-tal problems. The connectedness so crucial to ademocratic society is undermined.

• Demolition, abandonment and diverted investmentwill surely undermine and atomize the once natu-rally-evolved, physical landscape where compactcommunities functioned for centuries.

CRACOWCracow, the ancient royal capital, has traditionally beenone of the major centers of Polish culture and educa-tion. The Old Town, designated a UNESCO site in1978, grew gradually over the centuries starting in the13th century. Two defensive walls with 47 towers andseven entrance gates that encircled the town weredemolished in the 19th century except for a small butdistinctive section. A filled-in moat-turned-park en-circles the city center giving it a clear and pleasantdefinition. Much of Poland, particularly the cities, wasdestroyed during World War II. Cracow alone emergedunscathed. Until now.

Justifiably known as the jewel in Poland’s crown,Cracow is the first place to suffer early impacts of newresidential and commercial development outside thecity. The old town is considered one of the world’s greatcities. The Rynek G¬ówny, the medieval market square,is always filled with people—young and old, studentswith books, parents with baby carriages, old folks withcanes, business people with briefcases, the whole

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 21

spectrum of human activity that defines a living center.Outdoor cafés surround the square. Historic architectureand varied cultural activities distinguish the city.Because of its vibrant center and animated marketsquare with its huge enclosed market building, one canbe deceived into thinking all is well. Unemploymentranks lowest in the country. Thirteen universities draw102,000 students. The intellectual and cultural life is rich.

The nibbling that erodes a city, however, has begunto nibble at Cracow.

Unbridled suburban development is pulling peopleout of the center, as skyrocketing rents for small,unrenovated apartments are pushing residents out…slowly, for now. Hypermarkets, mostly out of the center,are undermining downtown retail, and little or noattention is paid to policies that could direct the newstores into the traditional center. As the people andbusinesses move out, cultural and intellectual institutionswill eventually feel compelled to follow. Neither thesuburban sprawl nor urban deterioration draw sufficientconcern and policy-making attention. Real estate remainspoorly regulated and development restrictions and legalrulings have no strength. One Carrefour Mall Develop-ment (French chain) at the outskirts of Cracow was heldup by the municipal government when a traffic studyshowed that enormous congestion would occur. Thegovernment official responsible for denying the permitwas subsequently fired and the building permit approved.The anticipated traffic congestion occurred and now themall is lobbying the city to widen the roads. Predictably,other malls are rising along the same route, a circum-stance easily anticipated.

Undermining the CenterTo make matters worse, planning, building and zoninglaws undermine official city goals to achieve futurecompact development. Excessive parking requirementsfor new and remodelled development, low-densityzoning near transit stops and other districts and com-plex permitting procedures are serious discouragementsto compact development.

Ironically, Cracow is one of the better managedcities in Central Eastern Europe.

Eventually, possibly inevitably, Cracow will becomea glorious ancient city stage set, visited by millions oftourists and enjoyed by students but missing the urbanrichness of a fully-functioning vibrant community.Cracow is not alone and, in fact, is emblematic of thefuture of Central European cities. This pattern is visiblein Prague and Budapest, as will be described later. On alesser scale, one can observe this already in small townslike Telc ] in the Czech Republic where little activity

other than tourist services is apparent in its extraordi-nary square and surrounding arcaded stores. And, ofcourse, many farm communities and small villagesthroughout the region already stand almost empty formany reasons, including the ending of low-cost, acces-sible inter-city mass transit. In many historic towns,such as Banská S ]tiavnica in Slovakia, the challenge is torepopulate and reanimate a center vacuumed out bypolicies of the former regime. But in cities and townslike Cracow that still have what so many cities aroundthe world have lost and are trying to recover, no policyis more important than strengthening existing life andaverting its erosion. All over Cracow, residential apart-ments are being converted to office space. No policiesassist local residents to afford to stay and no programsassist the small businesses from being forced out. Thiscontrasts with national development policies designed toencourage outside corporations and developers to comein a big way. Restoring the infrastructure and buildingswithout stabilizing the residential and business popula-tion is a questionable accomplishment.

Ironically, Cracow was one of the first of the historicCentral European cities to successfully confront theMcDonald’s dilemma. In 1994, city leaders would notgive McDonald’s a permit to open a restaurant in a fadedbut elegant 15th-century building reasonably intactdespite many incidental alterations. The targeted buildingwas located right on Rynek G¬ówny, the heart and soul ofthe city. The food chain already occupied—quiteunobtrusively— a 14th-century building on Florian;skaStreet, the old Royal Way to the city’s main gate. The redand yellow logos occupy a modest-size sign protrudingfrom the building, similar in scale to other store signs onthe street. Reporting on the conflict in The New YorkTimes, Jane Perlez wrote: “The fight is not so much abouta particular building, although that is part of it, but aboutfending off what many here see as the cult of prosperity.”This conflict, however, preceded the multiple chain-styledevelopments that have met little official resistance. TheMcDonald’s issue, confined as it was to Rynek G¬ówny,was considered a fight for the “architectural soul” of thecity.18 The proliferation of chains and malls all overPoland since that conflict, however, has not provoked thesame kind of resistance but assuredly goes to the “com-munity soul” of the nation.

Years later, McDonald’s has prevailed and is sched-uled to open on the main square having overcometechnical and sanitary problems that stood in the way.

18 In 1999, McDonald’s stood as the symbol of American-led globaliza-tion threatening traditions of all Western and Central Europeancountries. When French sheep farmer Jose Bove trashed aMcDonald’s that was under construction, he became an instantnational and international hero.


This McDonald’s is supposed to be low key19 like theone on Florian;ska Street. The entrance will be on theside street, not on the square. This is considered asufficient compromise.

A large-scale planned development—now stalled—in Cracow raises a different, less obvious, set of issues.Nowe Miasto, marketed as a “cultural shopping dis-trict,” is an American-style retail, entertainment, hotel,office and residential complex with 2,500 parking spacescovering 15 hectares just outside the once-walled center.A “most exciting opportunity in a rapidly expandingretail market,” a brochure boasts, fully implying this isthe perfect destination for global retailers. Developed bythe prominent New York-based firm of Tishman-Speyer,Nowe Miasto is reportedly the largest urban develop-ment investment in Central Europe. Yet, no anchortenant has been secured. As one mall expert familiarwith the larger the Central Europe region observed:“Only low-end mass retailers used to building tin shedson the highways are attracted to malls. High-endanchors don’t want them.” Mall retailers don’t under-stand urban retailing and always demand parking. Thecity government had to pass a special variance permit-ting the 2,500 parking spaces, a far greater number thanallowed in any one district up to this time, appropriatelyso. Until now, Cracow has wisely kept a tight lid on citycenter parking, critical to moderating traffic congestion.

The design of Nowe Miasto (literally New Town)appears from its marketing material to be reasonablyamenable to foot traffic and somewhat transit orientedand not disconnected from the historic core. How wellconnected it turns out to be will depend on how manystreet-front entrances will be open upon completion,whether retail access will be from the inside like a malland whether perceived security needs will dictate gate-like fronts. Malls are designed to lure shoppers insideand to keep them there. Real urban districts encouragethe easy passage of people in, out and around so allbusinesses in the district benefit. Thus, how manyentrances in any new development that are open andunlocked indicates how truly mall-like or urban it is.

Large-Scale Won’t WorkNo matter how aesthetically pleasing and how function-ally urban the result actually is, the scale and impact willbe big. The first phase alone calls for 65,000 squaremeters of retail, an 8,500 square meter multiplexcinema, 30,000 square meters of offices and a 250-room

hotel. Eventually, approximately 20,000 square metersof retail space is planned for this site, more than nowexists in the whole historic center. This ratio courtsdisaster. People, activity and retail will obviously bedrawn out of historic core already experiencing destabi-lizing trends. Scale can sometimes be more significantthan any other feature of a development. Some observ-ers mistake this as an advantage, assuming that bydrawing commercial uses out of the core, more space isavailable for cultural uses. But nothing can guaranteethat those cultural uses won’t follow the larger shift orremain isolated and less visible.

The development’s location offers advantages easilynegated by its scale. Multiple transit options could existhere, a significant positive feature that could reduce theimpact of growing car traffic. (The on-again-off-againfast tram system planned for Cracow will stop here too.)Close proximity to the main square assures an impor-tant pedestrian link. In fact, this is probably the ideallocation for this kind of development on a smaller scale.

Nowe Miasto raises another set of concerns. Adja-cent to the city’s rail yards, Nowe Miasto replaces anarea of low rise warehouses, factories and assortedbuildings that together once represented critical eco-nomic uses but have fallen into disuse. Officials reportthe existence of falling-down underutilized buildings.Often, this empty, run-down appearance is deceptive. If oneactually goes building by building, more economic activityis usually going on inside than even officials recognize. Thesmallness and, often, messiness of the operations fools peopleinto thinking the businesses are not important. This isprecisely the kind of assortment of buildings with cheapspace that gives rise to new businesses. Underused smallspaces offer great opportunities for new innovative uses.20

Nowe Miasto replaces this district and is convenientlylocated adjacent to the railyards but leaves little roomfor future manufacturing or other businesses thatrequire proximity to rail freight. Serious concern isalways called for whenever such low-level buildings andlocal businesses—existing or potential— are replaced.Improved, upscale development is always primarily forbig international chains. Local vendors are displaced.Local ownership is exchanged for distant ownership andcontrol. Entrepreneurial opportunities are exchanged forlow-wage jobs. Local character is replaced with well-designed homogenization. How much of this kind ofdevelopment a city of such richness as Cracow cansustain is an open question.

Development of this scale is always problematic,anywhere in the world. It is simply too large to occur

20 These kinds of districts in other ancient cities are now giving rise tonew or small high-tech and dot.com companies.

19Actually, McDonald’s is to be commended for some of its facilities inEuropean historic buildings, such as the train station in Budapestand the historic shopping street of Salzburg. No garish golden archesprotrude from or obstruct the historic facade and only modestsignage heralds its presence.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 23

without taking years of local struggle and large sums ofwasted money. The scale is devastating for a city of thissize. The process of approval totally omits publicparticipation, denying the perfect opportunity to createa long term vision for the city that does not underminehundreds of years of unique development. Elements ofthis development plan have positive potential. But theonly way this could work to the city’s benefit is if ithappened in modest increments, was adjusted as condi-tions changed and filled unmet needs instead of generatingan alien market. Popular support would have a chanceunder this scenario, but Tishman-Speyer has indicated thatthat kind of development is too small for them. That isprecisely the problem with mega-developers seekingopportunities in modest-sized cities, a problem alreadyapparent in other cities, like Budapest. There, also adjacentto one of the primary train stations, is an outrageouslyoverscaled development causing all sorts of problems.

In Cracow, Nowe Miasto has run into politicalproblems because one administration approved it butthe next one is not continuing the approval. The projecttotally depends on the construction of an unrealistic,problem-filled road connection between the city and thering road outside the city center to be paid for by thecity. This would cost billions of dollars, disrupt all kindsof districts and be fiercely resisted by the public, guaran-teeing endless delays. The city can’t afford it andTishman-Speyer has said they can’t build without it.Surely, a no-win situation.

What may turn out to be the most important value ofNowe Miasto, built or unbuilt, is that it will have forced thecity of Cracow to confront the issue of mega-scale develop-ment, to examine conditions effected by such developmentand to debate its value to a city rich in attractions that needsmodest, not overwhelming, new development.

REVITALIZING CRACOW’S KAZIMIERZFor a long time, Kazimierz was an independent townwith its own Town Hall and market square. A defensivewall surrounded the town, and by the end of the 14thcentury it rivaled Cracow in wealth and importance. Atrickle of Jews had migrated to Cracow by the 12thcentury. In the 1330s, persecution of Jews escalatedthroughout Europe, and King Kazimierz offered themshelter in Poland. Their numbers grew immeasurably atthat point. Threatened by the size of the growingcommunity, King Ján Olbracht expelled them fromCracow. They settled in a small section of Kasimierz,separated from the Christian Quarter by a wall. Thatlasted until the end of the 18th century when Cracowand Kazimierz were administratively combined. Thewall was demolished in the 1820s. The Jewish popula-

tion continued to grow and eventually filled most of thetown. That lasted until the Holocaust.

Once the heart of Cracow’s Jewish community,Kazimierz is the only substantial visual and architecturalremains of Cracow’s Jewish life. There remain sevensynagogues, two cemeteries and several commercial andresidential buildings—an astonishing number. The firstJews who arrived primarily from Germany over 500years ago as tradesmen and merchants established whatbecame a significant center of Jewish culture and worship.Before the Holocaust, the district was home to anestimated 70,000 Jews. Today, fewer than 200, mostlyelderly, Jews remain. Poland had the largest Jewishpopulation in Central Europe, and the Jewish impactand imprint on the nation has not yet been fullyunderstood. As part of Cracow and Polish history, thisneighborhood is critical.

The former regime ignored Kazimierz, apparentlyin order not to raise the Jewish issue. Reportedly, littleinterest was shown in the district after World War II.A small trickle of Jewish tourists wandered through it.The movie, Schindler’s List, brought new attention toCracow’s Jewish heritage. “Schindler Tourism” (Polishand foreign) and investment interest mushroomed.

Authenticity ThreatenedThe biggest dilemma is that Kazimierz is an authenticCracow neighborhood in which 20,000 ordinaryresidents and business people lead their everyday lives.The district contains an appealing assortment of run-down but structurally sound buildings, less expensivethan more upscale Cracow neighborhoods. Upgrading aneighborhood without having it go out of controlbecause of its appeal to outsiders is the most difficultchallenge for cities around the world. In this case, theoutside interest is twofold: Polish artists and middle-class folk with rising incomes are moving into bothunrehabilitated and upgraded buildings, raising realestate values. At the same time, tourist-related businessesare moving in, pushing up commercial values as well.Already, the pressures of gentrification are being felt.

The Kazimierz Local Office operated jointly by thecity and a local group, the Cracow DevelopmentForum, definitely has the right ideas about revitalizingthis area as a community. They organized a publicforum for local residents to express opinions about whatshould happen. They’ve advanced “green projects” forsome courtyard spaces. They advocate improving livingconditions for the benefit of residents and supportinitiatives to safeguard and restore historic sites. Theyissue a monthly newspaper covering current topics andpast history. They write about Jewish holidays, unfamil-iar to many current residents, and about the people after


whom the streets are named. They promote the Chris-tian sites of the district, since most visitors don’t knowthis was first its own town and the site of centuries ofinterweaving of Christian and Jewish heritage. “We’retrying to preserve a small town but don’t want whathappened to the Main Square, where no one can liveany more, to happen here,” said Ma¬gorzata Walczak ofthe Cracow Development Forum.

The good news is that Kazimierz was designated apriority area in the city’s 1993 development strategy.While not all district buildings are of heritage quality,new ones are expected to conform in design and scale tothe existing neighborhood. That is where the good newsends. A Kazimierz Action Plan was prepared by a teamfrom Cracow, Edinburgh and Berlin under the auspicesof the European Union’s ECOS Ouverture program,which is devoted to improving urban and regionalplanning by helping cities exchange experiences. Theplan calls for the district to be revived, restored and keptresidential for “the benefit of its residents.” But as yet itis only a paper plan meant to promote the area and notyet formally integrated into municipal developmentprocedures. By the time it is, however, if it is, the localpopulation will be dramatically reduced.

No policies or programs, in fact, are in place tofacilitate the continuation of Kazimierz as an authenticneighborhood. The city officially favors letting the marketdictate everything that happens. This guarantees the gradualbut eventual displacement of the current population.

Kazimierz’ destiny is clear. Without publicly-fundedinitiatives to dampen the displacement trend, it willerode gradually. This is not like wholesale removal anddemolition. Instead, this is subtle— slow but sure. Thispattern of gentrification is visible in all of the architec-turally intact and culturally unique ancient cities ofCentral Eastern Europe and will continue unabatedunder anything-goes market economies. Few traditionalhistoric cities in Western Europe and North Americahave escaped this trend. In fact, about the only ones thathave are those, especially in North America, that havebeen so bulldozed by urban renewal that little urbanfabric remains to appeal to an existing or new popula-tion of residents or entrepreneurs.

NOWA HUTANowa Huta is world famous for the enormous pollutingsteel mill built by the Soviet regime that spewed blackclouds of soot south to Cracow, endangering the healthof residents and scarring priceless architecture in theentire historic city. In the West, Nowa Huta was de-picted in the media as the Communists’ revenge on theincomparable beauty of Cracow. Nowa Huta, as it turnsout, is considerably more than a steel mill and is an

extraordinarily historic, fascinating and functioning cityfor which a locally-based preservation effort has beenmounted for logical reasons.

Fifty years ago, prompted by Joseph Stalin and assistedby Soviet engineers, Poland’s Communist authoritiesdecided a whole new city would be built to the east ofCracow around a giant steel mill complex—the LeninSteel Works. The decision to build Nowa Huta—literally ‘new foundry’ was not only economic, but alsopolitical. Economically, it was part of a six-year plan toindustrialize the Polish economy. Politically, it wasintended to create a second city to dilute Cracow’sindependent tradition. Nowa Huta’s Central Plaza wasintended to compete with Cracow’s historic RynekG¬ówny, less than 7 kilometers away.

By the 1970s, over 100,000 people lived in NowaHuta. The Lenin Steel Works produced over six milliontons of steel annually and employed as many as 35,000workers. But little attention was paid to environmentalprotection. The air was black with sulphur and smokeand water was contaminated. It was here that Poland’sfirst independent environmental groups were organized,including the Polish Ecological Club, which cam-paigned in the 1980s to close the steel works.

More Than a Steel MillIn the 1990s, the Lenin Steel Works was renamed theSendzimir Steel Works to commemorate one of Poland’sinventors, and a restructuring program was initiated.The most polluting parts of the plant were closed andenvironmental controls were introduced. What was oncea monolithic state-controlled plant and site of workers’strikes, is today a modern industrial operation made upof several companies. The early strikes and protests herehelped lead to the collapse of Communism.

Today, Nowa Huta is considerably more than a steelmill as the district is becoming an attractive location forboth small and large businesses. For example, Chicago-based R.R. Donnelly is building a $10 million printingworks in what used to be the Steel Works’ buffer zone,creating jobs and diversifying the local economy. NowaHuta has become Cracow’s industrial and residentialdistrict. Local community groups are nurturing a senseof history and initiating projects to improve communityappeal. The Association for Nature Conservation, forexample, is working with residents to humanize theirsurroundings by tearing up the concrete around high-rise buildings and planting gardens with ivy to coverbleak facades.

A green business park with small companiescommitted to operating in line with European Unionenvironmental standards is being developed under theEnvironmental Partnership’s Czysty Biznes (“Clean

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 25

Business”) Program. The program helps small andmedium-sized companies to reduce operating costs byupgrading environmental procedures, improvingmanagement skills, sharpening competitiveness and tobecome suppliers to large companies committed toenvironmental responsibility. The program also encour-ages them to become involved in community action.21

Another initiative is the Association for Nowa HutaMuseum, which has brought together steel workers,environmentalists, teachers, trade unionists, businesspeople and local government officials to preserve localheritage. The history of the area—including the con-struction—is being documented and heritage trailsdeveloped to bring the past to life. Maciej Miezian , alocal community leader involved in the Museum initia-tive, says “Nowa Huta is really Cracow’s older sister.” Thenew town was built in one of Poland’s largest prehistoricsettlements and on the site of 30 villages, some datingfrom the 13th century. Relics of village architecture, oldmanor houses and even palaces enrich its landscape.Visitors are surprised that amid the high-rise residentialareas, you can encounter 100-year-old peasant houses,wooden rural churches from the 15th and 17th centuries,and the residences of landowners from the 18th and 19thcenturies with extensive parklands. Nowa Huta’s oldestrelic is a prehistoric burial mound with the remains ofPrincess Wanda—Cracow’s legendary ruler. Otherarchitectural monuments include the Gothic Cistercianabbey in Mogila (13th–16th centuries) and numerousstructures built in the style of Socialist Realism, nowaccorded heritage protection status.

A Real PlaceLocal initiatives focused on environment and heritage arebuilding a new sense of identity and pride in Nowa Hutaas a community—a place to live and work. Yet the mostdifficult challenges still lie ahead. With production downto less than two million tons annually, the Steel Worksstill employs 18,000 but continues to cut back to staycompetitive. As many as 10,000 workers are to lose theirjobs over the next five years to help the steel mill reducecosts and to give it a chance to survive as Poland entersthe European Union, where there is over-capacity in steelproduction. Job losses are already dampening the localsense of identity and caring. Unfortunately, the cityauthorities appear to be doing little to ease the social andeconomic impacts of the downsizing. No retrainingprograms are available or policies to help develop small

and medium-sized enterprises, the best hope for jobcreation and longterm growth. Consequently, funds forretraining steel workers available from the nationalgovernment and the European Union are being directedto the nearby Silesian coal mines and not to Nowa Huta.

Local NGOs, church groups, and business peopleare taking the initiative themselves to develop links withother European cities in Germany, UK and Francewhich have experienced steel plant restructuring andunemployment problems. Once employed at the SteelWorks, Krzysztof Kwatera now works for the Environ-mental Partnership. “Ten years ago, environmentalarguments were used to close down heavy industry,” hesays. “Today, we’re seeing a concern for environment asan opportunity to generate jobs in Nowa Huta and torally support to attract new investment ideas, which canhelp bring new life to Nowa Huta. What’s needed ispartnership between NGO and business leaders toidentify local needs and opportunities, and only thenwill we be able to mobilize government action.”

SOUTH FROM CRACOWALONG THE AMBER TRAIL GREENWAYThe following projects reflect the Polish Amber TrailGreenway (ATG) focus on the creation of projects andactivities which solve environmental problems whileencouraging local economic development and protect-ing the natural and cultural heritage. Ongoing overallefforts seek to connect sites for tourists, to encouragecross-border cooperation among the three ATG coun-tries (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary) to identify and mark abike route, to stimulate more local entrepreneurialopportunities and to market the trail for tourists.

THE JURA PROGRAM(developed with Ojcowski National Park, the JuraLandscape Parks and local governments)

“The project seeks to identify and promote community-based sustainable development projects along a Jura Ringthat surrounds the Jura Landscape Parks with the twinobjectives of reducing tourist pressure on Ojcowski NationalPark and providing economic development opportunitiesfor communities in the Jura Upland.”

One of the most significant characteristics of thediversified community-based projects throughout CentralEurope, immediately apparent in Poland, is the nature-conservation-outdoor activity focus of so many citizeninitiatives. Invariably, the most interesting, diversified andeffective efforts start with small, often spontaneousinitiatives. In this case, as will be seen in the next project,a citizen-organized program to protect frogs crossingroads was an early catalyst for a larger effort.

21 The Clean Business Program is actually one of the Polish Environ-mental Partnership’s most innovative and covers 60 towns insouthern Poland. By demonstrating how good environmentalpractices can improve profits, the Clean Business Program advancesthe fundamental premise of all projects included in this report thatprofit and an improved environment can go together.


The Jura Program is a multi-faceted nature andopen-space program with a modest sprawl containmentand economic development subtext. This programbrings together National Park managers, local officialsand residents, a remarkable achievement considering theless than warm feelings among those groups. Theresentment of local residents toward park administratorsis similar to that of the people who live in New YorkState’s Adirondack State Park,22 even though the contextsare so obviously different. In this case, the former regimeactually confiscated privately owned land—mostly non-arable forests— to expand parks. Some Adirondackproperty owners feel like their land has been confiscatedeven though they still own it, because of unfairlystringent park regulations.

The Jura Program aims to spread out park visitationand take pressure off the most popular, heavy-trafficOjcowski National Park, located just 20 kilometers fromCracow’s historic square. Efforts to market alternativepark options seem to be working. At New York’s MohonkMountain House,23 an extraordinary national historiclandmark in the Hudson Valley, a similar effort wasundertaken to ease visitor overload in the most popularareas and encourage visitation elsewhere. It worked. Anyeffort to bring new attention to underused appealingsites is bound to draw people.

“Our greatest success so far,” notes AndrzejBiderman, PEPF Jura Program coordinator, has been “thechange in attitude of local people. People living in theparks thought institutions dealing with landscape conser-vation were the enemy. Now local officials want to talk tous when they have meetings about real estate develop-ment. Park people knew they should work with localpeople but they didn’t know how and had no tools.” Therole of the Partnership in bringing together groups thatwere either hostile or just unfamiliar with one another isrepeated in many projects and may be one of the mostuseful functions each Partnership performs.

Under the Jura Program, efforts are made to encour-age local people to open small tourism-related businesses.Tourists, in this case, are mostly Poles from the Jura regioncoming to bike, hike, walk trails or rock climb. In onesmall town, Bolechowice, (population 2,000), a smallgrocery store opened, more parking was created at thechurch, and public benches were installed. These smallactions resulted from the local group efforts, but were thefirst civic activities in this community in decades.

Traditionally, most Poles define economic develop-ment, Biderman notes, as steelworks and petrol stationsso “they never thought they had the resource to profitfrom tourism-related businesses.” The Partnership ishelping redefine economic development as somethingwithin the reach of local people on their own initiative.Most people, Biderman adds, in or near the parks arefarmers and “a two-hectare farm is not a business.”(When land was confiscated under the former regime andfarmers were sent to work in factories, the farmers wereoften left with small pieces to farm for their own pur-poses, not big enough for any kind of real production.)

With pride, Biderman showed us the small parkinglot created in Bolechowice, which nicely incorporatedpart of an old ruin. Parking anarchy is clearly anincreasing problem everywhere, and this small parkinglot was meant to address the issue. To some extent itdoes … for now. Creating parking space is like buildinghighways. The more you provide parking, the more carsseek to take advantage. The need for increased parkingnever diminishes. There is never enough. In this case,the small parking area is not intrusive and, mercifully,was not paved, just gravel. Every tourist and park-focused project, however, should direct serious attentionto gaining or improving mass transit service to parks, inthis case buses that accommodate bicycles.

The Partnership efforts in the region are now wellaccepted and their input seems to be solicited as well.Bolechowice cooperated when all neighboring townssaid no. Since then, however, other towns are cooperat-ing, bringing citizens together and looking for smalleconomic development opportunities. Out of eightmunicipalities in the area, only two remain apart, andthat probably won’t last. Over and over, this kind ofmodest success spreads. Nothing is more persuasivethan actually seeing something change. When onecommunity sees something working in the nextcommunity, competitive juices flow.

GREENWORKS(Society for Active Nature Conservation)–Rytro

“The project in Rytro seeks to develop capacity for volunteer-based nature conservation of amphibian habitats along the

22 The Adirondack Park is a six-million acre region composed of publicand private lands. An Adirondack Park Agency, created in the 1970sand with state, local and private sectors, manages growth in the park.It can dictate kinds and color of signage, density and other types ofzoning issues. Historically, it has been very unpopular with peoplewho live year-round in the Adirondacks and popular with tourists orowners of second homes in the park. It is a favorite place for summeractivities, such as hiking, biking, camping, canoe trips, mountainclimbing and the like.

23 Mohonk Mountain House is the only true “resort” in the HudsonValley and is located in a 26,000 acre natural area that includes statepark land, private preserves and the resort property. It is a sprawling,rustic-style Victorian hotel with many different sections totaling aneighth of a mile in length. It sits atop a ridge next to a lake in theShawangunk Mountains in the middle of the Mohonk ForestPreserve. Once strictly a summer resort, Mohonk now accommo-dates vacationers and conferences year round.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 27

Poprad River valley and to work with Slovak NGO groupsto promote practical nature conservation as a cost-effectivemethod of flood control and education. The cooperation ofthe local people, Greenworks, local government and PopradLandscape Park authorities led them to develop an ecologi-cal park. The activities organized in the park are concernednot only on environmental education but also on thedevelopment of ecologically-friendly tourism.”

This project is a classic example of how one personstarting a small project can lead to the involvement of manypeople and bring different communities together for acommon goal. This is a rebuilding of civil society at its best.

In the early 1990s, every spring, frogs were gettingcrushed to death by cars along the Poprad Park road insouthern Poland as they crossed mostly at night to reachtheir breeding ground. The Poprad Park was establishedin 1987 to protect the Beskid Sadecki range which ispart of the Carpathian Mountains, areas of undrainedvalleys and rare pure streams, mountains and wildforests, and rare species.

This particular site, a pond and wetland, is at thePark forest entrance in Rytro. A local school scienceteacher, biologist and president of Greenworks,Grzegorz Tabasz, organized a campaign to save the frogs.He had heard about a similar effort in the Jura regionand felt it should be done here. Tabasz started by gettingyoung people including school children to be roadguards, to stop traffic when frogs were crossing and tobring attention to the threat to the frogs and the largerenvironment. School children made field trips, studiednature in new ways and began to appreciate the environ-ment from a new perspective. With funding from thePolish Partnership, the Park, the local government andthe Global Environmental Facility (as part of a projectcalled “Plan Poprad 21”), he conducted workshops onthe environment. The pond and wetland were cleanedand enlarged to facilitate frog breeding. A bridge overthe pond was constructed. Paths along the stream werecreated. An attractive entranceway was built. Signs wereput up and benches were installed. More than 500volunteers worked on different aspects of the project.

Tourists began to hear about the site and came tovisit. Local residents and their children repeatedly visitto see what is happening. Many came and went duringour visit and seemed to do no more than stare down atthe pond. Some people come, sit on benches and justlisten to the frogs. Reportedly, with the area cleaned andfunctioning well environmentally, an increase in birdshas been observed.

Multiple LessonsThe frogs would have disappeared without this project.But beyond that the schools now have a more concen-

trated environmental awareness program with studentsfeeling very connected and appreciative of their localplace. Local elected officials gained new respect forcitizen involvement and are quite responsive to newcitizen initiatives. The mayor of Rytro, W¬adys¬awWnetrzak, in fact, now relies on the environmentalexpertise of Greenworks and Greenworks-affiliatedteachers are often hired in the local schools. People whonever believed one person could make a difference learnedan important lesson. As evidence grew of tourist poten-tial, two bike rental businesses and a riding stable openednearby. A tourist guide was written and published. Ideasfor new community-based projects are percolating.

The success of this project has actually reachedregional proportions. The mayors of two adjacenttowns, Nowy Sacz and Stary Sacz are now working withthe Rytro mayor to connect the towns with trails in thepark and to work together on environmental and touristdevelopment programs. This project made them realizethe need to work together in various ways. At the timeof the site visit, Slovak children from schools in thePoprad Valley just south of the Polish/Slovak borderwere scheduled to visit, and it was quite likely that aplan would emerge whereby Polish students recipro-cated. The impact was nationwide.

All of this occurred in less than 10 years in incre-mental steps and with modest financial investments.

1990—Greenworks, founded by Tabasz, a local leader,activist and teacher, along with a group of 50 citizens, startedin schools with field trips and biology lessons;

1993—Frog problem in the mountains of theBeskid Sadecki region recognized, public attentionfocused and action began;

1994—Local officials made a field trip and recog-nized problems;

1995—Wetland protection project underway. Localauthorities joined in and helped expand; awarded firstplace by the Ministry of Environmental Protection asbest regional program of active protection of a speciesand its habitat.24

KICZNIA VILLAGE COMMUNITY-BASEDFLOOD CONTROL PROJECT“The project seeks to implement environmentally-sensitiveengineering methods to protect Kicznia Village from floods andsimultaneously restore and conserve natural habitats. Theproject wins a joint PEPF/Wyborcza Newspaper ‘Stop the

24 In 1996 a similar project was implemented in Stargad Szczecinskiand in Òodz ] with the support of other ecological organizations. Inl998, this project received second honors from the Henry FordConservation Awards for outstanding contribution to the conserva-tion of the natural environment.


Wave’ competition for community-based flood protectionprojects. The local government is strongly involved in the project.”

Kicznia (population 500) lies in the Lacko districtat the crossroads of two Western Carpathian ranges:Beskid Sa decki and Beskid Wyspowy. The region ischaracterized by communities along mountain riverswith no dams and river banks in a natural state. A dam isbeing built for the next 10 years that will create a reservoirnear Kicznia and help flood prevention. The 1997 floodsthat gained world attention devastated Kicznia.

Kicznia is quite near the Slovak border. Small, mostlypoor farmers dominate the area. If one has a five hectarefarm, he is considered rich. More than 50 percent of thefarmers in this region were assigned to factories under theformer regime. They were “land-owning factory workers,”an unusual identity. This led to what was identified as a“strange mentality” because they were neither attached tothe land nor to their work in industry.

Nature protection in Poland is widely viewed as a“luxury.” The concept of economic development com-bined with nature protection is completely new, as is truein most parts of the world. Environmental protection isachieved by prohibitions and obligations and is not at alla part of local everyday life. Flood prevention withnatural methods as Kicznia illustrates is cheaper and moreefficient than the prevailing technological methods. This,however, is not reflected in public policy. Most communi-ties assume no alternative to high-tech solutions, like bigdams and concrete stream banks, exists.

Low-Tech SolutionsThe flood issue clearly juxtaposes the expensive high-techsolution that requires capital-intensive constructionagainst the more cost-effective natural systems that areeasier and cheaper to implement. The former emergesfrom narrow, linear thinking and the latter from integra-tive, interdisciplinary thinking reflecting the kind ofinnovative solutions that exhibit multiple beneficialspinoffs. The former gets only one job done. The latteraccomplishes that same task but has multiple additionalbenefits. The one is a narrowly defined project. Theother is both a project and a catalyst for the process ofbuilding civil society. The former feeds the globalmarket strategy of the EU. The latter responds to thedemocratic agenda articulated but not implemented bythe EU. After the 1997 floods, environmental groupswere logically concerned that only the high-tech meth-ods to flood prevention would be applied.

The Kicznia Village effort was the first of threesuccessful environmentally-sensitive flood controlprojects visited for this report (Hungary, Czech Repub-lic projects to be described later). Clearly, the flood issuehas engaged environmentalists who have displayed

several innovative ways to address naturally the flooddanger that avoids the intrusive use of cement, saves alot of money and involves a substantial number ofcommunity members.

Throughout the trip, we heard repeated lamentsfrom local people about the lack of funding for suchinfrastructure projects as sewage treatment and floodcontrol. (The EU requires that candidate countriesensure waste water treatment for all communities over2,000 people before the admission.) Illustrated in justthe limited assortment of projects we visited areenvironmentally-sensitive, cost-saving methods inpractice that could be repeated throughout the region.Yet, we also heard of strong pressure on central govern-ments from big infrastructure builders to fund suchprojects in a big way. The modest efforts don’t requirethe services of the big global corporations that influ-ence national policy. Sadly, a number of the communi-ties we visited who had invested in big projects,especially the sewage projects, had no money foranything else and had acquired bond debt in theprocess. Many communities which have a big debt arebeginning to default because it is not clear how theywill repay it. Tax receipts are generally insufficient.

In 1997, the small tributaries caused the worstflooding and flood damage in many years. In Kicznia,the whole first floor of the school was flooded alongwith many homes and great expanses of land. Theschool flooding made a big impact on the children,causing them to examine the environmental pluses andminuses of their own school building and make recom-mendations for change. The school director sought helpfrom many groups but Marek Styczynski, president of alocal NGO, the Workshop of All Beings, was the onlyone to respond. Marek visited and decided Kicznia wasa good site for a demonstration project.

Before the flood, local environmental efforts hadbeen initiated. Local people, including children,cleaned local streams and started a recycling project.In the environmental awareness program in the school,children participated in art projects focused on bothenvironmental issues and folk heritage. The kids, infact, identified the school building’s coal-fired heatingsystem as the biggest polluter in the village. It wasbecause of the environmental initiatives alreadyimplemented by local people, namely the womanschool director and teachers, coupled with the heavyflood damage that caused Workshop of All Beings tochoose Kicznia.

Marek offered help to the village and recruitedchildren in the project. Standard flood control projectspave stream banks with concrete. The mayor understoodthat concrete doesn’t solve flood problems. National

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 29

government funding after the flood was available forrebuilding roads, homes and dams. Very little was eligiblein Kicznia. After the flood, the national government gaveeach person who had suffered damage a small “symbolic”payment as compensation. In addition, some relief moneyfrom abroad was distributed through the nationalgovernment down to villages and towns. At best, thefunds covered about 50 percent of the damage. Manyreceived nothing.

Children Play a RoleUnder the community-based flood control project, eachchild was given seeds to plant trees around the houseand was told to inform parents that money was availableto buy small trees for them to plant on non-arable land.The students learned how planting trees was critical toflood prevention. In this village of 130 houses, eachfamily participated. Ten varieties of trees were planted.The community was educated about the importance oftree variety to avoid monocultures. The mayor wasimpressed by the extent of public involvement, becamequite enthusiastic about it and, in fact, now invitespeople from other communities to view the regradedstream banks and tree planting areas. Other streamcommunities are buying seedlings on their own. Thismayor is one of the three who wants to connect thetrails mentioned in the Rytro project.

Rados¬aw Tendera, Program Director of the Part-nership, notes that after the 1997 floods, PEPF did notknow what its response should be. “We had no water-related programs,” he says. The Partnership developedthe Stop the Wave contest to encourage flood-damagedcommunities to seek help. The Partnership expected anoutpouring of applicants. Only four communities,including Kicznia, participated. “We were shocked,”Tendera says. The Kicznia Village project emerged,bringing together in one communal effort a school, thechildren, village officials and residents. No project betterillustrates the multiple benefits of such a low-cost, low-tech effort in contrast to big, expensive flood controlprojects. Interest in low-tech and community-based floodprotection projects is increasing across southern Poland.

Under the Communists, environmental andecological organizations were a refuge for dissidents.These organizations were well positioned after therevolution to lead innovative, civic rebuilding efforts.The Jura and Rytro frog protection projects in Poland,as was shown, grew out of groups that functioned beforethe revolution. Hiking and biking had been greatpastimes, an alternative to Communist-controlledentertainment and television. Forest trails were popularand well used because, besides obvious reasons, theywere among the few places people could walk and talk,

confident they were not being listened in on or watchedby government operatives.25 “Trees don’t talk,” peoplesay by way of explanation.

Historically, of course, going back centuries, anelaborate system of hiking trails was establishedthroughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The cultureof Central Europe has long ties to nature. Thus, nature-based initiatives and environmental concerns were anatural focus for civic efforts after the revolution.Nature conservation and environmental preservation arecomfortable stimuli for community action.

ZAWOJA PROJECT OFTHE POLISH ECOLOGICAL CLUBJerzy Sawicki, Chair of National Parks Unit of thePolish Ecological Club,26 leader of “Coalition to Savethe Carpathian from Olympic Games.”

“Zawoja is a famous tourist village located at the foot of theBabia Góra range—the highest in the Beskidy Mountainsknown as a ‘Queen of Beskidy.’ But Zawoja is famous also fora longstanding conflict between the Babia Góra NationalPark authorities and local people. In February 1998 aninternational workshop in Zawoja was organized on people-park conflicts and local people for the first time discussedtheir problems with the National Park authorities. Some-thing changed in the minds of both sides of the conflict.A main mediating body between people and the Park is theNational Parks Unit of the Polish Ecological Club.”

Three interesting things are going on here:

• When the Communist regime expanded the nationalparks by taking forest and non-arable land from privateowners, they compensated people with token sums ofmoney. People considered themselves well paid and noattempts at reclaiming that land have been made. Now,however, the parks propose to expand again by annexingsome valuable land that apparently should have beenincluded originally. No buffer zone would be created.

Old Assumptions Die HardA buffer zone is a special strip of land surrounding thecore of the national park for added protection, atransition zone between the park, where nature conser-vation is a priority, and surrounding commercially-usedland, where development is the priority. In a bufferzone, landscape regulations are not as strict as in thenational park. Environmentally-friendly tourism and

25 Ironically, in the Hudson River Valley, there was early opposition tothe network of Greenway trails because it was “a Communist plot.”Greenway leaders took great delight in pointing out that the Czechtrail system actually helped to overthrow Communism.

26 PKE was founded in 1980 in Cracow during the first SolidarityMovement by scientists, physicians, journalists and others aware ofthe country’s environmental crisis.


economic activities are permitted. The Babia Górabuffer zone was created in 1997.

In the face of stiff local opposition, the buffer zonecovered a very small, almost symbolic area, not enoughto properly protect the core of the Babia Góra NationalPark. People subsequently opposed enlargement becausethey interpreted it as an enlargement of the whole parkwhich they saw as additional restrictions and obstaclesto their business activities.

“In fact,” observes Dominika Zareba of the PolishEnvironmental Partnership, “the buffer zone is not a bigobstacle for everyday life of local people. They candevelop tourism and other businesses but only in anenvironmentally-friendly way. The problem is thatpeople are not well informed about environmental lawand don’t understand the role of the buffer zone or whatsustainable tourism can mean. The Polish EcologicalClub, supported by the Partnership, is helping to raiseawareness among the local population of Zawoja aboutthe wide range of possibilities offered by ‘soft economicactivities’ within a national park and its buffer zone.”

The region has high unemployment with many closedfactories. Under Communism, Zawoja region residentslived in part from agriculture and in part from working infactories located in nearby towns. As mentioned earlier, aspecial social group was created called Farmer-Worker. Thisduality, Dominika observes, undermined the dependenceon and deep respect for the land. When the factoriesclosed, agriculture, forestry (in many cases illegal) andtourism were the only known alternatives.

In Zawoja the conflict between local people and thenational park agency is probably the greatest in Poland.In a referendum in 1997,27 60 percent of the peopleopposed the proposed enlargement of the park and itsbuffer zone. Instead, many local leaders advocatebuilding more small private ski lifts and roads cuttinginto beautiful hills and primeval forests in the un-founded hope that this will bring more tourists. Yet,snow in this area is not conducive to good skiing as thewinter is generally short, making this high-impactdevelopment concept even more misguided.

The National Park Unit of the Polish EcologicalClub Partnership initiated a proposal for compensationto land owners who would give up their developmentrights in favor of nature conservation. Other NGOshave since gotten involved. In northern Poland, theconcept of trading forest land for a discounted energyrate on gas and electricity already is advocated.

The Club sought EPCE financial assistance andexperience in stimulating local action. Since then, 1997,the Polish Ecological Club with Partnership support hasbegun implementing a series of projects bringing inexperts—sociologists, economists, lawyers—to helpdefine the problem, advocate lower taxes as compensa-tion and stimulate public discussion.

Bringing People TogetherThe Polish Ecological Club is more widely known thanany environmental NGO. The workshop with visitingexperts was the first time local people and representa-tives of the national parks talked together. This was amajor breakthrough. In Kicznia, people were broughttogether around flood problems, and they gainedsomething in the process. Here, nothing positive existsto bring local people together because things can onlybe taken away from them under the proposal. The landproposed for park enlargement is heavily used by localpeople for hunting and tree cutting.

“Our role,” Dominika Zareba explains, “is todemonstrate alternative kinds of development that willkeep the natural image of the region that will notdestroy Babia Góra by heavy investments.”

• The second interesting trend here in Zawoja is smalleconomic development efforts emerging in eco-tourism.

Having a national park located here should be anadvantage. There are 22 national parks, three of which getthe most traffic, the Tatra National Park, the OjcowskiNational Park in the Jura Region and KampinoskiNational Park near Warsaw. The Zawoja area gets 60,000visitors a year. The Tatras get that number in a day.

The mayor of the village of Zawoja has developed aproposal, the Strategy of Tourism Development inZawoja. The strategy includes promotion of tourismand local handicrafts, improving the tourist infrastruc-ture, i.e. new bus stops, cycle paths, trails and otherthings. Most local people are quite passive. The mayor istrying to activate them. Workshops are conducted tooffer ideas profiting people, and anyone who respondsgets official help. So far, 10 new bed-and-breakfasts andan eco-farm have opened. An annual Babia GóraAutumn Festival, including folk music concerts andhandicraft fairs, is an important cultural event for theregion, drawing people from all over Poland.

The strategy also articulates a need for saving oldwooden houses in Zawoja, but local governments haveno idea how to do this other than to offer them astourist attractions. So far, few preservation ideas havetaken root other than removing threatened houses to theopen-air museum in Zawoja Markowe which preserves

27 This was the only referendum in Poland concerned with enlargementof a national park. A referendum in North-East Poland concernedestablishment of a new national park, Mazury National Park. Localpeople voted it down and it still does not exist.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 31

the building but not the place. Incentives for local oroutside owners to upgrade and rebuild such traditionalbuildings are occasionally mentioned, but no enablingprogram has been proposed.

Farm TourismThe one eco-farm in Zawoja Barancowa exemplifiesboth the preservation and re-use of traditional domesticfarm buildings and the feasibility of organic farming. Itssuccess is gaining attention. With more cheap foodcoming from the European Union, the realization isgrowing that organic farming is the only way todevelop a different and competitive product. Thisfarmer became sick and quit the cooperative whereheavy use of chemicals prevails. Since he ceased usingchemicals, he has gotten better. Furthermore, his cowsare living longer than those of the cooperative wherecows are still fed in conventional ways. “The hardestthing is to be a prophet in your own country,” he says.

About 80 guests a year stay at the farmhouse. Thereis no tax for facilities of up to five rooms. Apparently, inorder not to exceed five rooms but to be able to accom-modate many guests, rooms accommodate four and fivepeople. This eco-farm was developed with the directassistance of a national organization, ECEAT Poland(European Center for Ecological Agriculture andTourism in Poland).28 ECEAT seeks to counter thetrends toward agribusiness in Western Europe and theU.S. that depend on large-scale investments, chemicalsand big machinery. Wherever agribusiness increasinglydominates, environmental damage follows, small familyfarms are lost, incomparable landscapes are altered andlocal culture and traditions undermined or lost. ECEAThas shown that combining modern organic farming andeco-tourism can avert this trend. Most significantly, asin the example of this farm, the small farm can beeconomically sustainable and agriculturally productive.At the same time, it brings new economic activity andentrepreneurial opportunity to the locality. The goalsand work of ECEAT combine logically with the PolishPartnership. The two organizations have begun to findways to coordinate, certainly a means to advance thedevelopment of the Amber Trail Greenway. A veryuseful publication exists that lists organic farms thataccommodate guests and gives interesting backgroundon the role of farming in Polish history and culture.

Marketing What Already ExistsPromoting agri-tourism and other types of non-agricul-tural economic activities and producing publications forits purpose are now PEPF priorities. Under the Com-munists, workers were given special holiday packages.Several hotels were built in Zawoja, similar to thereasonably sized one in Rytro. There was no need toentice visitors; they were fully occupied. But nowpromotion is critical. Somehow the view prevails amongmany local people that they could develop ski lifts inenvironmentally positive ways and avoid the mistakes ofZakopane. Zakopane has been a downhill ski resortsince the 1920s and the site of European competitionsbut, many Poles feel, has been overdeveloped. Polishofficials perceive ski lifts as profitable whereas agri-tourism is not as tangible.

• The third interesting trend apparent is the grow-ing role of NGOs, such as the Polish Ecological Club asan important mediator and facilitator.

The mayor recognizes the value of the Club. Thefirst public organizing session organized by the Club inZawoja was a breakthrough because local people’s ideasand feelings were actually taken into account. Theparadox was that officials thought people were ignorantof community problems and gave them no credit forunderstanding environmental issues. They discoveredthe opposite. People were actually clamoring for a cleanenvironment but needed the means and motivation topursue action. The Polish Ecological Club with supportfrom the Partnership researched and published a report,“Ecological Compensations, Motivations and Recom-mendations,” with examples of nature conservationcompensation methods, such as low interest bank creditfor heating and sewage projects. The report was sent as aproposal for a new policy and legislative initiative to theMinistry for the Environment in Warsaw. Efforts arenow focused on creating a coalition of nearby commu-nities to tackle these issues and proposals.

Rabka, a famous Polish spa town, is one of manysuch towns in the region with considerable assets towork for genuine revitalization and little vision of howto make the most of it. The town is architecturally rich,filled with high-style 19th century buildings andcommunal facilities in the center. Towns like this coulduse help “visioning” their future in a step by stepmanner, including instruction in marketing. Rabka gets15,000 visitors a year without any promotion, whichillustrates the potential with promotion.

The feature that distinguishes Rabka from other spatowns is its apparent usefulness for children, especiallythose suffering from allergies and lung disease. It wasthe first spa to open for children in 1964.

28 ECEAT is a Europe-wide organization based in the Netherlands whichhas made huge inroads all over Central and Eastern Europe inpromoting Agritourism. Each participating country has a nationaloffice. The Polish chapter of ECEAT was established in 1992 topreserve rural cultural and natural resources and promote sustainablefarming. Launched with just 17 farmers and 500 visitors in 1993,the program included 87 farmers as of 1999 who offer bed-and-breakfast or camping accommodations on their farms.


Discussion with local leaders has the familiar echo of“we need money” when, in fact, the issue is more howshould money be spent. Here many believe they need a lotof money for infrastructure, particularly a sewage systemwhich is already partially done. A new plant has been builtbut the drainage is apparently not complete. Clearly acomplete sewer system is needed. Sewage is still going intothe Rabka River which feeds drinking water for Cracow.No central garbage collection system exists. Solid waste hasto travel 150 kilometers for disposal to Silesia.

Spa Town Challenge Is RegionalThe spa town issue is huge throughout the whole four-country region. They are quite plentiful. The wastewater/sewage treatment issue is, of course, the same forall of them. This is particularly acute in spa towns sincethey exist based on the quality of their water. Mostofficials and citizens are unaware of the lower-cost,environmentally better, low-tech alternatives available,assuming that only high-tech solutions exist.

Town officials, like so many local officials through-out the region, are looking to the EU for the money.But there is little vision beyond a sewer system, littlethinking about long term visions for the town and anapparent assumption that once the sewer system iscompleted, everything else will take care of itself. ThePartnership is encouraging Rabka and neighboringcommunities to join forces to create shared waste, wateror other systems. This is certainly appropriate, but onegets the feeling that it will not be easy.

A recycling effort is apparently getting started withsome awareness in the schools, but it does not seem to

have the mayor’s enthusiastic support. This effort maywind up energizing the public even without the enthusi-asm of the political leadership. Local people being aheadof their elected leaders would not be uncommon. In thelong run, mayors come and go, but the public interestneeds to be continually building.

Soon after our field visit, however, the Partnershipreceived a project proposal from Rabka to developbicycle trails on the Amber Trail which would helpintegrate the town into a region-wide tourism develop-ment program. The City Councilwoman established acitizens committee for Amber Trail development inRabka. The Partnership is using this as an opportunityto connect Rabka and neighboring districts an effort tobuild partnerships between local governments andmaybe address their common water problems. As withthe other Partnerships, the Polish Partnership is alwayson the lookout for opportunities to bring smallcommunities together in regional cooperative efforts.This is fundamental to the work of the Partnershipand to the success of developing the Amber Trail fromthe grassroots as a long-term and enduring citizen-based initiative.29

29 Skomielna Bia¬a, a neighboring town of 2,000 residents and 150businesses, reportedly follows a different course, focusing on revivalof crafts suppressed under the former regime. Products such asslippers, sheepskin coats, iron handles and ornamental woodwork aremade there. Skomielna Bia¬a reportedly has the lowest unemploy-ment rate in the region. “Here the focus is on the spas, there thefocus is on crafts,” a Rabka resident says enviously. That is as itshould be. Not all towns should focus on crafts. Rabka should focuson being a spa—build on its assets and history to find a niche andcomplement that with other initiatives.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 33

Slovakia became an independent country on January 1,1993, after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Slovakiahas confronted the dual challenge of transition from asystem of authoritarian, centralized governance to amarket-oriented democracy, establishing a new, inde-pendent nation of five million. It seems always to havebeen part of something else, the agricultural outlands ofthe Austro-Hungarian Empire and then part of Czecho-slovakia. Finding its own place in the region and theworld has been a formidable challenge.

Until recently, former Prime Minister VladimírMec ]iar was the primary political force, autocratic andauthoritarian and surrounded by a tight circle ofcronies. Mec ]iar seemed to develop to a fine art theprivatizing of state enterprises to friends.

The good news in all of this was that grass-roots,democratic forces were energized in unified oppositionto him. In 1998, NGOs and all segments of civil societyworked feverishly to defeat Mec ]iar in the nationalelections, achieving the extraordinary voter turnout of83 percent, an enviable achievement in the West.

Slovakia clearly stagnated under Mec ]iar. At the sametime, his tenure provided a little more time for citizens tothink about and envision their future. There was littleopportunity to take more than modest steps. Wherepossible, innovative activists did just that, enough to laythe groundwork for more opportunities under democraticcircumstances. The election galvanized those activists.

Slovaks live mostly in small towns and villages.Bratislava is the capital and biggest city but it does notoverwhelm the country. One-fifth of the population lives inBratislava whereas in Hungary, one-third lives in Budapest.

NATIONAL TRUST OF SLOVAKIAFOR HISTORIC PRESERVATIONHeritage preservation holds a peculiar position inCentral Eastern Europe. On the one hand, historic sitesand properties are much revered. On the other hand,what is defined as worthy of preservation is oftenlimited to ancient monuments, prominent individualbuildings, churches and a few extraordinary towns listedas UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This overlooks a lotof worthy buildings around landmark sites along with

important sections of big cities and small towns andleaves them up for grabs, especially with the great appealof new types of developer-built housing, shopping mallsand modern office buildings. As highway projects moveforward and demand for cars increases, the historic fabricof the region from the smallest village to the largest city isgravely threatened. The present owners often areunaware of the economic potential and social signifi-cance of their properties. Most buildings are capable ofmodernization and upgrading. Furthermore, the level ofrestoration skills in the region could not be higher.

The field of historic preservation throughout thefour-country region seems to be quite removed from thegeneral public. Advocates and practitioners are notknown to be interested in recruiting local people forimportant projects. For the most part, preservationsuffers from an elitist and separatist image. Jobs inconverted buildings or free tickets to events held inthem are not the same as involving local people in theprocess of restoration and re-use. Unfortunately, thesignificant opportunity is missed for fully integrativerevitalization efforts in some communities with heritageconservation as a catalyst.

Thus, two projects—Frantis ]kova Huta (Iron Works)and the intact wooden village of Podbiel 1.5 km away,both in the Orava Region of Central Slovakia— take ongreat importance for both the Amber Trail and thefuture of historic preservation in Slovakia. These twoefforts exemplify local involvement in the preservationand local use of historic sites. These two sites are living








Kvacany Lipt. HrádokRuzmberok

Banská Bystrica

Banská Stiavnica


places, not just historic sites. Local use is balanced withtourism development. They are excellent models.

In 1996, the National Trust of Slovakia for HistoricPlaces and Landscapes was formed, founded by MartinKovác ] and five other young enthusiasts based in Bratislava.The National Trust in Great Britain seems to have beenthe model and considerable guidance has come from it.Kovác ], the director, is a construction engineer who gotinvolved in preservation through working with studentvolunteers on the restoration of the Frantis ]kova Huta 10years ago. As a membership organization, the Trustincludes individuals and groups, professionals andvolunteers. Interdisciplinary cooperation is important.The Trust looks to long-term partnerships with indi-viduals and other organizations to pursue preservationand to increase the credibility of NGOs.

The Trust cooperates on the local level with citycouncils and on the national level with governmentministries, as well as the State Institute for Monumentsand Ministries. In fact, it was asked by the Ministry ofCulture to prepare a strategy for revitalization of historicsites that the Ministry will try to enforce. Officials seemto understand the potential contribution of heritageconservation to regional development. And, signifi-cantly, officials seem to value both industrial anddomestic heritage and the involvement of local citizens.The Trust already has 65 members, including 15 fromPodbiel, and one organizational member, the Tree ofLife, a civic association working with youth at heritagesites all over Slovakia, since 1983. Governed by a 12-member volunteer Board, the Trust has a professionalstaff of five full-time people, four long-term volunteersand more than 15 short-term volunteers. Those volun-teers, Kovác ] believes, have joined because people inPodbiel recognize the benefits to be gained fromimprovements in the community.

FRANTIS ]EK IRON WORKSFrantis ]ek Iron Works is a foundry built in 1836 thatceased operation in 1862 and is the first real estateproperty purchased and owned by the Trust.30 Thisabandoned site is what inspired “six young enthusiasts”to initiate the Trust. The ruin consists of a combinationof hauntingly beautiful sandstone and fired brick wallsenclosing the remains of the furnace. Remnants of thelime works and water channel system are nearby. Theiron works sit in a vast open field set back considerablyfrom the road and with foothills of the Tatras as abackdrop.

This is the only project we visited or are aware of thathas the potential to celebrate the region’s 19th centuryindustrial heritage. The mining heritage exhibited atvarious Slovak sites celebrates an even older, more widelyrecognized history. According to Kovác ], the local commu-nity was unaware of its industrial past but has gottenquite involved in the effort to preserve it, focusingattention on Frantis ]ek Iron Works. The site is quite largewith much room for multiple uses, such as festivals,horseback riding and other activities appealing to bothresidents and tourists. The combination of programsdeveloped primarily for local people along with activitiesto attract tourists bodes well for its future success.

PODBIEL VILLAGEPodbiel Village (1.5 km from the foundry) is one of 10Slovak villages with the special heritage status conferredon villages with preserved folk architecture. The villagehas 64 registered folk wooden buildings which createthe historic center of the village and date as far back as250 years. This is the highest number in a living villagein the whole country. Significantly, while these 64represent the historic core, Podbiel still is an evolvingtown with recently built new houses. It is a particularlygood example of a Slovak village with all its layers ofdevelopment visible and the newest layer emerging. Infact, the newest layer is quite bold and colorful—stuccohouses of purple, blue, yellow, pink—a far cry from thedark wood of the timber houses. But what is mostsignificant is that the new development is similar inpattern to the old, building on a tradition rather thanreplacing it. New houses are slightly more separatedfrom each other but are still located on streets wellconnected to the center. Gravel and grass paths arefound in the old section and asphalt sidewalks in thenew.

In 1998, the Trust restored one of the historicwooden buildings in the center and rented it from thelocal owner to promote the Frantis ]ek Iron Worksproperty and NTS programs. Programs include promo-tion of local heritage for visitors, support for commu-nity-based development projects such as the restorationof an original balance well, local school programs, andtraining for owners of historic buildings. Classes for thepublic are also offered in heritage laws, preservationpractice, financing and tourism potential.

Podbiel is reportedly a very traditional community,quite resistant to change. The restoration of an ancientwell and the preservation of historic buildings have engagedthe interest of residents beyond expectations. Some localowners have been inspired to restore their properties attheir own expense, an original goal of the Trust.

30 The Trust also owns the Ladislav Noel Photographic collection of70,000 slides and pictures of Slovakia made from the 1940s to1990s, recording the significant changes of the society, landscape andurban structures of Slovakia.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 35

Trust representatives around the country are findingconsiderable interest in similar revitalization projects.“The challenge,” Kovác ] said, “is establishing NGOs todo this or to work with ones who already want topursue heritage development. We find they already havegood ideas or are open to new ideas.” Thus, Trustprograms focus on working with local heritage groups,property owners and citizen activists, educating andtraining them and acting as facilitator between localproperty owners and government agencies.

The Trust’s number of activity sites is growing. Thehead office of the trust is in Bratislava’s Petrz ]alkaneighborhood where they have restored an original toolhouse on the bridge over the Danube. It incorporates anoffice, gallery and cafe. The upper part of the buildingwill become the Center for Technical Protection ofHistoric Buildings and the cafe and gallery will be atstreet level. Thousands walk by daily. The gallery is wellused to promote heritage.31

Many prosperous areas all over the country are underhuge development pressure for which the Trust may bethe only resource for technical help. According to Kovác ],heritage preservation projects are occurring with greatdifficulty all over the country. For a long time, theconnection and communication among the differentefforts was meager or non-existent. A Trust internetforum is forming and should begin to address thisdifficulty. This of course will only be useful to organiza-tions and individuals who have access to computers, sofar, only six percent of people in the region. Chances aregreat that the role for the Trust will expand dramaticallyin the next decade, and it could serve as a model whichthe Partnership could help to promote in other countries.

ZUBEREC OPEN-AIR MUSEUM OFTRADITIONAL VILLAGE (SKANSEN)The Zuberec museum is a Colonial Williamsburg-likeVillage, a collection of 43 historic wooden housesbrought to one site from various places. The Villagemuseum contains examples of buildings used for work

and living with appropriate furniture and farm andproduction implements. It is open in summer (50,000visitors) and during ski season (15,000 visitors) and hasa working pub and small gift shop. Buildings are allfully furnished but demonstrations (weaving, pottery,blacksmithing, basket weaving) occur only irregularlyduring special folklore festivals. Handmade craftproducts are sold in the store.

Not surprisingly, craft demonstrations are animportant component of Slovak folk museums. Thecrafts revival is significant throughout the whole formerIron Curtain region because of their suppression underthe former regime. This revival is interesting to observein each country. What changes—new designs, newobjects—emerge over time will be interesting. As theskills are honed, something new and innovative isbound to show itself. This is already visible with Czechglass. Contemporary design has been introduced andnew forms seem to be increasingly available. Somethingsimilar is happening with pottery.

Paradoxically, many of the ways of living and work-ing exhibited in the Zuberec Museum are still current inmany parts of the country. Many weavers, potters andblacksmiths, for example, do their work the same way,as is demonstrated. Museum in that context takes on adifferent meaning. Some Slovaks have “both a horse anda machine and still work with a horse by choice,” wewere told. So some people may think it premature toexhibit such elements of “life,” although the historicwooden architecture is clearly disappearing rapidly.

This museum is a total contrast to Podbiel Villagewhich is both a living place and a living museum.Zuberec Museum is not a living community and is oneof many “historic” “tourist” sites that embody alongstanding museum style that recreates the artifactsand the historic place but sustains no daily life. Clearly,many such sites in the region could benefit from either avisiting “living museum” consultant or, perhaps instead,a site visit to a “living museum” in the U.S. as part oflarger visit for ATG directors. American institutions likeColonial Williamsburg, Plimoth Plantation, SturbridgeVillage (each a living history museum of colonialAmerica) and others have a life and vitality missing here.The potential is there. It needs to be cultivated.

THE ORAVA CASTLEThe Orava Castle, not far from Podbiel, attracts120,000 visitors and is the third most visited site inSlovakia. The castle, perched high on a rocky hilltop, isquite a challenge to climb (112 m/380 ft). The originalfortress dates from the 13th century. The castle overlooksthe Orava river in the village of Oravsky ; Podzámok.Somebody could have fun with the fact that it was used

31 In 1997, a woman read about the work of the Trust and called forhelp with a 200-year-old property in Trnava, 40 km from Bratislava.Because of its deteriorated condition, the owner had been underpressure to do something since 1994. The Trust helped clean it up,stabilize and market it, assisting the owner to find a new owner whowill use it respectfully. In this case, the Trust will help secure the longterm preservation with conservation easements, the first in thecountry done by a non-profit NGO. The Trust will offer technicalassistance to the new owner in restoring and maintaining the historicquality of the property. This would be an important nationalprecedent and serve as a new tool for historic preservation of privateproperty.

The Association of Banská S ]tiavnica sought analytical help withthe 14th century building they own and are trying to authenticallyrestore using original craft methods for use as NGO offices, flats andworkshops for traditional crafts.


for Tod Browning’s 1931 movie, Dracula, starring BélaLugosi. An assortment of things could bring fresh interest.

Management and content of historic sites aresubjects worth exploring for future developmentthroughout the region.

VLKOLINEC – HISTORIC WOODEN VILLAGESerendipitously, we visited an extraordinary historicwooden house village, Vlkolinec, in the mountains nearDonovaly. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site32

and one of the most spectacular places imaginable. Thefirst written mention of Vlkolinec as a farming villagedates from 1376. Two rows of wooden houses, all withlong courtyards, line a crooked dirt road. This woodenvillage, reportedly the only one in the country withoutany modern development, is a challenge of a thirdkind—a living village, no “curator,” destined to betransformed over time into a vacation and touristdestination when the current population grows old orleaves. Of its 32 permanent residents, only two familiesare young. As residents move out or die, second homebuyers move in to use the community as a vacation site.Ruins also remain from some homes burned during thenational uprising in World War II. Basic modernconveniences are missing. Property owners resistmodernization, such as a new water system or sewagefacilities. A water well stands in the middle of thevillage. One house is preserved as a museum. This is arare place where time stands still. Yet, property valueshave risen. How to manage its survival as a real place is adifficult question.

A-PROJEKT: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENTALTERNATIVES TO THE OLYMPICSIf most people in the High Tatras region of northernSlovakia ever conclude that their future lies with aninteresting variety of modest-scale development projectsinstead of the elusive big promise of the Winter Olympics,the lion’s share of the credit should go to Vlasta Körnerová,a Slovak physicist who abandoned her profession to fightfor an alternative to the Olympics. Körnerová, with a small,energetic and passionate band of staff and volunteers, hasalready changed attitudes throughout the Kvac ]any Valleyand the larger Liptovsky ; Region.

The post-World War II Communist era was hardon the Tatras. Almost overnight the area became a massresort for the mountain-starved, fenced-in peoples of theEastern Bloc, prompting much development andcommercialization. “We already had the cross-countryski and world ski jump competition in the 1950s and

they brought only damage,” Körnerová says. “Hotelsand ski jumps were built but used rarely. The Olympicswould ruin a pristine landscape. The appeal of Slovakiais wilderness and small-scale attractions.” With openborders, Körnerová notes, people prefer the AustrianAlps for skiing and this region already has some largehotels that are only half-full most of the time. From apragmatic point of view, she adds, “The Olympics couldtake years to come here. We wanted to start an improve-ment process immediately.”

And that she did in 1993, founding an organizationcalled the A-Projekt to represent an alternative develop-ment path. Throughout the region, closed and downsizedindustry caused high-unemployment. Now, smallprojects are already adding up to big change. Positiveenvironmental, economic, political and social improve-ments have occurred. A variety of separate efforts focuson unique aspects of the flora, fauna and environmen-tally-friendly tourist potential of the High Tatras, amountain range of particular beauty in northernSlovakia and southern Poland.

Property owners are saving and restoring timbercottages, and opening bed-and-breakfasts. Traditionalwooden fences are replacing chain link fences. Play-grounds and public spaces are rebuilt. Trails are refur-bished. Crafts are revived for local production of bothhousehold necessities and tourist goods. New environ-mental educational programs address everything fromanimal protection to forest management to waste andrecycling issues. School children are rescuing rare birdsand returning them to the wild. They are being intro-duced to the natural landscape that they have taken forgranted and are learning how to get involved in improv-ing communal life. Local history is celebrated. Localcharacter is recognized and appreciated anew. Localpride grows daily, and civil society is being restored inways that could not be predicted or planned.

Körnerová, a Comenius University graduate inexperimental physics, comes by her independentinstincts naturally. Her father is a scientist who quit theCommunist Party in protest in 1969 and was excludedfrom meaningful jobs thereafter. Her mother, a teacher,lost her job for introducing ideas into her classroom thatdid not follow the Party line. Körnerová herself wasdenied access to her first choice university and programstudies. Later, in 1991 she was fired by the Meciarregime from her job in the District Office for Environ-ment for opposing the Olympics.

A Timber House Starts ProcessThe A-Projekt started in 1993 with the restoration of adeteriorated wooden house destined for demolition inthe Village of Kvac ]any. She considered this an experi-

32 Slovakia has four World Heritage sites: the others are Spissky Castleand surrounding villages, Banská S ]tiavnica and Slovak Kras whichincludes Domica caves.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 37

ment, as part of a “pilot project” of sustainable devel-opment of the Tatra region, but it has been non-stopsuccess ever since. Architectural students from theFaculty of Architecture in Bratislava together withvolunteers from the village rebuilt this two-roomtraditional timber dwelling. A new roof was installed.The straw and mud walls were rebuilt. Even thetraditional exterior beam was restored with the inscrip-tion of the name of the family who built it and theyear, 1864.

Immediately, people in the village started restoringtheir own timber cottages instead of demolishing andbuilding new. They modernized, added additions, mademodifications. Some converted houses fully to bed-and-breakfasts. Others just used extra bedrooms to accom-modate guests. A rural improvement program withsmall-scale tourism as a foundation was launched.

The significance of this project goes beyond theimmediate and visible economic, social and communalgains. As noted earlier, open-air folk village museums,modeled on the Scandanavian Skansens, have been apopular form of cultural and architectural preservationin Slovakia since the 1920s. Nine museums throughoutthe country exhibit traditional architecture, and oneconcentrates on technical objects. As appealing as thesesites may be, their existence reinforces the notion thatthe old belongs only in museums and the new is whatone aspires to live in. The new, of course, becomes thelatest universal building form with minimal, if any,regional distinctions. Character, culture and livinghistory disappear. This is happening the world over.The A-Projekt provides an alternative model.

Kvac ]any RegeneratesKvac ]any is a village of 567 souls with 70 woodendwellings out of 200. The Liptov Region in whichKvac ]any is located is as rural as you can get with the fullvariety of topography that comes in the foothills of theHigh Tatras. With the one wooden house restoration,the A-Projekt demonstrated that tradition and moder-nity can be compatible and economically productive.Local carpenters have been re-employed and are teach-ing a new generation carpentry skills that might havedisappeared. The one house restoration has led to therevival of locally-crafted timber by new entrepreneurs.Bus shelters, signage, public benches, and playgroundequipment are elements of a community beautificationproject all being produced by local businesses.

The first timber house was the beginning of theexemplary community revitalization process that fol-lowed. In 1993, the A-Projekt sought out public opinionto develop a vision for Kvac ]any’s future. With local

people, a development plan was designed. A-Projektsought professional assistance from the Dutch EuropeanCenter for Agrotourism (ECEAT) (mentioned in thePolish eco-tourist farm model) to educate villagers aboutaccommodating tourists. Subsequently, as word ofKvac ]any successes spread, similar projects were startedin 10 villages—timber house restoration, local researchprojects of biodiversity and pollution, seminars, confer-ences, publications, mini-grant programs, communitymeetings and educational programs. This evolved intothe first rural community foundation in Slovakia,established with the assistance of A-Projekt.

Kvac ]any now has tourist accommodations in 10family-run houses. An eleventh is owned cooperatively.Before A-Projekt, none existed. Historic mills in sur-rounding valleys have become hiking destinations. Withguests coming, everyone wants the village to look tidy.The public improvements to village life, residentsrecognize, benefit them first but clearly add appeal forthe tourist. A visitor information center that alsofunctions as a community facility was created in atraditional house next door to the village church. Localcrafts, especially woven products, are sold. Photographsof good and bad examples of change are exhibited. Agarden competition was conducted. People from aroundthe region stop here to learn about what is going on.The spin-off momentum does not stop there. TheKvac ]any school serves 10 villages. People in each ofthose villages are watching Kvac ]any and initiatingsimilar upgrading projects.

Perhaps school curriculum and activity changesreflect the biggest impact. Small children clean andplant within the vicinity of the school. Older studentsclean the lush green valleys of accumulated garbage,watch and study raptors (of which there are more than adozen species), climb the mountains, clean the trails andstudy the environment in new ways. A living environ-mental classroom was created around the school withtrees and plants labeled, and some lost varieties havebeen reintroduced. Each of the 10 villages has a specificset of problems that kids learn how to deal with.

One class confronted the question of why fish nolonger lived in a local stream. They analyzed the water,studied local history and discovered that the pollution frommanure and chemicals used by the local farm cooperativekilled the stream and the local crayfish it once contained.Environmental workshops for teachers from other schoolsare conducted and an environmental awareness booklet wasproduced and distributed throughout the region. Studentsproposed starting a school newspaper which was accom-plished with A-Projekt help. The reputation of the schoolitself has soared throughout the region.


Many of these projects came about as a result ofA-Projekt’s “listening” program33 whereby volunteers aretrained to canvass their neighbors to learn what theywould like to see happen in their village in the future.34

This is a novel approach to stimulating publicinvolvement. The “listening” process creates communityprofiles, determines priorities and spurs programs.Encouraging citizen activity, however, is very difficult.This method at least works and, as will be shown, isbeing applied elsewhere in Slovakia.

Nonetheless, real faith in the public process continues tolag. About 15 percent of the community shows up for publicmeetings. Yet, improvements are occurring and villagersincreasingly recognize it. In reality, the “listening” method isa form of public participation. It is just not called that. Andit will probably take a while to reduce skepticism.

Small Changes Work BestThe Amber Trail concept is still somewhat unfamiliar inthis Slovak region. Even with the assorted small accom-plishments, appreciation for the gains seems somewhatlimited. Expectations, as often occurs, were too high.Some people focus on inaction or failures instead ofimprovements and successes. Two new profitable busi-nesses—a construction company and planning firm—have emerged, but many thought there would be more.Some local shops have opened, including a grocery, but norestaurant. A horseback riding business is not doing well.

The varieties of small changes that strengthenexisting character and the local life without undermin-ing or destabilizing a community are very hard toeither measure or recognize in one picture. In contrast,big projects like hotels, malls, highways unavoidablychange the character and quality of localities but givethe illusion of progress in one easy photograph.

Even with the steady growth of small projects, theregion-wide Olympics aspiration persists, especially in thecities of Tatra region (population 300,000) that includesOrava, Liptov and Spis ] Regions. (The Liptov Regionalone is 150,000.) In a 1998 survey, 93 percent of therespondents favored the Olympics because it would

“promote Slovakia, create jobs and show we can do it,”Vladislav Huml, the vice-mayor of Liptovsky ; Hrádok,said. Yet, the brand of change forged by the A-Projektunder Körnerová’s leadership is also making inroads waybeyond its small beginnings in the village of Kvac ]any.

Over lunch, vice-mayor Huml showed respect andadmiration for both Körnerová and the A-Projekt. Hewas an unequivocal advocate for the Olympics, clearlybelieving that the Olympics was the only thing thatcould motivate the national government to invest in amuch needed sewage treatment system for the city ofLiptovsky ; Hrádok. He may be correct on that score.National governments too commonly are only tooeager to invest in infrastructure when a big project isin the offing. Yet, community after communitythroughout the region reported not being able to getattention and support for the infrastructure foreveryday living. That is unfortunate and misguided.Local improvements make places appealing to residentsand visitors on a continuing, economically sustainingbasis instead of for a onetime event. City officials alsoclearly hope for other “big” infrastructure projects, suchas highways. This, of course, is a point of view commonamong local officials throughout the region.

Interestingly, however, vice-mayor Huml wasenthusiastic about the kind of change already identifiedwith A-Projekt. The officials of Liptovsky ; Hrádok hadreached out to Körnerová for assistance. Liptovsky ;Hrádok is not as old as some of the villages, he pointedout, and “it only has a partially-restored castle” wherework was stopped because after 1989 governmentpriorities changed, and Liptovsky ; Hrádok didn’t receivemoney to finish the restoration. Now “the town doesnot know what to do with the castle.”

In 1950, the population of Liptovsky ; Hrádok was2,000, but under the Communists in 1950 the forest andwood industry expanded, building on a 203-year-oldForestry School. The Tesla Telephone Exchange Companywas founded, creating more jobs, and the populationincreased to 10,000. Three villages were merged into thetown. Five state-owned wood products companies wereestablished and have all been privatized. But, since privati-zation, they have been having serious economic difficulties.

The Regeneration Process SpreadsThe vice-mayor, however, was aware of local assets tobuild on in the A-Projekt model. He cited the unfin-ished castle and the Váh River which runs through theregion, offering canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Histori-cally, salt from Poland was carried down the river toBudapest on rafts. Those are the obvious assets but withthe assistance of the A-Projekt, many more resources arebeing identified.

33 One of the most interesting listening projects we witnessed was inPrencov, a small village near Banská S ]tiavnica. At an eveningmeeting, volunteers were training eight local residents to listen. Thetrainees were men and women of all ages who were quite engrossedin the process. This is quite an innovative and sophisticated publicprocess device. In the U.S., we train people to envision a future fortheir community, to participate in planning and the like, but wedon’t train people just to listen to each other.

34 Körnerová learned about the “listening” strategy in 1996 from ChrisWeiss, an American from West Virginia who was working with aUSAID-financed rural communities assistance program. This sameprogram introduced Körnerová and others to the concept of mini-grants, now being carried out by VOKA, an organization thatencourages new modest initiatives with small grants.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 39

The vice-mayor also pointed out that young peopleare trying to revive a local railroad “put out of businessin the 1970s by cheap gas.” This could bring low-impact tourism to the rich natural environment of theregion, the antithesis of Olympic visitation. And, heproudly pointed out, volunteer efforts to rebuildplaygrounds and public spaces are already underway,“similar to Kvac ]any and the volunteers are beingeducated to save old values.” Despite his enthusiasm forthe Olympics, the vice-mayor recognized the businessand job creation potential exhibited in Kvac ]any andcited innkeeping and tourist services as holding greatpromise. Liptovsky ; Hrádok, he pointed out, is at thecrossroads of two national parks, the Low and HighTatras National Parks.

A few years ago, Körnerová and the A-Projektapplied the Kvac ]any experience to Liptovsky; Hrádokand first organized a “visioning” conference at whichlocal people could express their hopes for the city. ALiptov Regional Development Fund was formed, as aprogram of the A-Projekt, to push the process andfacilitate the Kvac ]any model. A mini-grant program wasstarted for local initiative groups. A rural tourismprogram was developed for 16 villages. With Liptovsky;Hrádok, the Low Tatras National Park Service and the16 villages, the A-Projekt established a communityinformation center in Liptovsky; Hrádok on the mainstreet which is a vehicle for disseminating informationto the public. An A-Projekt office in Liptovsky; Hrádokmanages and coordinates the regional efforts.

The new programs initiated by the A-Projekt andserving the region are impressive.35 They are models ofcivil society development. Local companies, like Alcatel,Tesla and others, are funding the Liptovsky; RegionSustainable Development Fund. All the programs arefocused on developing skills of local people, to enablepeople to participate in the decision-making process andto give them the ability to participate in projects thatimprove the community.

As Körnerová describes the future: “We believe indecentralization so our vision is this: After 10 years, we willhave a network of local community foundations or com-munity information centers which will lead sustainabledevelopment efforts in the Tatras region. It will be a

network of collaborating micro-regions with the power toadvocate and to lobby on the national level.” WithKörnerová’s leadership, one does not doubt this willhappen.

Government LearnsIt is difficult to convey the full impact of the A-Projektand the Kvac ]any model of sustainable village develop-ment. Clearly, the original goal of demonstrating analternative development path for the Tatras Region in theface of Olympic pressures has been met. The dream of theOlympics, however, still lives for many people. Yet, analternative path is taking hold. Big, questionable projectstake years to happen. Modest ones can begin quickly,advance steadily and grow with accelerating momentum.

The A-Projekt is known throughout the country nowas an expert on rural development. Governmentalagencies, such as the Ministry of Environment and SlovakEnvironmental Agency, seek advice and cooperation.Non-profit organizations turn to it for guidance andtraining. Local people recognize the social, economic andenvironmental improvements that come with A-Projektefforts. Training and mini-grant programs have increasedthe capacity of rural communities to solve their ownproblems. New jobs, small lending programs, newcooperative efforts involving citizens and government andimproved sources of communication and information areapparent. The layers of impact are immeasurable.

RUZ ]OMBEROK CITIZEN GROUP FIGHTINGAIR POLLUTION FROM PAPER MILLThis is a highly sophisticated group of citizens whosefight against the biggest employer of Ruz ]omberok iscourageous, necessary, well-researched and intricatelystrategized. The smell and foul air of the SCP,Severoslovenské celulózky a papierne (Northern SlovakiaPulp and Paper), a paper mill, are a longstandingcondition here. SCP is among the 10 largest exporters inthe Slovak Republic, employs around 4,000 people andproduces paper and pulp. More than 5,000 people livein the factory’s immediate vicinity. In 1993, a decree ofthe Ministry of Environment (no. 112/1993) declaredthat the Ruz ]omberok area is one of the 12 most devas-tated regions in Slovakia with a terrible health andenvironmental record, mostly due to SCP activity.

For 10 years, citizens had protested in different wayswith no improvement. Hospital records reflect high-level toxic illnesses and chromosome abnormalities.Information has been gathered yearly to no avail. Nowwith privatization, data are kept secret. The civic grouprelies on company employees to leak them information.The company apparently would rather pay penaltiesthan invest in upgraded equipment. Apparently, this is

35 A project to interpret the uniqueness of the Tatras from nature trailsto mineral springs; workshops in which people learn about solvingproblems; a local artist creating children’s books; school projects toget children to care about trails; teachers around the region nowusing a brochure about crayfish created by children of Kvac ]any toincrease environmental awareness; publication of platforms ofelected officials to remind people of what promises they made ascandidates; getting people to think and write about “What we careabout” their community; and a mini-grant program for projectsinvolving children that funded 22 children’s groups.


not an uncommon condition throughout the regionand, in fact, the world.

Conditions are particularly problematic inRuz ]omberok because of its geography. In the westernpart of the Liptov Valley, Ruz ]omberok is surrounded onthree sides by mountains. Low winds, frequent inver-sions and fog create poor air dispersion.

Only in recent years have citizens determined to dosomething more about it. In 1993, the company claims,it changed its bleaching and production process toimprove conditions. Citizens say nothing changed. Infact, they say, conditions deteriorated even further. In1997, Ol ]ga Homoláyová, a retired teacher and localresident, met Juraj Mesík at a civic conference and soughtPartnership help. Homoláyová organized the group andcirculated a petition protesting longstanding and well-documented health problems and the foul smell. Theygathered 3,300 signatures. More people reportedly wouldhave signed but were afraid since they work for thecompany. The petition called for a radical change in thefactory’s technical procedures and the regulatory stan-dards of local authorities to achieve improved air quality.The group has worked mostly without financial support.Assistance, including some legal aid, is coming from theCenter for Environmental Public Advocacy, for whichPavol Z]ilinc ]ík is staff attorney, and from Ekopolis/EPCEwhich provides contacts to health authorities and organi-zational support.

Notes Z]ilinc ]ík: “Research of medical scientistsdescribed high level of genotoxic risks. Other medicalexperts claim genotoxic risks have not been proven. Peopleare not sure whether their living environment might createconditions for chromosome abnormalities. The new privateowner of the factory claimed the factory invests millions ofcrowns into improvements. However, the situation withodorous substances did not change. The real improvementof the air quality is still only a promise.”

The petition effort led to the first meeting of sevengovernment agencies, company reps and citizen groupsbut was not open to the public. This group demandedinformation and answers to questions but holds littlehope of either honest company response or meaningfulgovernment pressure. Expectations were that nothingwould change and a lawsuit would be filed.

A lawsuit would establish a precedent. No law existspermitting citizens to sue a factory. An old law permit-ting neighbor to sue neighbor for causing a nuisancecould be used. One goal of a lawsuit would be establish-ment of stricter national pollution standards for suchfactories and better enforcement. There are ambientstandards for several pollution categories. However, odoris hard to measure and, therefore, the ambient standardis that “odorous substances must not create a nuisance.”

This is impossible to prove and enforce, and peoplehope numerical standards will be introduced as one ofthe results of a lawsuit.

In early 1999, the International Finance Corpora-tion (IFC) proposed a US $41 million loan to SCP forits planned modernization and financial restructuring.Local residents learned about this in a small story in alocal newspaper indicating the loan was in preparationand information was available. Plans for a citizen lawsuitagainst the company were postponed while all civicenergy was directed at stopping the loan. Citizensapparently had a difficult time securing informationregarding the loan’s environmental review process whichexcluded the public. The loan information revealed thatSCP had already exceeded its maximum pulp produc-tion capacity and would have increased it even morewith the loan, guaranteeing worse air conditions. Pulp isthe largest source of odor-emitting substances. Thecitizen group devoted itself to challenging the informa-tion supplied to the IFC by SCP, cited the company’shistory of environmental regulation violation anddemonstrated how the modernization loan wouldworsen conditions. They also pointed out the difficultgeographic conditions that require extraordinarymeasures to improve the impact of polluting emissions.

Eventually, the IFC canceled the loan. The energetic andsuccessful citizen effort illustrates several significant issues.

• The need is great for a full public process for anyinternational finance plans. The IFC has differentcategories of review. This loan plan was not sub-jected to the highest level of scrutiny. The publicshould always be part of these processes FROMTHE BEGINNING, NOT AFTER A PRELIMI-NARY DECISION IS MADE. No reason exists forthe public to be left out. This holds true for policy,finance and every other kind of planning.

• The expertise of special interest NGOs is a valuableresource that is too often ignored or resisted.

• The energy and capacity of citizen activists toadvocate the most appropriate strategy is highlyundervalued.

• Access to information that should be public is verypoor, despite procedures that give the appearance ofaccess without the reality.

DONOVALY TOURIST VILLAGEDonovaly is a jarring departure from the expectedassortment of castles, landscapes and cultural sites. A richexpanse of greenery, hills and open space vistas havegreat appeal for hikers, bikers and campers. Historically,around 1900, Donovaly had a population of 700.Charcoal production was its main economic activity.Copper, gold and silver mining in the area brought

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 41

primarily German immigrants who formed the corepopulation. After World War II, many young residentsstarted leaving, a typical story. Old people stayed. Thepopulation shrank. But now, a trickle of new people aremoving in from Banská Bystrica where, reportedly, theyfeel anonymous among the population of 85,000.

If there is any doubt that northern Slovakia canattract plenty of tourist business without hosting theOlympics, Donovaly’s recent experience should put themto rest. This village of 170 year-round residents is locatedatop a hill only 25 km from Banská Bystrica and is nowthe site of the world’s biggest annual dog sled race. This isthe fulfillment of Mayor Miroslav Dan]o’s dream. In the1980s, a Jack London movie was filmed here. Dog sledraces were important in the stories of London, a writer ofadventures in the American wild. In 1992, the mayorbought a Malamute and conceived of the dog sled race.Only a mountain rescue service existed, especially trainedfor avalanches. Today, 80,000 people come for four daysto watch a race of 168 teams with 850 dogs.

The dog sled race is not the only thing happeninghere. Downhill and cross country skiing plus corporatevacation facilities also take place. Four schools forparagliding. Mountain bike trails. Thirteen hotels andassorted bed-and-breakfasts adding up to 5,000 beds.A lot of Polish, Dutch and Scandinavian visitors andRussians come for curative visits.

What is remarkable is how many people alreadycome, a built-in potential visitor stream for Amber TrailGreenway sites within the region. Donovaly is so closeto Banská Bystrica. The World Heritage Village ofVlkolinec is just outside, probably already visited toomuch. Kvac ]any and assorted other attractions are a daytrip or overnight stay away. The challenge is to interestthose visitors in other ATG sites to spread the visitorsaround or get them to stay longer. Donovaly is alreadyan extraordinary anchor for ATG tourism but as withsome other communities on the Amber Trail Greenwayroute, awareness of the ATG momentum is new.

As one Donovaly official said, “We are ahead ofmany other places for Amber Trail development withoutknowing it. The challenge is to have a constant flow oftourists, not just for events.” For Donovaly, the develop-ment of the Amber Trail offers hope of that.

Interestingly, Donovaly may have a self-destructivedream. It does not have to rely solely on tourism and, infact, no place should. Most significantly, Donovalycould evolve into a year-round community with apartial weekend population, a much more stablecondition than simply a tourist attraction. The year-round appeal could be undermined by too muchtourism. This is an all-too-familiar condition in moredeveloped places.

S ]PANIA DOLINAThis charming hill town, a former mining village, is only12 km from Banská Bystrica. An unusual flight of severalhundred steps connects its entrance to the hilltop where achurch sits. Until recently, S]pania dolina was only losingpopulation. Now this village of 140 residents is seeingincreased sports (biking, hunting, hiking) and conferenceactivity, boasts a delightful restaurant and has a school forhandicrafts. A property appraiser, an advertising executiveand other professionals have moved here. A youngentrepreneur bought and restored an old miners’ pub, anindication of new economic activity. Community planscall for creation of a trail connecting S]pania dolina toDonovaly which makes a lot of sense. A trail from BanskáBystrica to S]pania dolina already exists, a good start. Thisis a modest beginning but the larger promise seems to liein the moving in of young full-time residents leavingBanská Bystrica.

The biggest problem here is one we heard over andover: the lingering expectation by people that some-thing will be done for them, an expectation fosteredduring the Communist era of Central Planning whenno one could really do anything independently. This isboth the greatest challenge and, perhaps, the area ofgreatest achievement throughout the region for all fourPartnerships. Clearly, the Partnerships have movedsome people away from this view. If the Partnershipsdo nothing more than get people to be self-motivated,to not wait for government action and to have confi-dence that their own efforts can bear fruit, they willhave forged a second, equally important, revolution.

BANSKÁ BYSTRICABanská Bystrica (85,000 population) is located in a valleyat the intersection of three mountain ranges in the centerof the country. Banská Bystrica is probably the mostarchitecturally interesting and attractive city in CentralSlovakia. Its central pedestrian square is extraordinarilyactive and vibrant, an exemplary model of how towncenters should function. Like so many Central Europeantowns and cities, Banská Bystrica grew up around thismedieval square that was for centuries the center of civiclife. For most of this century, however, this square becamemerely a crossroads for the city’s extensive bus system anda through street for automobiles. The bus station sat inthe middle, a dismal legacy of the former regime. A fewyears ago, all traffic was removed and the square wasrestored, with wonderful stonework and under-the-pavement lights. Looking at historic photos, only minordifferences are detectable. Benches, though not enough ofthem, were installed, and most of the buildings aroundthe square were restored.


But what makes this square unique is the way itfunctions as a true crossroads of city life. Pedestrians ofevery kind pass through all day long because the life ofthe city is centered around the square. City life unfoldsthrough this square at all hours. Classes of small school-children and clusters of flirting teenagers. Mothers withbaby carriages, men and women with briefcases, shop-pers with full food baskets, elderly people strolling withcanes and occasional bikers defying the rules. Chancemeetings, serious conversations, romantic snuggling andthe whole assortment of pedestrians keep passing through.The stream of humanity never stops from morning untilnight. Exactly this kind of vitality is what dies when car-oriented development rises on the outskirts of town.Cars, malls and suburban housing pull the life right outof the center.

Historically, this medieval town was the capital ofseven mining towns colonized in the 13th century byGerman miners who extracted copper from nearby hillsuntil the seams ran dry in the 18th century. Economicstagnation lasted until industrialization in the 20thcentury. The Communists made much of the town’scentral role in the 1944 uprising against the Nazis.Monuments and a museum celebrate this event but thatchapter of history causes some discomfort to residents inthe post-Communist era.

Geographically, Banská Bystrica is a major crossroadbetween Cracow and Budapest, and between Bratislavaand Kos ]ice. A tradition of tolerance for differentopinions and different peoples reportedly emerged frombeing both the crossroads between different cultures anda key trading site for different nations.

After the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federa-tion in 1993, Banská Bystrica held the first joint Czech/Slovak cultural event. The local cemetery apparently hasCzechs, Hungarians, Poles and Slovaks, reflecting theinternational mix of the population. This was a Mec ]iarstronghold, and he even tried shifting the nationalcapital here from Bratislava which he felt was tooaligned with or influenced by neighboring Austria.Bratislava is only 45 kilometers from the Vienna airport.In Mec ]iar’s exit speech, Banská Bystrica was singled outas the region of his biggest disappointment. Mec ]iar hadserved to mobilize the citizenry. He was both a perceivedthreat and useful opportunity. Because of its history ofcivic action that predates 1989, Banská Bystrica is anappropriate site for the headquarters of the SlovakEnvironmental Partnership (Nadácia Ekopolis).

Slovak civic participation in the Banská Bystricaregion, both NGO and citizen involvement, is one of thestrongest in the country. Candidates in Banská Bystrica,who do well communicating and connecting to the public,are winning elections. This is apparently a direct result of

Partnership funded community programs. “Our peoplewere not used to going door to door with petitions,” oneactivist said, “but they are now.” City counselors fear civicinitiatives. The new mayor understands he must commu-nicate with civic groups or lose.

The emphasis of Partnership programs is directed atstimulating local civic activity and developing self-suffi-ciency, a traditional emphasis of the Slovak environmentalmovement. Its two-year-old small grants program, forexample, is focused on overcoming the experience of thestate promising things and never delivering. The Partnershipannounced it was looking for modest, realistic efforts, suchas public space improvements, bus stop creation and smallenvironmental programs. The grants of up to $800 did nothave to be matched, although matching was consideredbetter. The idea was very simple. Small things were encour-aged just to show that some things could be achieved, andthat one need not wait for the state and that people them-selves could create change. The Partnership targeted 122villages in three regions of Central Slovakia—Trenc ]ín,Z]ilina, Banská Bystrica—where state-dependency wasstrong. Funds were sufficient only for 170 grants out of 460applications. The Partnership would have entertained moreapplications, if funds were available. As hoped, informalgroups organized around projects and then evolved intocivic associations. Some have followed up with additionalgrant applications for new projects that evolved out of theinitial effort. Civic engagement is truly occurring.

HEALTHY CITY PROJECTA Healthy City project, connected to the internationalHealthy City movement, focuses on the development ofhealthy communities in an integrated community-basedapproach. This creative strategy forces attention fromboth the bottom and the top on critical issues thatmight otherwise be treated lightly, such as air quality,noise, garbage separation and recycling. NorikaFabianova, a former member of the Partnership Board,runs the program, primarily studying and evaluatinghealth conditions in the city. The program reports toCity Hall but, in effect, collects data needed to mountvarious environmental campaigns. Once the importanceof physical well-being is brought into mainstreamthinking, it is not difficult to recognize the larger issuesthat affect the physical and mental well-being of people.

BANSKÁ S ]TIAVNICA—LIVING INTHE CENTER CITIZEN INITIATIVEBanská S]tiavnica (population 11,000), a communitynestled among rolling hills, dates from the 11th centuryas an important mining town. Its winding cobblestonestreets snake along a steep hillside providing wonderful

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 43

vistas. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. BanskáS]tiavnica, the oldest mining town in Slovakia, onceboasted of some of Europe’s richest gold and silver mines.It gained particular prominence as the most importantcenter of precious metal mining in the Hapsburg monar-chy. But the mines dried up and the 19th century boomthat transformed Banská Bystrica (as described) into a citypassed it by. A rich variety of Gothic and Renaissancebuildings still dominate. Two castles overlook the town,the Old Castle, renovated in the 13th century, and theNew Castle, a Renaissance stronghold built as a fortifica-tion in the mid-16th century. Banská S]tiavnica is amaz-ingly intact but, unfortunately, is one of the few placesthat, at best, has not improved in recent years, and ratherseems to be declining.

A very positive thing is happening here, however, ofnational consequence. It is a modest but importantbeginning whose significance may be difficult torecognize at this time. Young people from both BanskáS ]tiavnica and other places are seeking to move into thehistoric center, restore old buildings, start new busi-nesses and revive life in the center. While clearly BanskáS ]tiavnica’s appeal is obvious, the trend of young peoplemoving into the historic core is bound to occur in manytraditional towns and cities around Slovakia beyond justthe most obvious places. This is already happening insmall ways and without much notice throughout CentralEastern Europe. News reports and commentary focusinstead on people leaving cities for new suburbs or farmersleaving villages for cities. This is definitely happening aswell. But this return to the center should be watched,nurtured and not underestimated for its potential.

Reviving the CenterBanská S ]tiavnica is already an active tourist destinationand an important anchor for Amber Trail. The challengehere is probably somewhat comparable to Donovaly,getting Banská S ]tiavnica visitors to go to nearby lesserand unknown sites. The bigger challenge, however, isgetting a revitalization momentum going in BanskáS ]tiavnica that is not tourist-directed and to overcomethe apparent division between the government and theresident and preservation group. Several citizen organi-zations are already active.

In 1978, the state moved the population from thecenter to housing estates not unlike the forced popula-tion shift that took place in many communities in allfour countries. Ironically, this preserved the historic coreby just leaving it alone. At first, the new housing wasquite appealing, with heat, running water, toilets andother modern conveniences. Yet, many residents werenot satisfied with this lifestyle.

In 1996, a group circulated a questionnaire todetermine how much interest existed for living in thecenter. To everyone’s surprise, 600 people replied thatthey wanted to do so. The Town Hall administrationresponded by deciding to renovate three buildings forresidential use. Earlier plans called for renovatingbuildings into hotels to appeal to tourists.

A Living in the Centre Initiative was organized as apartnership of future residents trying to restore and re-use an historic building in the center. They are in thevanguard of future residents of the historic center andare valiantly restoring a seriously deteriorated building.

Conversations with members of the “Living in theCenter,” reveal the kind of reasons for their choice. Theywant a traditional center. They want to renovate build-ings for their own use in a hands-on way. They want toopen businesses. They want to be part of the rebirth.They want to reconnect the town to its history. Theywant to preserve and restore historic buildings. Granted,Banská S ]tiavnica’s mountain setting with its curvingcobblestone streets, incomparable views and historicarchitecture creates a unique appeal. But sooner or later,the appeal of other historic traditional communities willdraw settlers to them in the same way, especially since itis a key alternative to remaining in the “panelaks,” thehuge housing estates built by the former regime. So thelessons here should be a model for future developmentsbound to unfold.

“Living in the Center” emerged from anothergroup, Association for Banská S ]tiavnica ‘91. TheAssociation was organized to do a number of things,including: revive the historic core and local culturalheritage; start a summer camp for youth to raise aware-ness about preservation; teach restoration skills; andwork on the restoration of an unique interior mural inthe building under restoration. It is also restoring aseriously deteriorated building down the hill from thecenter square. This will eventually be the center for alltheir heritage preservation activities and programs and,probably, a model for the region.

Citizens PersistNow it is clear. Plenty of people would like to live in thecenter and many are willing to put considerable time,energy and skill to make this happen. Why this does notbring a positive response from the local government isnothing short of a mystery. In effect, citizens are readyto make happen what government can’t do withoutthem anyway. In fact, grass-roots efforts are alreadymaking things happen despite official resistance. Howsuch efforts are received by local politicians around theregion varies, but here is probably the most discouragingpossible.


Even under such discouraging circumstances, civicgroups will not be stopped. The energy and commitmentexhibited here prompts expectation that civic groupswill prevail.

Theoretically, the advancement of civil society andsustainable development issues were delayed in Slovakia

because of the Mec ]iar regime. Based on the strength andaccomplishments of the groups and efforts observed,however, one would hardly know it. The level ofachievement under extraordinarily limiting circum-stances is impressive.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 45

Several contradictory things are happening in the CzechRepublic (population 10.2 million). Similar things arehappening in other Central European countries. In theCzech Republic, however, these positive and negativedevelopment trends are either more advanced or moreobvious.

On the positive side are the increasing success andgrowing impact of environmentally friendly, locallybased and modestly scaled projects. These efforts areeconomically rewarding and genuinely contributing tothe rebuilding of a civil society.

Some of these projects will be described herein.They are models of appropriate change and are provingthe viability of sustainable development conceptspromoted by such NGOs as the Environmental Partner-ship and Veronica, an extraordinarily innovative envi-ronmental group concerned with the stability andstrengthening of ecosystems. Renewable energy resourceprojects, in fact, are already changing the face of villagesin some regions, such as the White Carpathians andSouthern Moravia. Cultural programs and local eco-nomic development projects are strengthening andreviving communities and regions. Also on the positiveside is the growing popularity of eco-tourism under theauspices of the Czech Greenway, a program designed tonurture local economies, stimulate citizen involvementand promote locally-based sustainable developmentprojects along the historic trade route between Pragueand Vienna.

Remarkable change is evident in the site visits to bedescribed. The projects are small and dispersed but thechange they represent is large and significant. Thepotential for low-cost, fiscally prudent, democracy-strengthening policies illustrated here is clear. Thefundamental challenge for policy-makers, governmen-tal agencies and private funders alike is a need for agenuine openness to the innovative programs thesesuccesses represent.

On the negative side is the proliferation of mallsand highway plans. As will be evident, the scale of thesenegative trends is horrendous and could both over-whelm the notable successes described in this report andwipe out the unique social, economic and cultural

fabric. Both the democratization and economic andsocial rejuvenation of the country are at stake.

The former Czechoslovakia escaped unscathed byWorld War II bombing campaigns and is blessed withthe most intact physical environment with a natural andman-made landscape unsurpassed in beauty anywhere inEurope. All that is now clearly threatened. What thebombs spared may be destroyed by development. It isalready occurring with such lightning speed that fewpeople, environmentalists and sustainable developmentadvocates included, realize how quickly the countrywill reach a point of no return.

The “malling” of the Czech Republic, for one thing,is happening so fast and on a scale so overwhelming thatit is now possible that the cherished historic towns andurban centers of which Czechs are so rightfully proudwill, within the decade, be nothing more than stage setsvisited only by tourists and removed from Czech dailylife. The daily life and social institutions that havegrown up around and within these traditional centersnow function so effectively because of them. But all thatcould be dramatically undermined as the physicallandscape gets rearranged by massive development.

In 1998 alone, a reported 22 shopping centers andhypermarkets have been built around Prague. Thehighway from Prague to Brno is rapidly turning into astrip development typical of many U.S. cities. Some ofthe hypermarkets, in fact, are larger than almost any-thing currently in the United States. Many of these








malls are approved with inadequate, if any, real assess-ment of the environmental, economic, social or physicalconsequences. The approval process is at best poorlyinformed, at worst a charade.

The proliferation of these malls does not seem togenerate sufficient public concern. Instead, most peopleseem to celebrate their arrival, assuming incorrectly thatthe consumer goods they offer would never be availablewithout the malls. Few, if any, transportation, planningor urban specialists, let alone policy-makers and thegeneral public, have begun to consider the long-termimplications of this kind of development either for thenatural and built environment or for society and theeconomy. More significantly, perhaps, few people aredemonstrating to the general public or elected officialsthat the choice need not be either/or.

Too many Czechs—and all Central Europeans forthat matter—deceive themselves into thinking that thesprawl, traffic congestion and erosion of historic centersthat they see in Western Europe and the U.S. won’thappen to them. They seem to think they are differentbecause their country is small and Czechs care deeplyabout their historic towns and natural landscape. Theyare in for a rude shock. Much of the development isspeculative. No doubt the bubble will burst. The onlyquestion is when. The market can’t sustain all the newmalls. Consumer buying power does not match theproliferation. Competition, experts note, will weed outthe weaker ones. This is probably true. But moredevastation follows mall closings than after they openin the first place. It is called killing a place twice, firstwhen they open and then when they close.

Killing the Local EconomyThe pattern is the same all over the world and has beenwell demonstrated throughout Western Europe andNorth America. When a mall opens, considerable localeconomic activity in nearby town centers dies. Somebusinesses disappear quickly. Others take a while to fallapart and close. As they close, the local economy dimin-ishes and then disappears. A local economy can only bedefined by local ownership. Local merchants and entre-preneurs are close to their customers or a short transit tripaway. When they disappear, the remaining businesses area long distance away, usually a car-dependent trip.Ownership as well is distant. In Central Europe today,this means foreign ownership. Profits therefore leaveboth the town and the country.

Plans for a complex network of highways crisscross-ing the country north and south are moving ahead asthe country’s enviable network of long distance trainsand local streetcar systems continues to suffer frominadequate investment, diminishing service and increas-

ing ticket prices. Erroneously, highways are regarded asa valued investment but mass transit as a burdensomesubsidy. Highway funding comes from national andinternational sources; local transit depends mostly onoverburdened local budgets. This kind of thinkingleads to a continued, gradual erosion of public transitand equally gradual but inevitable dependency oncostly car ownership. Eventually, the Czech Republic —and the other Central European countries—will betransformed into car-dependent societies in whichenormous financial resources must be used to maintainthis environmentally devastating condition and in whicha substantial portion36 of household incomes will beabsorbed by exorbitant transportation costs, leavingdiminished resources available for food, shelter, educa-tion, health or leisure.

The proliferation of malls and highways coupledwith the diminishment and increasing price of longdistance rail and local transit service adds up to a heavydose of urban sprawl (a term that has yet to enter theCzech vocabulary) which neither the Czechs nor anyother Central European country are at all equipped tomanage.


Federal and international money pours into highwayplanning and construction. At least as much investmentand serious attention should be paid to mass transit if abalanced transportation system is to be achieved. TheCzech rail network and local streetcar inventory, regardlessof condition, is the envy of every car-dependent Westernnation struggling to come out from 50 years of automo-bile-focused development. It is a system that, at least, does

36 Studies indicate that 30 percent of the average car-dependentAmerican family budget is currently required for transportation.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 47

not have to be created from scratch. Yet, localities struggleto support with local funds their streetcar systems that arein desperate need of investment and that still are the mostefficient, cost-effective alternative to car dependency. Notsurprisingly, financially strapped localities are cutting backstreetcar services and seeking federally funded highwayprojects. This is a guaranteed formula for disastroustransportation decisions.

The national government, however, has put lots ofmoney into the railway system, even if not as much as inhighway construction. The problem is that the state-ownedand fully controlled Czech Railways (CD) missed thedecade after the revolution to reform itself. It is still aninefficient, inflexible, giant bureaucratic system which isunable to initiate some of the simplest things, such ascoordination of train connections, flexible pricing,friendly customer relations and other system upgrades.Stations are dirty, hangouts for the homeless, disorga-nized. Many of them are architectural gems left interrible disrepair. The feeling conveyed is that thegovernment doesn’t care if it is not car related.

The specific sites, programs and projects reportedherein should be considered within this complicatedcontext. If meaningful progress is the national agenda,the lessons that follow are invaluable.

PRAGUEPrague, the city of a thousand spires, is probably thebest preserved large city in Central and Eastern Europe.Dating from the 6th century, Prague overflows with anextraordinary legacy of culture, architecture and history.Pulsating street life. Serendipitously entertaining publicspaces. Exquisite Baroque and Renaissance buildingsinterspersed with some of the finest Medieval and ArtNouveau structures found anywhere. Czech Cubistbuildings, an architectural variety unique to this coun-try. A varied topography highlighted by an incompa-rable hilltop castle. Historically important CharlesUniversity founded in 1348, making Prague an intellec-tual center. A riverfront site marked by one of theworld’s most famous bridges. And, significantly, avariety of residential neighborhoods necessary tocomplete a requisite menu of thriving urbanism.

With a population of approximately 1.3 million,more than 10 percent of the country’s inhabitants,Prague is as good an example as one can find of theintact historic city fully capable of modernizationwithout destruction of the qualities of its greatness. Sofar, that is. Prague’s inner core is a designated UNESCOWorld Heritage site. Its striking beauty can easily blindan observer to the problems festering below the surfaceand away from the treasured core. The affordable

housing supply is diminishing rapidly for the samereasons cited for Cracow. Homelessness is rising. Theinfrastructure is old and in need of upgrading. Transithas not kept pace with demand and, in fact, has in-creased in price and diminished in service. The fullrange of urban dilemmas found in other Central EasternEuropean cities exists in Prague.

Prague, however, seems to embody the best and theworst features found in the other highly visible urbancenters of the region. A confident sense of great possi-bilities and a growing feeling of disappointment andhopelessness exist side by side. New, trendy restaurants,fashion-based business, art galleries, internet companiesproliferate among both young Czechs and foreigninvestors. Yet, many well-educated, caring Czechs wonderwhat happened to the values embodied in the VelvetRevolution and talk about leaving. Inflation, corrup-tion, a struggling economy, diminishing safety nets,increasingly concentrated wealth and destructive, top-down planning are disillusioning enough of the city’sbest and the brightest to make one wonder where thenext generation of civic leaders will come from. Illusionshave turned into disillusions, Roger Thurow wrote in aWall Street Journal story, “For Many Czechs, ‘VelvetRevolution’ Has a Coarse Edge,” (November 30, 1999).

One activist told Thurow: “It’s been only a decade,but we need to remind people about the basic thingsthey take for granted, like a free press, freedom to travel,freedom to run for political office. Now they look atthings through the prism of what they can buy. Peopledon’t see many role models in our country, [such as]people who have gotten rich honestly… Here, success isa source of suspicion and envy.”

Yet, the splendors of Prague still have the power toinspire. The dilemmas and possibilities are daunting butnot so daunting to frighten away a growing band ofcaring, civic-spirited Prague citizens mobilizing ondifferent fronts to keep alive the vision and values of theVelvet Revolution. Community and issue-based groupsare proliferating. Increasingly, various groups are comingtogether on certain issues, a sign of civic maturity with agreat potential impact.

SOS PRAGUESOS Prague is an important model for citizen coalitions.Some 38 groups came together primarily over the issueof a new Prague Master Plan, prepared by the citywithout meaningful citizen involvement and withoutany opportunity for expression by citizens of a vision forthe city’s future. The master plan was prepared in aclassic top-down process. It was developed withingovernment and presented to the public and put on


view after its development. Public comment followedthis process, instead of preceding it. Civic groups wereinvited to meetings where they had no possibility tochange anything. Public comment and public input aretwo very different things. Arrogantly, city planners andelected officials argued that the plan’s critics have nounderstanding of planning and that only professionalshave the requisite expertise.

The plan allows cherished public spaces to be soldfor private development with no citizen participation insuch decisions, encouraging the erosion of the publicrealm for private benefit. The Plan also provides for alarge network of highways crisscrossing Prague asdecimating as the most destructive schemes dating fromthe heyday of American urban renewal/highway build-ing. Massive public infrastructure projects, such ashighways, are to be paid for with public money butwithout public input.

Prague citizens are understandably threatened bymany elements of the Plan. SOS Prague provides anopportunity for Prague NGOs representing a broadcross-section of citizens to meet, discuss common issues,coordinate activities and increase their potential impacton both City Hall and Borough Halls.

Overcoming DisillusionmentThe significance of SOS can not be exaggerated. The veryfact that a coalition exists is a major achievement in thisatomized society. SOS has made a breakthrough with thepress, gaining coverage of urban issues unnoticed beforeand raising public awareness. Through SOS efforts,several new civic services have been gained. A mediacenter was established to continue bringing press atten-tion to development issues. Legal consultation services arenow available to NGOs and community activists. AnExpert Center connects civic activists with needed expertsaccording to the specific cause. Most interesting is theestablishment of a Conflict of Interest Center. One SOSorganizational member, Oz ]ivení, had researched thebackground on Master Plan proposals that seemed to beirrational. Virtually every City Commissioner, accordingto Oz ]ivení director Petr S]te ]pánek, was found to have aprivate interest conflicting with the public interest. Adatabase of potential conflict of interest was establishedand is now available to the public.

The common attitude about Prague city govern-ment among these groups reflects some of the disillusionspreading among city residents. Petr S ]te ]pánek, a SOSfounder and one of its leaders, has written explainingthe group’s formation:

“After some positive changes in the post-Commu-nist society of the early Nineties, City of Prague hasbeen plagued by a lack of democratic institutions, a

non-existent platform of communication with itscitizens and an absence of a right-to-know and right-to-participate process. Those few who pointed at corrup-tion and a need for discussion about the future of theCity of Prague had been labeled as enemies or greenextremists or complainers at best. Town Hall did nottalk to anybody. At the same time, thousands of citizensorganized themselves around problems of their neigh-borhoods having tried to communicate with the townhall. Some of them, like Prague Mothers or EcologicalSociety, had experience from pre-revolution times,others like Optim-EKO or STUZ] formed around newpressing problems. These groups started to build acommon platform when they recognized the need for amore coordinated approach to city problems.”

The newly-formed group gained Town Hall’sattention and met with the mayor in 1999. So far, themajor accomplishment has been to get the city’s atten-tion and obtain at least a theoretical commitment tofuture citizen participation. Hopes have been raisedenough for SOS Prague to move ahead to professional-ize itself and seek appropriate expertise for organiza-tional development.

A balanced city master plan was the overarchinggoal of SOS Prague. Yet, the very existence of the 38-member SOS Prague has gone a long way in overcom-ing the historic lack of civic culture, the confusion overwhich level of government is responsible for what andthe Communist-era experience of civic associations asextensions of the central government. The disastrousMaster Plan that was approved in September 1999served to deepen the commitment of the SOS coalitionto pursue genuine reform.

TRANSPORTATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURYA number of experienced civic organizations haverecently come together around the issue of a balancednational transportation policy. Organized primarily bythe Czech Environmental Partnership and Nadace Via(to be described below), this is the first coordinatedeffort to work to preserve and strengthen the country’sextraordinary public transit system. This coalition ofgroups ranges from the most activist and protest-oriented,like the Czech-Slovak Transportation Club, Hnutí Duhaand Prague Mothers, to the Institute for EnvironmentalPolicy, the Center for Community Work and theEnvironmental Law Service. The spectrum is broad andgrowing. A balanced national transportation system isthe shared goal.

The common thread of the coalition is recognition ofan ironic reality: the superb public transportation systembuilt by the former regime, with its seamless network of

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 49

buses, trams, railroads and metros, is considered one ofthe best in the world. That valuable national resource isdramatically threatened by a national transportationpolicy that encourages the accommodation of automo-biles and underinvests in the efficient movement ofpeople and goods. The coalition views the upcomingmassive European Union investments in highway build-ing as the biggest challenge. The erosion of the publictransportation system is already dramatic with self-defeating ticket price increases, service cutbacks andinsufficient investment in upgrading. Traffic congestionand air and noise pollution are already serious problemsand rapidly getting worse. Prague, in fact, has more carsper square kilometer than Vienna and other majorEuropean cities. And while other European countries andthe U.S. seek ways to recreate the kind of seamlesstransportation system the Czech Republic still has, Czechleadership resists recognition of the inevitably destructivedirection in which it is heading. Recognition of theimpact of transportation policy on such diverse interestsas land-use planning, environmental protection and socialpolicy has brought civic groups focused on these issuestogether in this new coalition.

NADACE VIANadace Via (The Via Foundation) grew out of theCzech branch office of The Foundation for a CivilSociety (FCS), a New York City-based foundation setup in the early 1990s to help rebuild democracy andcivil society in then Czechoslovakia. The Foundation isled by Wendy Luers, whose husband, William Luers,served as U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia in theearly 1980s. Luers, active since 1990 in the region,recognized that Czech and Slovak offices were ready andable to become indigenous organizations.

Nadace Via is now totally Czech-based and since itsinception in 1997 has distributed more than $600,000in small grants to support NGOs of all kinds around thecountry. The organization is effectively led by Jir ]í Barta,Czech-born with a degree from Carnegie-MellonUniversity in Pittsburgh. Nadace Via is a criticalintermediary organization that serves as a grant-maker,convenor, facilitator and overall supporter of NGOdevelopment and community-based efforts of allvarieties around the country. Its overall mission is toincrease civic engagement and public participation indemocratic decision-making in the Czech Republic—atthe local, regional and national levels.

Most significantly, Nadace Via has increasinglyrecognized the inextricable connection of transportationpolicy to all the issues of its concern and has increased itsfocus on transportation and sustainable development

efforts. Transportation decisions, program officers realize,can make or break a community’s revitalization effort andare of eminent importance to members of the public.

CZECH GREENWAY/ZELENÉ STEZKYFollowing the fall of the Communist regime in Czecho-slovakia, a dialogue began between a group of Czechcitizens and American individuals and organizationswith strong interests in the newly liberated country.

They saw tremendous challenges as well as opportu-nities facing Czech and Slovak citizens in balancing theforces of Western capitalism and the need to build aneconomy based upon the magnificent cultural andnatural resources of the country. Eco-tourism was gainingconsiderable attention in North America and WesternEurope. Small, environmentally sensitive developmentscould restore historic towns and preserve naturallandscapes without overwhelming local communities.Improvements would serve local residents and visitorsalike. Local economies would benefit. Sustainabledevelopment, gradual change and modest growth werethe overarching goals. To some extent, this idea, at leastconceptually, was at the heart of the Greenway’s begin-ning. Lu and Tiree Chmelar, residents of upstate NewYork, were the initiators with funding from the WorldMonuments Fund. Lu Chmelar is a Czech-born engi-neer who was inspired by the Velvet Revolution to dosomething for the country of his birth. In 1991, theyread in a local paper about an effort by New York Stateto create a Greenway in New York’s Hudson RiverValley. The idea of the Hudson River Valley Greenway(HRVG) was that the environment and economicdevelopment could be brought into balance through avoluntary, participatory process that involved govern-ment, business, not-for-profit organizations and, aboveall, local citizens. The Chmelars contacted the HRVGand an exchange program began that resulted in aformal acknowledgment of a Czech-Hudson Greenwayproject by then Governor Mario Cuomo and CzechPresident Václav Havel.

The Greenway idea is to bring people togetherinspired by a vision for their own community’s futureand by the advantages of connecting with their neigh-bors along the Greenway route, in effect reactivatingand reenergizing the body politic in new ways. Thissynthesis of support for nature conservation and culturalpreservation and promotion of local and regionaldevelopment through environmentally-friendly tourismis the mission of the Hudson River Greenway. As anapproach to advancing positive change and strengthen-ing local economies and democratic societies, it can bean effective methodology.


The Czech Greenway goes between Prague andVienna and passes through areas particularly rich incultural and natural beauty. But the population is relativelypoor and economically struggling. This can be a deadlycombination. Economically depressed people in a cultur-ally and aesthetically beautiful landscape can be vulner-able to seemingly generous financial offers fromfast-talking investors. Without knowing alternatives,financial offers of any kind can be too tempting to resist.

The natural and built landscape of the CzechGreenway corridor is extraordinary. Compact walkabletowns with government offices, cultural activities andeducational resources centrally located and readilyaccessible by tram or by foot to most of the residentsand business people. A verdant, sprawl-free landscape offarms, valleys and forests falls between communitiesconnected by train, bike and walking trails and low-capacity roads bordered by a network of historic allees ofincomparable majesty. The relatively poor population isunsophisticated in the ways of global developmentpatterns and is oblivious to the real nature of the threatto their physical surroundings and traditional way oflife. Out of desperation for “economic development,”communities are often unable to distinguish betweenbeneficial, productive, appropriate change that builds onthe existing assets without destroying them and harmful,short-term inappropriate change that either underminesor destroys the appealing legacies of the past that tookdecades, if not centuries, to evolve. The Greenway strategyfor balancing development, environmental protection andcultural preservation is one potential model that canengender appropriate development and change.

The Czech Greenway is still evolving. Physically, itlinks Mikulov, Valtice, Vranov nad Dyjí, Telc ], Tr ]ebon],Jindr ]ichuıv Hradec, C ]esky; Krumlov, Bechyne ] andSedlec-Prc ]ice by hiking/biking trails and tourismpromotion. The Greenway communities are also linkedby a common vision that provides the framework forregional cooperation. The Hudson River Greenwayoffers a model for implementing such a vision. TheGreenway strategy, when fully embraced and developed,offers a participatory public process that reintroducesprinciples of democracy back into a citizenry that hasbeen under dictatorships for more than 50 years.

Of great significance already has been Greenway’swork with local communities and their mayors. Underthe program established by former Greenway directorPetr S ]te ]pánek, cooperation with the different villages isincreasing the public involvement within the villages, aswell as the communication between the villages andsharing experiences among them, all of which adds upto an increased level of democratic activity. The diffi-culty here is that a connection was made only with the

mayors of the 11 villages, and Czech mayors come andgo with regularity. This undermines any kind of stabilityin the program. Thus, more connections with civicgroups seem appropriate.

In theory, the Czech Greenway was a major innova-tion for the Czech Republic and, not unexpectedly,went through some rough ups and downs. It empha-sized too early the tourist potential, raising local expec-tations beyond realistic goals.

Originally established as a separate NGO within theCzech Republic, with a counterpart support organiza-tion in the United States, the Czech Greenways programhas evolved into a multi-faceted effort to help guidegrowth and development under the umbrella of theEnvironmental Partnership for Central Europe.

It has overcome leadership, staffing and communica-tion difficulties and now appears on a stable productivecourse. With its learning phase substantially past and withits control transferred into local hands, the Greenway’sinstitutional house is stabilizing. Surviving these ofteninevitable phases is a sign of a successful organization withgreat future potential. Under the current leadership ofJuraj Flamík, the Czech Greenway has gained a broadernational and Central European focus. Its growing successhas gained attention throughout Europe and the CzechGreenway is now the model for the Amber TrailGreenway from Cracow to Budapest.

Most importantly, the Czech Greenway could becomea replicable model of a regional sustainable developmentprocess that embraces meaningful public participation andcreates needed local economic investment.

Greenway director Flamík is appropriately trying tobroaden its activities beyond tourism to working with localpartners, such as the communities and businesses along theroute, on broader issues of concern. Developing a genuine,local participatory process is the biggest challenge.37

EDUCATIONAL BIKING TRAIL FROM BR]ECLAVTO LEDNICE THROUGH RESTORED FLOODPLAIN FOREST (HORNÍ LES) This flood plain forest, Horní Les, is a remarkable placeand should be a highlight of any Greenway tour. Massiveland reclamation schemes implemented under theCommunists involved extensive drainage measures anddiversion of small waterways. Such a series of public

37 Flamík is helping to develop a new 90 kilometer Greenway from theGerman border near Most to Doksy in Central Bohemia. This couldlead to more Greenways and, eventually, a Coalition of Greenways.The idea for the Northern Bohemia Greenway, close to the bordersof Germany and Poland, grew out of a meeting between Greenwaysand a group of men from the region who know the region well andwanted to create a cycling trail. Out of that meeting grew the largeridea of a Greenway with connections to a small wine region and tofruit growers in the White Carpathians.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 51

works projects diverted water from the River Dyje thatflows through this area. Following the building of theNové Mlyny reservoirs, the river rarely overflowed.Flooding stopped in 1971. The groundwater leveldropped as more than 10 million gallons of water a yearwere retained in the reservoirs. Temporary pools and thefish and amphibians living in them disappeared. Theforest dried up. Poplars and oak were especially damaged.

Forest enterprise Z]idlochovice, a state forest companyresponsible for managing the forest (including logging),recognized the damage and sought help in restoration.With state financial support and under the direction ofthe forest service, an artificial flooding scheme wasdeveloped. The temporary pools, flooded by surface wateror by the increases in groundwater level, have beenrestored. A network of weirs was built to manipulate thewater level and the duration of the flooding.

Through artificial irrigation, 633 hectares (almosttwo and a half square miles) of the forest between Ledniceand Br ]eclav have been reclaimed. The last restorationwork occurred in 1995. It is apparently too soon toevaluate the effect on the stands of trees. The variety offlora and fauna, however, and amazing variety of birdsongs make it clear a transformation miracle has occurred.Direct evidence is visible in the herb layer, increased soilmoisture, the flowering of some plants, such as summersnowflake which had not flowered in years.

The bike ride through the Horní Les is easy and theCzech-made bikes from the rental place are wonderful.The potential for a full day’s excursion is quite apparent.

This forest can be enjoyed on two levels.

• The first is the simple, do-it-yourself way of just asimple pleasurable bike ride. At some point, develop-ment of a possible picnic area might be considered.

• The second experience is under the guidance of aknowledgeable leader who can give the history of thedegradation and explain what went into the restora-tion. It is hard to find a more exemplary case ofextraordinary forest reclamation but it is difficult toappreciate the transformation without some before-and-after background. It is like seeing a restoredarchitectural landmark without seeing photos of itsnear collapse. This, of course, could be provided inwritten form but there was something extra specialhearing a member of the forest service give thebackground and answer questions.

The cleaning and restoration of this flood plainforest, Czech Partnership Director Mirek Kundratapoints out, is an unusual break in tradition for the forestservice. The service is a rigidly-structured hierarchy so ifand when policy changes and this approach is acceptedas normal, Kundrata points out, the new thinking willpermeate quickly the forest service bureaucracy.

Along the Horní Les bike route is an interesting siteto visit, a hunting castle built as a folly. The Januıv HradCastle was built as a hunting lodge in 1801–1807 withfour towers, an inner courtyard and a residential wing.Built by the Liechtensteins, this fortress-like stone castleexhibits a collection of mounted game animals that is astep back in time to a classic 19th century natural historymuseum, a strictly non-interpretive display.

Januıv Hrad Castle reflects a challenging problem.The Czech people— like the Poles, as noted earlier inthis report— feel disconnected from historic preserva-tion. An incident concerning the Januıv Hrad points outthe absurdity of some preservation attitudes and rules.Some years ago, this castle was used as a movie set. Asmall, wooden bridge was constructed to provide accessover the narrow stream of the River Dyje that flows afew hundred feet from the castle. This prop was built toresemble a period bridge. It remains the only access overthe stream but, reportedly, the official preservationauthority will not allow it to remain as a permanentfixture. No record exists of what was there, no record ofa bridge or what it looked like. Therefore, no permanentbridge is allowed to be built because no one knows whatwould be historically accurate. In the meantime, thetemporary bridge remains in place with no permanentresolution in sight.

Valtice/LedniceThe Liechtensteins38 were for many centuries one of themost powerful families in the Czech Lands and built thechateaux in Valtice (winter palace) and Lednice (sum-mer palace) with a connecting six kilometer allee,created the unique man-made landscape around theLednice-Valtice Palaces (zámek) and built the series ofquasi-historical follies (a triumphal arch, a temple toApollo, a Turkish-inspired minaret, a semi-circularclassical temple surrounding a group of sculptures of theThree Graces, a Colonnade,39 among others) along thetrails of their lands that today hold great appeal to localresident and tourist alike. The 19th century Valtice palaceis just off the main square which keeps it very central tovillage life. The 13th century Lednice palace was lavishlyredone in the 1840s into a neo-Gothic extravaganza.

The Lednice-Valtice area of Southern Moravia liesat the heart of one of Europe’s most pristine culturallandscapes. It is a cultural legacy of internationalimportance and a spectacular environmental, architec-

38 The Austrian House of Liechtenstein had gained a foothold inMoravia in 1249 when the family received the town of Mikulov as areward for backing the winner in a contest for the Austrian throne.

39 The Colonnade overlooks the region on the Czech/Austrian borderand during the 19th century was considered the Liechtensteingateway into Moravia. More recently, it was part of the Iron Curtainborder and inaccessible to the Czech people.


tural and economic asset for this Moravian region buthad escaped world notice and full local appreciationuntil a major preservation effort initiated by the WorldMonuments Fund in the early 1990s. Located approxi-mately 55 kilometers south of Brno, 10 kilometers eastof Mikuluv and only 65 kilometers north of Vienna,this extraordinary 200-square kilometer natural andman-made landscape is now a World Heritage Site, isunder conservation and preservation according to a plandeveloped by both professionals and local representa-tives and has gained full appreciation and significantfunding from the national government.

The World Monuments Fund effort to plan for theconservation of the Valtice-Lednice cultural landscape wasdeveloped incrementally, notes John Stubbs, ProgramDirector of the World Monuments Fund, “because wedidn’t really understand at first what the full picture was.”WMF focused first on the Valtice Palace and then lookedclosely at the Lednice Palace. In the process the dimen-sions of the landscape began to emerge with the ancientnetwork of hiking trails, fish ponds, follies, natural andbuilt landscape with each architectural element placed tocommand extraordinary vistas. “It turned out to be thebiggest coherently planned landscape in Europe andrepresents an ecological marvel biosphere,” Stubbsexplains in wondrous tones. Research determined that theLednice Park is one of the best examples of Englishlandscape design in all of Central Europe. “The wholearea was envisioned by the Liechtensteins to be a newcountry,” Stubbs notes, and probably escaped noticebecause it was on the Austrian border and part of the IronCurtain, “terra incognita even to locals.”

WMF initiated a process which brought in diverseexperts in landscape design, horticulture, architecturalrestoration, management, programming, interpretation,law, finance, education, economic development andtourism. In an unusual process, experts, local officialsand civic leaders gathered for period of three days to oneweek, learning the full dimension of the resource anddeveloping a master plan for the future. “The mayorsand local constituency came to life,” says Stubbs,“because it was such an open and exciting process. Noone had ever asked the gardener his opinion before.Local people were fascinated by the open, transparentprocess and everyone had a chance to speak.”

Stubbs notes several remarkable accomplishments.A consensus emerged. Everyone was an author of thesolution. “Many places had existed without consensuson use or much public participation for decades,” hesaid. A political and professional breakthrough wasaccomplished bringing together foresters, planners,botanists, architects, naturalists and other specialists.The final document set priorities and strategy and

turned into a great fundraising tool. Natural leadersemerged during the process. Local people understoodenvironmental pollution in new ways and saw theeconomic wisdom of protecting this unique assemblage.“We reconnected what should never have been separatedin the first place,” says Stubbs.

Today, work continues, private and governmentsupport is increasing yearly. Cultural events and tourismfeed the local economy. In fact, one wonders if anothergathering will be called for in a few years to deal withthe dilemmas of success.

SOUTHERN MORAVIAN WINE TRAILAS PART OF GREENWAYA priority new program of Czech Greenway underFlamík’s direction is development of a SouthernMoravian wine trail. This is clearly needed for thesurvival of this extraordinarily beautiful wine districtthat offers great tourist and economic potential. Rollinghills with small private vineyards and gardens amonglarge agricultural fields have long defined the land-scape.40 Rows of wine cellars mark the backyards ofvillages. Interestingly, the same landscape features markthe Austrian wine district across the border. Ninety-fivepercent of Czech vineyards are located in the 400villages of this region. The culture and landscape of theregion depend on the continuation of the wine-makingtradition. In each village grapes are grown and wine ismade, most often on the smallest possible scale. Almost10,000 vintners operate here, but few can live on theireffort and unemployment in the area is high.

Wise and successful GEF-funded (Global Environ-mental Facility, administered by the World Bank,initiated in the early 1990s) projects helped initiate amomentum of change built on environmental improve-ments, wine industry upgrading and bicycle trailcreation. One project funded the development of touristservices in the region which boasts two natural culturaltreasures—the Pálava Biosphere Reserve and theLednice-Valtice Area, mentioned earlier—bothUNESCO-protected sites. The cross-border characteris-tic that Phare encouraged emerged from close proximityto Austria and Slovakia.

Another project supported both grapevine produc-tion and advanced tourism in the adjacent Br ]eclav-Znojmo Districts and the replacement of pesticides invineyards with non-toxic biological plant protection and

40 Essentially, this region runs among what was the boundary of themetaphoric Iron Curtain and there is talk of putting some bunkersunder monumental protection. We raised the idea, in fact, of an IronCurtain bike trail. Seeing the many bunkers and occasionalremaining watch towers set in this romantic rural landscape placesthe fact of the Iron Curtain into a more realistic perspective.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 53

with the improved marketing of quality wines. The“regreening” of vineyards led to an observable increaseof bio-diversity and even the return of endangeredanimal and plant species. Chemical penetration of thewater supply, a significant area-wide problem, wassignificantly reduced. The success of the early Phare-Cross Border Cooperation programs favorably im-pressed local people and provided a good foundation forexpanding programs.

One of the larger vintners, and a highly successfulone, is the Znovín Wine Company, run by PavolVajcner, whose vast historic vineyards are surrounded bythe Podyjí National Park and by part of the bike trailsystem maintained by the Czech Tourist Club. TheGreenway Trail goes through a portion of the vineyards.Znovín’s winery was destroyed during the war andrevived in the 1960s. Over the years, additional vine-yards have been acquired. Vajcner is pleased to workwith the Czech Greenway and to have the tourist trailgo through the property and has created a charming,small café-like structure at which hikers and bikers canstop for a glass of wine. A delightful restaurant is alsopart of the vineyard operation.

Znovín’s vineyards lie in the village of Satov, underwhich is a medieval labyrinth of underground tunnelsbuilt in the l4th century for defense and now used forstoring wine. Satov is quite near Znojmo, a hillsidetown overlooking the Dyje River Valley as it blends intothe Austrian countryside. This is the heart of theMoravian wine industry.

Preserving a Wine CultureThis vineyard covers an exquisite landscape of hills andtrails and has great appeal to local hiking residents aswell as tourists. However, the most remarkable feature isthe “Malovany; Sklep,” the painted wine cellar, a portionof the underground tunnel where wine is stored. Thewhole village, in fact, sits atop the wine cellar. A Satovresident, who had only one hand, painted a fascinatingseries of wall murals over a 20-year period, starting inthe 1940s during weekends and holidays. Scenes depictvillage life and people, including wine-making and theintroduction of heavy farm machinery by the Commu-nists. With a headband to hold a candle for illumina-tion, this man in effect captured the history of thevillage, the region and to a large extent the country,scene by scene in a simple style.

The Znovín Wine Company is not yet on theGreenway Trail but soon will be. Vajcner already cooper-ates well with National Park Service. The Park Servicerepresentative in charge of the park similarly expressedgratitude for being able to work with a company “makingmoney in a reasonable way, respecting nature and helping

to preserve the landscape.” He also pointed out, interest-ingly, that the park service has to work hard to persuadethe public that parks are not a new form of Iron Curtain,an area in which they cannot go.

The Znovín Wine Company buys grapes fromsmall growers, very important for the survival of some.This is somewhat similar to Vermont, where Ben &Jerry’s Ice Cream Company buys milk and cream fromregional dairy farmers. Without Ben & Jerry’s patron-age, many of these small farmers would go bankrupt.Small Moravian vintners, however, are endangered, evenif they can sell some of their crop to larger ones. Preserv-ing the culture behind wine-making and the historicand appealing way of life that grew up around itdepends on the survival of these grape growers.

The first step initiated by Greenways under JurajFlamík was bringing together local groups to encouragethe establishment of the Association of Wine GrowingVillages of South Moravia, SVOJM, with the sharedgoal of developing sustainable wine tourism. Twentyvillages had joined by Spring of 1999. A year later, 70villages had joined. With Flamík’s help, almost 400kilometers of wine trails have been marked in SouthernMoravia. Another 300 kilometers will be marked in2001. Wine tourism is viewed as the great hope. Underdevelopment is an interactive web page for villages, atourist map of the wine region, a marketing plan and aprogram to assist area pension and hotel owners toimprove their services and environmental performance.There is talk of a wine academy promoting wine andagritourism, educating wine growers and producers,marketing local wine and doing what it can to maintainand revive the wine culture of the region.

Vintners confront special problems that can only beaddressed by the national government. Stringent legalbarriers, taxes, expensive license requirements andhygenic regulations create high costs. And as one localmayor noted: “The big focus after the revolution wasprivatizing the big companies but no loans were avail-able for small businesses. Now the big companies aregoing bankrupt and the state is trying to tax smallcompanies to make up the difference.”

The obstacles here are not so simple and, in fact, aresimilar to many economic challenges throughout thecountry. For example, as pointed out by one veryentrepreneurial and successful vintner, “People hereresist getting a business license. They don’t want to enterthe official world. They always sold wine on the side,have their own clientele and have gotten used to doingbusiness on the side.” “Doing business on the side,” ofcourse, was an entrepreneurial way of having a smallprivate business officially prohibited by the Communists


and now a difficult habit to break. A residual distrust ofgovernment is apparent.

In addition, this vintner pointed out, “Managerialskills are missing in this country. They can grow thegrapes but they can’t market or don’t want to. Oneshouldn’t complain if you’re not willing to change. Thebiggest problem is changing the mentality.” When asked,however, if this might change with the next generation,one vintner replied: “Older people at least are used totaking orders. Younger people are worse. They have nowine-making or farming tradition to start with.”

Actually, both a formal and informal wine economywould probably be more beneficial than if all vintners ofevery size and inclination were brought into a formalstructure. Informally produced local products work verywell in many parts of the world and, in fact, add to anarea’s appeal and character. Travelers, especially, lovebuying local products—food or craft—that can’t bepurchased everywhere else. In Portugal and Italy, somefamilies just make wine for family and local consump-tion and not for “market” purposes. North Americanmaple syrup growers in Quebec, Ontario, Maine andVermont operate similarly. Sometimes, the more thesekinds of products stay in the hands of families andoutside the market, the better chance they have ofstaying local. This is invariably better for the environ-ment and local economy. The point for the Moravianwine district is that local growers should be able to doeither. This requires more sophisticated and creativegovernment policies than have yet been in evidence.

European Union versus Local EconomyCompetition from EU farm products makes everythingeven worse. Cheaper fruit and wine—pears and winefrom Spain, apples from Holland—are totally undercut-ting local growers. Farmers’ markets can help smallfarmers, backyard growers and retired people. Theyprovide the only outlet for growers to sell directly toconsumers without the added cost of a middleman.Many small growers are dependent on the income thiscan bring. One solution, one local farmer pointed out,was the establishment of a joint effort among smallfarmers for marketing farm products, to avoid having tosell to big companies. Big companies don’t pay enoughto make selling to them worthwhile.41 Tax breaks forlocal supermarkets selling local wines is one of manysuggestions local people have made that make sense.

Making the bureaucracy more responsive to smallfarmers is another important suggestion, since farmersare often overwhelmed by government bureaucracy.The larger issue here is that if the Czechs want both thetraditional wine and beer industries and small farmers tosucceed, they will have to find creative ways to providesubsidies and incentives to small producers. This isespecially true if they want young people to continue, orrenew, the farming tradition that is so much a part ofthe Czech history and culture. In many instances, Czechfamilies could take their confiscated land back if theywant but many claimants are dead, elderly or notinterested in farming. Incentives are non-existent andmany children of farmers are not interested in farming.

This South Moravian region reflects dilemmascommon elsewhere. Here is a great countryside, historiclandmarks, appealing villages and towns and localproducts. The people and communities have much tooffer. The most appropriate guidance in helping themdevelop is coming from the NGO sector, not fromeither the national government or the European Union.Early EU money under the Phare program encouragedsmall projects and, in fact, funded the early work ofmany small, positive efforts. For approving the Phareprojects in the wine district, the government deservescredit. But newer money is reportedly going to biggerprojects, leaving the earlier, emerging efforts to struggle.

In this South Moravian region, the goal is to bringthe small vintners together in the larger wine villagesassociation for many reasons, including applying for EUfunds, an application process Juraj Flamík pledged to helpwith. The common purpose helps create a cooperativeprocess among the villages that could be beneficial inmany ways. Wine tourism becomes the motivation andthe priority for securing money from Brussels but, as onevintner pointed out, “It should not be just that. It shouldinclude all the issues of the region and larger issues.”42

Finding Common CauseInterestingly, with the help of the Greenway, a signifi-cant local conversation is taking place among electedofficials and the public that both recognizes the interde-

41 In 20 years, American farmers’ markets have increased fromapproximately 200 to close to 3,000. Markets serve more than onemillion consumers. More than 21,000 small growers depend on themarkets. Markets have successfully rejuvenated most of the commer-cial districts in which they’ve opened. See Chapter Nine, Cities BackFrom the Edge: New Life for Downtown, Roberta Brandes Gratz withNorman Mintz (John Wiley & Sons).

42 An interesting sidelight here was revealed in a discussion with threevillage mayors from Valtice, Lednice and Hlohovec. The EU andother funders, they said, require local matching funds, as alreadynoted. The match is reportedly substantial. Most villages are alreadyin debt because of the expensive infrastructure projects they havebuilt, i.e water and sewer treatment systems. Thus, little money isavailable for the matching challenges. Hlohovec is an exception. Ithas no debt and no water treatment plant. Instead of building itsown, Hlohovec has connected to Valtice at considerably less expense.This kind of joint project, along with other inexpensive, environ-mentally friendly, alternative infrastructure strategies is beingsuccessfully demonstrated and promoted by the EnvironmentalPartnerships in all four Central European countries. A modelMoravian project appears later in this section.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 55

pendency of the different groups and villages, and theneed to come together to tackle common priorities ofagriculture, vineyards, rural water and sewer infrastruc-ture, cultural preservation and tourism. This is the kindof regional planning that could probably never beachieved if any planning agency were to attempt toinitiate a conventional “planning process.”

Instead, a process is emerging in which manystakeholders and the public at large are shaping theircommunity’s future, instead of planners shaping it forthem. Several NGOs serve as catalysts and ombudsmenwith whom local people are comfortable. The looselycoordinated effort has several very different but interre-lated and interdependent components and is appropri-ately interdisciplinary, something most planningagencies are ill-prepared to embrace.

In any community-based revitalization success, itnever matters what initiates the civic process andbegins to galvanize local people to solve a particularproblem. This underscores a most significant point:the process, not the product or project, is critical. Thatprocess is the true test of community revitalization.The strength of the participatory process determinesthe strength of the revitalization.

This is why the varied NGO groups are so impor-tant and already so effective in raising awareness,activating the public and initiating projects crucial tothe economic, social and democratic rebuilding of thecountry. The NGO sector, primarily funded by privatefoundations, appears to be supplying most of theguidance and leadership.

Fundamentally, what is important is that genuinepublic involvement needs to happen IN communitiesand communication and cooperation must also existAMONG communities which helps create regionalcooperation. A stable process for civic participationneeds to exist that maintains itself even with frequentchanges in electoral officials.

OZ ]IVENÍ-BOHEMIAN GREENWAYSOz]ivení-Bohemian Greenways is another organizationusing the Greenway concept as a community revitaliza-tion tool. Started and headed by Petr S ]te ]pánek,43 aformer director of Czech Greenway/Zelené Stezky,Oz]ivení-Bohemian Greenways focuses on heritage trailsdevelopment. Bohemian Greenways works with com-munities, mayors, local environmentalists and otheractive citizens or groups of citizens, such as soccer

players—a soccer team exists in every Central Europeanvillage—firemen, women associations, and hunters.Bohemian Greenways helps convert local ideas into aadministratively acceptable form and helps to fundraise.The most advanced program is the Litavka Greenwaysouthwest from Prague. It has a bike route for roadbikes, bike trail for mountain bikes and foot path forpedestrians and horses and a mining heritage trail.Fifteen villages and municipalities are involved in theproject. Greenway Elbe is a half-finished project whichwill carry cyclists from Prague to Dresden on thePrague-Dresden Bike Path. Bohemian Greenways is alsoworking on a bike path system in Prague.

PARTNERSHIP FOR PUBLIC SPACES (PVP)The reactivation of public spaces is an interesting challengethat is not unique to the Czech Republic. It is not anaccident that every village, town and city in Central Europehas a medieval square that was for centuries the center ofcivic life. Historically, these public squares were wherepublic life occurred, where activities of commerce, commu-nication and leisure took place and where the character andsoul of a community were defined. Pride of place, anecessary ingredient for a caring committed local popula-tion, is difficult, if not impossible, without an active,well-maintained public space that cradles tradition andculture and assures continuity.

Democratic discourse is a natural occurrence in activepublic squares. Thus, under both the Nazis and theCommunists, most public squares were purposely under-mined. Some were transformed into parking lots, busdepots or filled in with the construction of a large building,such as the state-run department store. Some publicsquares were left untouched. However, places for people togather—the venues for social discourse such as cafes,multiple benches and farmers’ markets—were discouraged.

The Communists encouraged— in some casesforcibly required—the emptying out of historic centers.Many were not demolished or built upon. Such historicplaces were viewed as either decadent or bourgeois.Public events, schools and residential life shifted intonew, high-rise housing blocks outside of the center. Insome urban centers, there is an unexpected benefit tothat Communist-era policy of de-population of centers.The rich concentration of architecturally significantbuildings and public spaces survived substantially intact.They stand ready for renewal.

In 1994, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a NewYork City-based NGO, launched a demonstrationproject in the Czech Republic focused primarily on thereactivation of public squares as a means of rebuildingcommunities. PPS specializes in assisting communitiesin the U.S. to enliven public spaces as a critical step in

43 Petr S]te ]pánek, born and raised in the Czech Republic, earned aMasters degree in molecular biology from The Charles University,1990, was a member of the City of Prague Assembly, during themid-nineties (‘91–’96), a teaching assistant at SUNY HSC Brooklyn,1998, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, 1997.


any revitalization effort. The PPS strategy can be acatalyst for rebirth with great long-term potential. Itinvolves the public in creating a vision for itscommunity’s future. It promotes grass-roots initiativesthat emerge from the vision and are implemented by thecommunity. By keeping those initial efforts modest inscale, visible short-term results are possible.

Through PPS efforts in five communities in theCzech Republic, a public process was reintroduced andresidents and businessmen got involved in civic life.Small, practical projects were initiated. Modest successeswere achieved. Long term potential was demonstrated.However, limitations of local management minimizedthe program’s lasting impact. The effort was restructuredunder the auspices of the Environmental Partnershipand renamed the Partnership for Public Spaces (PVP).Jitka Ficová, a landscape architect, was hired as director.

Now, as a Czech-based initiative, PVP offers a varietyof services. It has worked for a one- to three-year periodwith 15 communities to improve public spaces. Eachcommunity gets a small grant, technical assistance, train-ing, participation in workshops, fundraising assistance, andso forth. PVP also provides communities around thecountry with technical materials for the regeneration ofpublic spaces. Workshops and seminars are organized toshare success stories among communities. Materials ontechniques for public participation are published.

The planning weekends are probably one of PVP’smost significant accomplishments. These special eventweekends bring people in the community together toenvision and plan public spaces. Attendance has been fargreater than anticipated, and during 10 such weekends upto 150 attended each one. The significance of thesegatherings reaches many levels, but two are of particularconsequence. Public spaces serve as important gatheringplaces in democratic societies, where people cometogether informally, exchange ideas, sometimes argueabout and sometimes resolve differences. Whatever theactivity, they come together as equals and not as strangers,critical to an integrated society. Such places were eitherdrastically undermined or totally eliminated under priorregimes and are important communal elements to berevived. Secondly, giving people a voice in the shaping oftheir own community is a new experience in this regionand another critical element of a genuinely democraticsociety. A “how-to” video was produced by PVP fromthese weekends. The video and technical assistancematerial help other communities initiate the process.

New Life in Village of ZahrádkyPVP, of course, also works directly with individualcommunities. In the case of the small village of Zahrádky,Mayor Elis ]ka Novotná, an energetic and innovative

sociologist, contacted PVP for assistance. A public spacein the village of Zahrádky was upgraded and given newlife. The success of that project was made possible by adynamic mayor with vision and energy. An active leader,whether an elected official or NGO activist, makes small,positive change more likely to occur. Choosing to targetassistance to such places is wise PVP policy.

Zahrádky is a village with a rich cultural and sociallife. Through meetings involving the town council andthe public, two projects were initiated. One, creation ofa parklike public space near the village pond appropriatefor outdoor meetings and cultural events. Two, creationof a public square across from the town hall. PVPhelped facilitate the public process, gave technicalassistance, and financed design work. During the publicprocess in which residents were meaningfully involved,the projects were modified. An old dairy productionbuilding was demolished across from the town hall, tocreate the public square. Trees were planted. A fountainwas installed. Wisely, necessary underground infrastruc-ture work, not related to the fountain, was done at thesame time, doubling the efficiency of the effort.

The town hall bustles with community activity,enthusiastically sponsored by the mayor with PVPassistance. Art workshops teach the traditional crafts ofwoodcarving, basketweaving, fabric weaving, lacing,flower arranging and sculpting salt-dough figures. One-week courses are offered in crafts for teachers fromoutside the community so the teaching of those crafts ispossible in other communities. Relearning traditionalcrafts is a popular idea, especially since such traditionswere either discouraged or destroyed under Commu-nism. A weekly newsletter is produced in the town hallinforming the public of different activities.

The Zahrádky project illustrates several levels of PVPsuccess, which can also be found in other PVP-sponsoredcommunities: The interdisciplinary nature of PVPprojects; the bringing together of the general public,organizations and elected officials; the reactivating ofcommunal places; the value of modest, short-termprojects; and, the educational value of each success.

Philanthropist Supports ActivistsIn a totally different case, PVP was enlisted by the townof Slavic ]ín. Here, Jan Pivec ]ka, a wealthy shoe manufac-turer, became a major local philanthropist after a groupof young nature conservationists came to his houseseeking help to save migrating frogs that were gettingkilled by cars while crossing the roads. Pivecka sup-ported the frog rescue and then donated forest land atthe edge of town for a volunteer-created park. The townand the Nature Conservationists maintain it. For thepark, students from the Art Academy in Prague were

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 57

invited in summer to come and create animal sculpturesfor children to play on. The sculptures are quite charm-ing. Combined with carved log benches and some basicplay equipment, like seesaws, the park has become quitea communal gathering place for young and old, reliev-ing some of the crowd pressure felt in a forest park onanother side of town.

Pivecka and the Nature Conservationists haveworked on several projects since 1993, including thecreation of a headquarters for the nature group. A storkwith a frog in its mouth became the logo for the JanPivecka Foundation with the slogan, “Never Give Up.”

PVP has evolved in a somewhat different directionfrom that originally intended. While highly appreciatedplaygrounds and neighborhood parks fill a long ne-glected need, the focus emphasized by Project for PublicSpaces was on the broader issues of community revital-ization. For that broader vision, the public spaces oftown and city centers represent multiple opportunitiesto confront larger communal challenges of communityvisioning, traffic calming and fostering local businesses.That remains the challenge which PVP still has theopportunity to pursue.

RESTORATION OF THE JEWISH CULTURALHERITAGE IN SOUTH BOHEMIAA Project of the Roz ]mberk Society in Cooperation withthe Jewish Community of Prague—Visit To Cemetery ofJindr ]ichuıv Hradec

The issue of Czech Jewish culture presents an interestingand significant challenge. Before the Holocaust,Czechoslovakia had the smallest Jewish population ofCentral Europe. Poland had the largest. Despite its smallnumbers, the Jewish population had a large impact onCzech culture. This becomes apparent in many ways,particularly in discovering that almost every communityseems to have had a Jewish segment whose membersoften played a significant role in the larger community.In many towns, for example, Jews were importantmerchants and shopkeepers, operating in the towncenter. When Jews were shipped off en masse to concen-tration camps, some business centers were decimated.Sometimes the heart of the business district was wipedout. Many have barely recovered since. Reportedly, themajority of shopkeepers occupying the stores facing thesquare in Telc], for example, were Jewish. After the war,the businesses never really recovered and Telc], asmagical a place as it is, seems like a stage set with littleviable business occurring in the center.

Czech Jewish history dates back to the 9th centuryand is just beginning to be explored in a few placesaround the country, and any program that advances thateffort is significant on many levels. First, it is important

for Czechs to understand the role all groups have playedin their history, whether German, Roma, Jewish orother. Secondly, as the Roz]mberk Society44 notes,uncovering this history, giving it the respect it is dueand celebrating its contribution to the country helpsstem anti-Semitism, something that is unfortunatelycropping up in different places in Central Europe.

As a result of the Holocaust and later Communistpolicies, the Jewish communities virtually disappeared,and now fewer than 6,000 or five percent of the pre-warnumbers remain. Many Jewish buildings were destroyedor converted to uses that erased any semblance of Jewishuse. Cemeteries, where they remain, are often the lastlocal evidence of a Jewish presence. Approximately 350cemeteries have been identified. They are all in variousstates of decay and none are in active use. Most are nowowned by the Jewish community of Prague that can notpossibly raise enough money to solve the countrywideproblems.

The restoration of one such cemetery in the town ofJindr ]ichuıv Hradec has become a priority project of theRoz]mberk Society, a historic preservation organizationdedicated to uncovering local history and incorporating itinto the popular landscape and visitor sites. They estab-lished an educational walking and biking trail around apond in Jindr ]ichuıv Hradec and are establishing a villagehistorical museum for the nearby village of Kojakovice.Working with the Jewish Community of Prague, cem-etery owner, the Roz]mberk Society wants to restore thecemetery and develop it as a historic and educational site.

Broad Interest in Jewish HistoryThis project was initiated and is spearheaded by a localwoman, Olga C]erná, and her Dutch boyfriend, RobertDurfler, neither of whom is Jewish. Both are dedicated,energetic and strongly committed to the undertaking.The mayor of Jindr ]ichuıv Hradec is very supportive of thecemetery restoration effort and just the initiation of theeffort itself has inspired useful public discussion andexploration of local history. The mayor’s wife, it turnsout, has a Jewish grandparent, a discovery she made onlyrecently. This kind of discovery—the presence of a Jewishrelative on the family tree—is not uncommon through-out Central Europe. The case of the mayor’s wife isinteresting because with the mayor speaking of it soopenly and proudly, the effort to combat anti-Semitism isadvanced in subtle ways.

Among the goals of the Roz]mberk Society’s effortare the fighting of anti-Semitism and the raising ofpublic awareness about the history of the rural Jewishcommunities in the Czech Republic. The restoration of

44 The Roz ]mberk Society started with a focus on heritage preservationand expanded to sustainable development issues.


the cemetery and associated buildings in Jindr ]ichuıvHradec along with the burial records45 is one of six suchsites in Southern Bohemia. This site includes thecemetery, a burial preparation building (quite holyaccording to Jewish tradition) and a caretaker’s house.All are in poor condition. Restoration plans call forestablishment of public education programs in aninformation and documentation center.

Because the synagogue and former Jewish schoolbuildings are currently occupied by the Hussite Breth-ren, the cemetery and its constituent buildings are thelast remaining evidence of Jewish tradition in Jindr ]ichuıvHradec that dates as far back as the 12th century. Thecemetery is on a hilltop but slopes down to the bank ofthe Nezárka River. The oldest section is on the lowestportion of the hillside. Dirt washing down the slope hasburied ancient tombstones. Part of the project goal is touncover those gravestones, undoubtedly revealing newinformation, possibly dating back to the 9th century.

VILLAGE OF HOS ]TETÍNSome, if not the most, significant environmentalprograms supported by the Czech EnvironmentalPartnership can be seen in this southeast Moravianregion, particularly in the village of Hos ]tetín (popula-tion 320) and surrounding communities, where manyof the critical issues and themes of this whole reportcome together. These issues include: holistic thinkingabout community; sustainable, low-cost and environ-mentally friendly development; building on the talents,energy and accumulated wisdom of a resident popula-tion; involving local residents in creating and imple-menting the solutions to local problems. The programsillustrated here are low-tech, modest in cost, job andentrepreneur-producing and sustainable withoutongoing, expensive outside support. Significantly, theseprojects also demonstrate to the local populace howmuch can be done without waiting for outside help.

The White Carpathians is an often breathtakingpatchwork landscape straddling the Moravian-Slovakborder that, like many rural areas of Central EasternEurope, had been buffeted by high unemployment andcrises in agriculture and industry. This area of the WhiteCarpathians was declared a UNESCO biosphere reservein 1996. Here, old valued concepts, traditions and landpractices have been revived without resorting to theexpensive, high-tech answers to which so many post-Iron Curtain communities turned. This was not easy.

Until 1945, animals, such as sheep and cows, grazed inthe lush green meadows. The Communists transformed

this agriculturally rich and productive region into factoryfarms, eliminating the diversity of Moravian farming. Insome democratic, capitalist economies, a form of this“modernization” happened as well. The “scientific rational-ization” of food production has occurred globally in allkinds of societies. Things don’t automatically go back tothe way they were, even where memory is strong. Cows, forexample, are still kept in barns, as they have been for 50years since the Communists halted the cows grazing in thefield. Fruit farms, as well, were plentiful and once sup-ported many villagers until destroyed by the Communists,but orchards are now only slowly being reintroduced. Allthis restoration work seems to depend on the leadership ofenvironmental NGOs.

Except for the fortunate absence of the blight ofheavy industry, this area suffered from most of thedestructive impacts of the Communists beyond justagricultural damage. Existing conditions even before theformer regime reflected traditional development dilem-mas of most rural “underdeveloped” regions. Hos ]tetínwas dependent on coal for fuel, had no sewage treat-ment facility, no infrastructure to accommodate growth,and no access to the nearby train station. Conditionscould not be much worse but were typical of Czechvillages for decades.

Bad as things appeared, essential assets were still inplace on which to develop a renewal momentum — theassets of a traditional community built up over timewith the character and personality of its residents. Byhaving avoided in many ways the global trend oftechno-centro developments of the post-World War IIyears and by retaining the elements of a traditionalcommunity — despite some negative development ofthe Communist era, especially in agriculture — thesecommunities have the opportunity now to “get it right,”in other words to develop in a manner that reflects anauthentic place and is economically, environmentallyand culturally sustainable.

The Mayor Leads the WayIn Hos ]tetín, most importantly, a receptive mayor,Drahomír Orsák, a professional mason, and a dynamicyoung deputy mayor, Radim Machuı , were looking toupgrade the village in every environmental way possiblewhile still retaining the character. They were determinedto do it without large financial investments in bigprojects. They have been instrumental in convincinglocal residents to try out new approaches and technolo-gies. In developing its innovative programs, Hos]tetínwas aided by the Veronica Ecological Institute, theextraordinary environmental organization based inBrno, and by funding from the Partnership.45 Burial records are the most, and sometimes only, record for Jews to

research the fate of relatives who might have perished in the Holocaust.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 59

One big project is not transforming Hos ]] ]] ]tetín.Several modest projects are — the key to small stepsand long, enduring impact that is at the heart of somany of the stories in this report. An Atlas of Renew-able Energy has been published illustrating on a mapthe several hundred installations of alternative energysources in Southern Bohemia. This includes solar, wind,water, geothermal and biomass projects. To view themany dots on a map is to understand how many smallthings add up to big impacts.

Numerous Hos ]tetín homes and public buildings havebeen converted from coal to solar. A low-cost, low-tech,natural reed-based sewage treatment plant that did not putthe village into long-term debt was built. A stream runningthrough the village has been cleaned up. A traditional fruitdrying shed has been restored and put back into use. Newcrops of fruit trees have been planted. An old traditionalfarm has been preserved in a Land Trust. And a pedestrianpath through the farm to the train station was created tomake access easy to mass transit.

Solar PanelsA Veronica project called “Sun for the WhiteCarpathians” starting in 1997 installed solar panels on35 homes and public buildings in the region, seven ofwhich are in Hos ]tetín. The seven solar homes demon-strated a low-cost alternative to coal at 30,000 Kc ]($860) per house, half of which was paid for by thePartnership. Local people were trained to install thepanels so future projects will continue to create localjobs. Other residents either have already followed or areconsidering installing solar panels in their own homes.Employees in five area businesses have been trained toassemble and install collectors. Yvonna Gaillyová, thecreative and tireless Veronica director, is a physicist whodeveloped the Veronica Ecological Institute as a widelyrespected think tank for sustainable development andenergy saving projects. Gaillyová points out that thesesolar panels do the work of conventional technologythat would produce about 1,500 kilograms (3,300pounds) of carbon dioxide annually, one of the criticalcauses of the greenhouse effect. Gas lines don’t comenear Hos]tetín and won’t in the near future, so gas wasnever an alternative to coal.

In 1997, technician Jaroslav Bolec ]ek was the firstHos]tetín resident to install the panels on his home. In aMarch, 1999, article in the Prague Post, Bolec ]ek toldreporter Rene Jaki: “When some of my neighbors sawthat [the system] works, and makes warm water even inwinter, they installed them too. Now when I get to-gether with guys in the pub, we show off whose systemworks better.” Bolec ]ek’s family now saves more than3,000 Kc ] per year on electricity. At this rate and assum-

ing the unlikely circumstance that there is no increase inthe cost of electricity, the unsubsidized price will berepaid in 10 years. Each panel produces the equivalentof 2,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Sewage Treatment PlantHos ]tetín is the first village in the White Carpathians touse a Kor ]enovka, a natural water filtration system, forsewage treatment. The system consists of two drainfields that process the water through beds filled with aspecial mixture of sand and gravel and planted withreeds. At the end is a collector pond for the clean water.Plants consume the nutrients from the sewage andtransport oxygen to the bed which helps the aerobicbacteria decompose the sewage. Clear water flows out ofthe third field or basin. This system is suitable for smalltowns up to 1,000 people, for individual farms, singlebuildings and similar structures and even neighborhoodswithin larger communities. The maintenance costs areminimal. The mayor is the proud operator of thetreatment plant and on a site visit captured and proudlydisplayed a light green frog, a bio-indicator of thecleanliness of the constructed wetland. The site hadbeen polluted by raw sewage which killed just abouteverything in the nearby stream. The frogs had all butdisappeared but have now returned.

The treatment plant capital costs were minimal andoperation costs are similarly low. This contrasts with thecommon lament in the region that there is no moneyfor such projects. When localities do raise the money forbig, expensive high-tech projects through bonds, theyplace themselves deep in debt and limit opportunities toinvest in other projects.

Significantly, the treatment system has had a majorimpact on the village. Hos]tetín had been prohibited fromexpanding because the district office feared that new homeconstruction and additional inhabitants would spoil thevillage’s water quality. Downstream is the reservoir for theregion. Once the natural system was operational in 1997,the ban was lifted, permitting young families to buildhomes and not have to move away. Residents leavingvillages and moving to cities is a problem throughout theregion. Anything that improves life and encourages peopleto remain is beneficial all the way around.

The efficacy of this environmentally-friendly, costeffective treatment system is in evidence in various sitesaround the world but is still being discovered by themost advanced, industrialized societies, where disbeliefand resistance to low technology is so strong. Theresistance has nothing to do with the operationalvalidity but is primarily due to the expensive andeffective marketing campaigns and the vested interestsof high-technology corporations.


An interesting article in The New York Times (July18, 1999) illustrates just this point. The operator of asewage treatment plant in Lloyd, New York, (population9,000) about two hours north of New York City, heardabout a system operating in Ecuador, just like the one inHos]tetín. Simple beds of marsh grass clean waste wateras effectively as expensive, large-scale treatment plantswith concrete tanks, steel pipes and electricity-hungryoxygen pumps.

John L. Jankiewicz, as Andrew C. Revkin reportedin The New York Times, is the 49-year-old water andsewer administrator for Lloyd, on the job 28 years.When he heard a presentation about this “reed bed”treatment system in a Ecuadorian rain forest village thatused no electricity and required hardly any mainte-nance, he traveled 3,300 miles to observe it, returninghome fully convinced. He created a similar 30-by-50-foot patch of eye-level phragmites. The root systems ofthe phragmite weeds break down contaminants in wastewater and purify it naturally. The marsh does what thecapital-intensive mechanized system does at half theoperation cost and works in all seasons, just as inHos]tetín and could also in so many Central Europeancommunities that have never had any treatment system.

There is an interesting added significance to theLloyd story. A local business with 300 jobs was on theverge of leaving town because of a failed septic system tooexpensive to fix. A wetland was created instead, keepingthe business and jobs in place. In addition, two local cidermills are building artificial wetlands to treat their annualautumn flood of unusable juice and other waste. Theseare very localized solutions, an approach not oftenthought about anywhere these days. Project plannersusually talk only of big, capital-intensive systems tohandle the needs of a whole community instead ofsmaller, localized solutions addressing smaller parts of theproblem. Thus, experts would likely dismiss the Hos ]tetínsuccess because the village is so small. Yet, no reason existsthat this kind of system can not be used on a neighbor-hood by neighborhood basis in a community of any size.This technology, like any, needs to be operated properly.

Fruit Tree RestorationAnother innovative Veronica project is the reintroductionof organic fruit orchards. Veronica, together with otherlocal ecological agencies, established the association,Traditions of the White Carpathians (TBK), that has aspecial logo guaranteeing the quality, origin and history ofthe fruit. At one time, pears, plums and apples wereplentiful. The old varieties of apples, however, that areused to the tough climate of the White Carpathians, ifgrown conventionally with chemicals and other expensiveprocesses, cannot compete with foreign imports that are

bigger and more attractive in appearance. If grownorganically, however, and used for juice or as dried fruit,local apples can compete with international produce iflabeled as a pure, natural product.

Local growers already cannot fill the demand. TBKhas built the first juice-extraction plant in Hos]tetín tobuy apples from local growers and to produce a natural,unfiltered apple juice, carrying the TBK logo. Clearlythis fruit orchard project is already a commercial successwith great growth potential. Equally important is thepreservation of unique fruit varieties and the traditionalculture of the region. The TBK brand will include highquality natural products from the region, includingdried fruit, juices, jams and handicrafts. “The idea is todevelop a clear association with the White Carpathiansregion and its special qualities,” explains Partnershipdirector Mirek Kundrata.

KOSENKA ECOLOGICAL CENTERIN VALAS ]SKÉ KLOBOUKYNot far from Hos ]tetín, the Kosenka Ecological Centerin Valas ]ské Klobouky pursues similar programs torestore the environment, to develop environmentallypositive commercial ventures and to preserve its tradi-tions, culture and architectural landmarks of the region.This is the kind of combination most skeptics dismiss asunrealistic but this region shows it is all possible.

Kosenka is a 25-year-old local civic organizationwith a solid tradition of active volunteers. Headquartersare housed in a wonderful historic timber-framedfarmstead maintained with all the traditional features.A variety of interesting educational programs areconducted here. A horse riding rental business isconducted out of the barn and in an adjacent apart-ment. Kosenka has gotten involved in local elections,established working relationships with local officials andis exploring other partnership arrangements.

One extraordinary Kosenka project is the placementof sheep back in the meadows they once filled. Thisserves a multitude of purposes. For one, the sheepnaturally maintain the meadows. In one orchard field,for example, sheep now do what used to be done withheavy equipment. In effect, they mow the grass. At thesame time, notes Kosenka director Miroslav Janík, sheepreplace costly and time consuming equipment andprovide meat and wool for sale.

Kosenka is working with one farmer-turned-sheepherder to establish a cooperative venture and helpedpurchase 30 sheep, placed on his 300 hectare farmstead.Kosenka also gets local residents to purchase a sheep(more if they want), and they share in proceeds. If thesheep has offspring, they are divided between the sheep

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 61

investor and herder. In this way, the herd will grow toeveryone’s benefit. A particular breed of sheep is chosenfor this purpose, one that does not cluster on the land.These sheep spread out over the whole expanse and feedevenly across the landscape. This breed, however, doesnot offer a high quality wool. They are experimentingwith using the sheep wool for insulation. If this experi-ment fails, Kosenka and the sheep herder will probablytry something else until they succeed. The naturalinsulating material has the added benefit of supportingsmall wool producers whose sheep are now helpingmaintain the flowering meadow ecosystems, an impor-tant enough goal in itself.

In a lunch meeting with Kosenka members andmayors from nearby villages, the same refrain was heardabout the need for water, sewer and gas facilities. Butcommunities in this region actually do a lot for them-selves despite scarce financial resources.

NGO Leadership Brings ResultsClearly, throughout the Czech Republic, as with theother three countries, many communities have impor-tant self-help initiatives underway because of the criticalassistance of the NGO community. The Czech Partner-ship staff points out, however, that the EU SAPARDprogram should be an appropriate tool for upgradingprojects around the country. Yet, they note that in theCzech Republic the decision-making is completely top-down. The project selection process is fully controlledby the government. For this program, NGOs were notinvolved in setting priorities and planning implementa-tion and not even designated as potential recipients ofassistance. Along with assistance to private enterprisesand local governments, community-based not-for-profitorganizations can also play an important role in stimu-lating communities in micro-regions to formulate theirown vision and plan for their region. Not enoughsupport exists to increase local capacity to absorb changeor to advance micro-infrastructure projects instead ofmacro-infrastructure projects.

This kind of essential leadership comes from theNGO community. Their participation must occur inpartnership with elected officials and local entrepre-neurs. The Greenway takes the lead in South Moraviaintroducing new ways to develop without looking to bigoutside investment. Veronica and Kosenka and otherNGO partners take the lead in the White Carpathiansdemonstrating that environmental and sustainabledevelopment projects make good economic sense andthat environmental and economic issues should not belooked at separately. The Slavonice Renaissance Society,in the small town noted for its many buildings embel-lished with sgraffito, is developing a leadership positionin South Bohemia demonstrating the value of culturalheritage in the revitalization process. SOS Prague hastaken on the monumental task of introducing genuinepublic involvement in the Prague city planning process.Transportation For the 21st Century has assumed theformidable task of coordinating the various publictransit advocacy issues and adding strength to theoverarching importance of rebuilding the mass transitinfrastructure. Nadace Via is working throughout thecountry stimulating community-based efforts andorganizations. The Partnership for Public Space (PVP) isrefocusing attention on the value and importance ofpublic spaces to civic and economic health. TheseNGOs are only a drop in the bucket of the many thatexist throughout the country.

The accomplishments of all these organizations areextraordinary and illustrate the enormous potential forfuture productive change. But their capacity and financialresources are extremely limited. In fact, their accomplish-ments far exceed what should be expected with limitedfunds. The Czech Partnership feels the lack of capacityand recognizes the need for more professional assistance,analyses of local potential, interpretation of local heritage,community visioning and implementation skills. Howthat challenge is addressed will reflect the genuineprogress of the Czech Republic toward a truly civil societyon a path of productive and sustainable growth.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 63

“Hungary—with a population of 10 million—hasattracted more foreign direct investment than any otherEast European country, due mainly to an early start oneconomic reforms, investor-friendly policies and aprivatization program under which Budapest sold the bulkof its leading companies and banks to foreign concerns.

“But a decade after the collapse of Communism,some formerly sanguine economists and policy makers arebeginning to take a more sober view of the downside offoreign investment: the economic distortions and welfare-sapping effects that Western-style business can create.”46

Clearly, multinational companies have gaineddominant market positions throughout Central EasternEurope but with the early generous tax breaks available“not available at the same time to local players,” com-plaints can be heard about the lack of a level playing fieldon which local players can have an equal chance. Whatseems to make many people unhappy is that the Western-style business growth and prosperity is not trickling downas promised and that a two-tiered society is growing.Pockets of prosperity do not make for a prosperouscountry.

In Hungary and in particular in Budapest, the largemalls and real estate development problems described sofar in this report exist in their most dramatic form. Forthis reason, these issues gained the attention of commu-nity development activists earlier than in the other threecountries. The total square footage of shopping mall spacein Budapest, for example, is already approaching WesternEuropean levels. According to the international real estatefirm of Jones, Lange & LaSalle,47 276,000 square metersof shopping space has been built nationwide of which190,000 square meters is in Budapest. Only 29 percent ofthe new mall space has secured tenants.

Every reason exists to expect similar circumstancesto occur in other Central Eastern European countries.“Czech banks have long created headaches for theirgovernment,” The Economist noted.48 “In 1995, the

government forked out more than 8 percent of GDP toclean up banks, and the taxpayer had already taken a bigchunk of the bad loans of the two largest Czech banks.”Walter Hook of the Institute for Transportation andDevelopment Policy (ITDP) wrote in a report in theSpring of 2000 about the direct connection to troublingreal estate and banking developments: “The Czechbanking system, far less successfully privatized, remainsthe most vulnerable to a sudden deterioration in thequality of their real estate loans and direct holdings.Poland is farther behind in its commercial real estatedevelopment cycle, and its banking system is thought tobe more stable, but there is much more suburbanhousing being built, and many industry experts believethe industry is already overheated and profit margins arealready failing.”

The trends are clear. They happen faster in Hungarybecause the post-1989 property restitution process iseasiest. Pre-Communist property claims can only bemade for compensation from the government of themonetary value of the land, not for an actual property.Thus, the considerable number of properties tied up inlong, legally complicated claim processes in the otherthree countries is not true in Hungary. Unencumberedproperty is more easily available for development. Anearlier legal infrastructure for investors and a higher











46 Wall Street Journal, January 3, 1999.47 Much of the banking and real estate research for this section was

provided by the Institute for Transportation and DevelopmentPolicy, NYC.

48 “Czech Banking: The Last Crisis?” June 24, 2000, p. 88.


GNP put Hungary ahead of the other three countries inthese development trends.

The overconstruction that has resulted makes the realestate field highly unstable and with it the banking system.These conditions, coupled with weak regulatory practices,parallel circumstances that preceded the disastrous collapseand subsequent bailout of American banks in the 1980s.Banks hold real estate as loan collateral. When the value ofthat real estate collapses, which it always does in anoverbuilt market, the banks go with it. Observers citeadditional factors that make matters even worse.

Current rents in shopping malls, for example, are sohigh that even banks can’t afford them. If banks can’tafford to occupy space, observers wonder how shop-keepers can make a profit at these rents. The malls arebeing condominiumized by developers. The developer’sprofit is secure when the mall is converted to a condo-minium, but control of the mix of stores—critical tothe success of any shopping mall—is thus abandoned.The retailers own their own space, often in both adowntown street site and a mall. Established retailers, ineffect, are hedging their bets, keeping the downtownstreet site and opening a mall store. Once they see whichdirection better sales are going, many retailers will seekto sell off the less active site. As retailers do this, valueswill fall and the mortgage burden could overwhelmretailers left holding less profitable property.

Add to this a number of other factors, and thesituation looks worse and worse.

• Banks reportedly are well aware of these precariouscircumstances but are motivated to act because they areconfident they will be bailed out by the government,i.e. the taxpayer. This has happened in Hungary before.

• Considerable mall construction is reportedly beingcarried out by the Ukranian “Mafia,” using thisconstruction to launder money. If the marketcollapses, whatever they get out of it gives themmore legal funds than they had before. (Moneylaundering of this kind, as well as of local ill-gottengains is known to be going on all over Central andEastern Europe.)

• In addition, some Hungarian banks are reportedlystill holding defaulted loans from before 1989.

Now add to this the grim circumstances of theresidential construction market. Housing subsidies before1989 were only available for new construction. Availablecleared land was only outside of cities. Most new housingwas built by individuals without bank loans. Theirlocation outside Budapest and other cities was inevitablewithout comparable help available for upgrading existingdwellings concentrated in cities. It is extremely difficult tosecure loans for city dwellings since so many apartmenthouses have been condominiumized, and all the owners

in a building must want to borrow or no one can. Thisbizarre requirement makes the upgrading of urbandwellings almost impossible. Also, it is politically difficultto evict tenants or foreclose on mortgages. Thus, apart-ment owners buy apartments (sometimes multiple units),collect rents, let the property deteriorate and default ontheir mortgage. Regulations are minimal. Enforcement ismeager. Official interference is rare. This is exactly whathappened in American cities in the 1950s under the slumclearance programs that allowed property owners to lettheir buildings deteriorate while they collected rent andneglected loan payments, a fundamental cause of thedecline of American cities. Without a dramatic change inthese housing policies, the same process of gradual butguaranteed decline will occur here.

Until recently, the construction of new housing onthe outskirts has been kept modest because bank loanswere unavailable. All the banks are now gearing up tomake mortgages available to lower income people fornew homes. Again, money for new construction but notfor rehabilitation is a policy guaranteed to undermineexisting cities and towns. A new housing constructionboom is expected in the next five years.

BUDAPESTAs might be expected from these factors, Budapest exhibitsmany problems described earlier for Cracow and Prague.The future does not bode well for Budapest on severallevels. The official priority seems to be accommodating thecar and the suburban commuter. No policy to encouragecenter-city living is apparent; on the contrary, manypolicies are clearly discouraging. Open space, smallneighborhood parks, potential park spaces and appealingpublic buildings, like schools, are apparently being sold oravailable for sale to the highest bidder despite energeticresistance of various citizen activist groups.

Shopping malls are proliferating within the citywith big garages attached. The longterm viability of somany malls—some of which are quite near one an-other—is questionable, as indicated earlier. The mallsare almost entirely filled with chains, predominantlyforeign-owned. They are clearly undermining the localeconomy. Four thousand small businesses have report-edly closed in Budapest.

This is an interesting dilemma. Surely, it is better forthe city that this development occur within the cityinstead of outside in the countryside. And, in fact, thesemalls are not anti-urban in their design, despite biggarages. Pedestrian access is as good as for most tradi-tional department stores. These malls, for the most part,connect well to the street, rather than stand isolated fromthe street and adjacent buildings. Yet, little understanding

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 65

of their impact seems to be reflected in an apparenthands-off policy by the city. A limitation on mall sizecould go a long way to minimizing the negative impacton local businesses and traffic, but the possibility ofimposing any kind of restrictions seems remote.

Predictable problems are exacerbated. Incentivesseem to be available to mall developers without compa-rable resources available to local businesses. Tax benefitsfor new investment, such as malls, are reportedly avail-able, for example, ONLY for expensive, large projects.Small and mid-size businesses are disqualified becausethey don’t require large investments. An environmentalimpact review (EIS) apparently is of little or no conse-quence. One small Budapest development was stopped inan area of strong community opposition in 1994. Onanother site, however, a court reportedly ruled against amall citing both construction permit and environmentalimpact problems but construction continued.

Simply put, land use regulations are minimal andpoorly enforced. This is economically self-destructive forthe city. Owners of healthy local businesses spend andlive locally; distantly-owned businesses extract profitsfrom the local economy and spend it elsewhere.

Incentives Favor DemolitionRegulations permit construction of new buildings ashigh as surrounding or nearby buildings, a clear incen-tive to demolish older buildings. For such an historicand architecturally rich city as Budapest, this is deadly.This nibbles away, building by building, at the overallappeal and livability of a city. Appreciation of the valueof existing buildings, unless a special landmark, seemslimited. Citizens are easily persuaded that some oldbuildings are “too far gone.” Universally, that is fre-quently what the official assessment is because munici-pal engineers rarely want to take responsibility forsuggesting that something old can be fixed, whether it isa building or a segment of infrastructure.

Sometimes it appears to be cheaper to build new.Often this is questionable. Demolition costs are usuallynot included in the calculations. The new constructionis cheap in both quality and cost. And, the new will fallapart quicker than a well-renovated 100-year-oldbuilding. This is almost universally true.

This is strikingly apparent in the U.S. where shop-ping malls and office buildings built after World War IIare falling apart faster and more dramatically than 100-year-old buildings that have never been renovated. Clearlytoday, nothing is built to endure beyond the life of a 20-year mortgage. Existing buildings anywhere, especially inEurope, that predate 1945 are of a better structuralquality than anything built today. Only creative architec-tural and engineering expertise are required to make them

functionally modern. This does not mean new construc-tion isn’t called for under appropriate circumstances. If,however, existing buildings are not upgraded first, theycontinue to deteriorate and lose value. Eventually, onlynew construction occurs. Existing buildings deterioratefurther and eventually are demolished. This happensslowly but surely, building by building, block by block.The historic character is inevitably diminished, if not lostentirely. The replacement is never as rich as the original.

CLEAN AIR ACTION GROUP, ACTIVEIN BUDAPEST ENVIRONMENTAL ANDDEVELOPMENT ISSUESThe Clean Air Action Group (CAAG), the leadingcoalition in Central Eastern Europe devoted to trans-portation and sprawl-related issues, started 12 yearsago out of concern for air pollution levels. After asurvey had demonstrated that 90 percent of kindergar-ten kids had a high concentration of lead, CAAGconcentrated mainly on transportation issues. Thehigh level of lead in the air is due to vehicular traffic.The number of cars keeps growing, but occasionalvictories do occur. A big victory was keeping a plannedroad out of an important Budapest park, Hamzsabégi,a mecca for families with children. CAAG gained a lotof press attention from the fight.

Considerable understanding and concern is evidentamong CAAG members about the interconnections ofthe urban issues on which they are focused. Vehiculartraffic increase, public transit decrease, public spacediminishment, urban housing deterioration, mall prolif-eration were all part of a discussion relating to the mostobvious challenges they are confronting in Budapest.

With a membership of more than 90 environmentaland community organizations, CAAG has orchestrateda number of achievements in recent years, through itspolicy analysis, public education, grassroots organizingand advocacy work. CAAG has played a constructiveand persistent role in efforts to increase governmentsupport for mass transit and railroads. This work isleading to the reconstruction of the old railway linkbetween Hungary and Slovenia that will improve freightrail connections between Russia, Ukraine and Slovenia’sAdriatic ports. CAAG’s public education and advocacyefforts in the transportation arena has had a big impact,including helping to halt several costly and environmen-tally damaging highway projects.

CAAG is also a model NGO focused on urbandevelopment and is well positioned as a leading voice inthe region to spotlight the destructive impact of urbansprawl on communities of all sizes.

The number of people leaving Budapest for suburbsis accelerating. Not surprising. Urban life is being


nibbled away. No official policies grapple with thecauses. In fact, official policies make things worse.According to CAAG representatives, the current popula-tion is 1.8 million, a loss reportedly49 of 200,000, since1989. Sixty per cent of the car pollution is from out-of-town vehicles. Although there are 15 railway lines,parallel to almost all of the main roads leading to thecity, only a few of them are used for local or suburbantransit. Transit costs are rising at a much higher ratethan inflation. Service is down. The city transit budgetis about one third the 1989 level. The streetcar systemhas old Soviet tracks and equipment that is energyconsuming, inefficient and uncomfortable. In recentyears, several lines were cut and only one new shortextension built on one line. Only a few of the trackshave been upgraded. Some traffic lanes are designated“bus only,” but enforcement is meager. New Hungarianbuses are cleaner but official policies do not encouragemass transit use over cars. The national and city govern-ments each contribute 30 percent of the local transitbudget. Forty percent comes from fares.

Parking AnarchySixteen percent of Budapest residents use a car daily.Unofficial, free parking is everywhere, wherever some-one can fit a car without using a parking facility thatcosts money. CAAG has been fighting for parking feesfor years, but the idea of paying for parking generatesuniversal outrage among car owners. (Parking lots thatcharge 5000–7000 forints a month are just aboutempty. People just refuse to spend money on parking.)However, parking anarchy continues to be evidentalmost everywhere, with cars parked on sidewalks,sideways, backwards and at angles.

Eighty percent of the population in central city usemass transit, 60 percent overall when suburbanites arecounted. As more people move out of the city, this ratiowill change. This creates a momentum that feeds on itself.Officials predictably will cite a diminishing population tojustify all sorts of harmful policies which then abet theforces driving more people out. That is the patternelsewhere. No reason exists for it not to be true here.“The car still represents freedom” remains the bottom linein most people’s minds. The consequences are ignored.

SELLING OFF OR TEARING DOWN THE CITYTo illustrate how Budapest’s livability is being officiallyundermined, Erzsebet Beliczay, a CAAG vice presidentand an architect with considerable experience in trans-portation and land-use planning, took me to see apublic school—considered one of the best in the city—

being sold by the city to a bank. CAAG is working withthe parents to prevent the sale. “Not everything which isvaluable should be privatized just for economicalreasons, ” she notes. “If the community has somethingof value, it should remain in the community.”

The city’s rationale is that Budapest’s population isdiminishing. Therefore, five schools could be consoli-dated into four. This accelerates a self-fulfilling prophecy.The more school quality is diminished, the more city lifeis undermined, the more young families leave. The morethey leave, the more justification for shortsighted selloffs.

The school building is a grand 19th centurymansion, comfortably set back from the sidewalk in thecentrally-located 6th district. The school has a pleasantfront yard and rear play area and extraordinary interiordecorative details. Every teacher and student must feelprivileged to be in such a building, a subtle but impor-tant advantage if you want children to feel valued. TheRussian occupying forces used this building for thesecret service but in 1956, it became a school. Thelocation is quite central, with a trolley stop at the corner.This is considered one of the best schools in the city, amotive of many of the families whose kids attend, fornot moving to the suburbs. Twenty percent of thestudents come from other districts, including Roma.The school holds events, including one with a modernRoma band, to call attention to the school sale fight.

Demolishing a Farmers’ MarketAnother site being sold for development is a wonderfulold, three-story active and vibrant market buildingwhose activity spills out onto the adjacent sidewalk. Acouple of dozen farmers sell from street stalls. At the endof the 19th century, when the population of Budapesttripled and the city had its biggest building boom, thegovernment built a network of public markets to enableconsumers to buy directly from farmers and to keepprices low. A few functioning ones remain. This phe-nomenon occurred in both European and Americancities. Few market buildings or public markets are leftanywhere. But in the U.S. and some western Europeancities, vestigial markets, now highly valued, are beingrestored and enjoying new success. Consumer hungerfor fresh produce is universal, especially in areas where ithas been lacking. This Budapest market building,however, will be demolished to make way for a super-market. And while a few seasonal stalls, the city prom-ises, will be retained on the street, no fresh vegetableshops will be left in the district. One can be sure thatthe supermarket produce will not be similarly fresh.

Understandably but unfortunately, so many CentralEuropeans are overjoyed just to have supermarkets. Whata privilege after so many years of little choice and meager49 Most of this information is based on CAAG figures.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 67

quality. Regional farmers, however, offer a product ofhigher quality than supermarkets that often import thegoods from a great distance. The high-quality producethat only comes direct from farmers might disappearbefore the consumers realize what they’re missing.

E-MISSION ASSOCIATIONE-Mission is an organization started by students andfocused on environmental decline and sprawl. It is basedin Nyiregyháza, a city of 120,000 persons, 240 km fromBudapest, three hours by car or train. Tamás Cselöszki,director of E-Mission, works with CAAG.

In 1987, a teacher established a summer camp forstudents to study nature, energy conservation, bird watching,and to spur environmental awareness. E-Mission is anoutgrowth of the camp which sponsors an environmen-tal education program to train teachers, as well asstudents. Efforts include advocacy of sustainabledevelopment and citizen participation in the localgovernmental process.

E-Mission fights the proliferation of shoppingcenters since they cause economic decline in thisnortheast region of Hungary (Szabolcs-Szatmár) whichhas one of the highest rates of unemployment andlowest rates of income. Many foreigners, especiallyRomanians, come to the region from the east to shop.Four foreign-owned centers of 15–20,000 square metersfilled with low-priced chain stores targeting differentgroups already exist. The centers are not big but cumu-latively have vacuumed out a lot of economic life fromlocal centers. One additional shopping center, andapparently only one, has local businesses. All reportedlyare below profit expectations.

After 1989, many people without the money orexpertise started mostly selling food and beverages intheir garages. Some sell second-hand clothes. Manysurvive though government support for local businessesdoes not exist. A 1988 study suggests the need of helpfor locals to enable them to compete. Some toy andfood businesses seem strong enough to survive. E-Mission is working to start a cooperative purchasingprogram to help small businesses buy at discountscomparable to high-volume chains.

The shopping center conflict was the first to set E-Mission at loggerheads with the municipality, according toTamás Cselöszki. The organization was criticizing theregional investment policy, primarily selling municipally-owned land to foreign shopping-center developers, anddemanded participation in decision-making. At first, themunicipality refused to budge, saying that only suchregulations that pertained to construction laws andzoning would be respected. This seems to be the attitudein much of Central Europe. Throughout Central Europe,

zoning laws seem to focus only on such limited matters assetbacks, height, safety and, maybe, traffic. The moresignificant issues, like environmental and economicimpact that relate to the long-term erosion of existingcommunities and economies, don’t hold much weight.

In spring 1998, E-Mission representatives werefinally permitted to attend Council meetings. Activeprotests occurred in the summer of 1999. That fall,serious negotiations between the organization and themunicipality occurred resulting in a promise by thegovernment in December of 1999 that no new saleswould be consummated. Also, E-Mission succeeded ingaining minor modifications in the design of one centerto diminish negative impacts on adjacent residential areas.This was an important victory. Yet, a better designedharmful project is just that, a better designed harmfulproject. The municipality has acknowledged the right ofcitizen involvement in local decisions, a big step, but onlytime will tell if the commitment is fulfilled.

E-Mission hopes to raise these issues in the nextlocal elections in 2002.

It is interesting to note that the broad efforts ofboth CAAG and E-Mission are actively supported bythe Hungarian Environmental Partnership. This group,more than the other three Partnership Offices, seemsmore aware of and focused on sprawl, the exodus to thesuburbs from Budapest, and deteriorating conditions inBudapest that exacerbate this trend. What happens inBudapest will have enormous economic, social andpolitical impact on the future of Hungary. The condi-tions in Budapest parallel other cities and should be animportant alert to citizens and officials elsewhere.

THE AMBER TRAIL/HUNGARYThe Amber Trail, the cross-border program linkingCracow to Budapest through Slovakia, is so far leastdeveloped in Hungary. In the region where local trailconnections should be made, few appropriate commu-nity-based partners have been identified. The conditionsstalling Amber Trail development are quite fascinating.

Hungarian Partnership Director Zsuzsa Foltányi saysof Partnership activities in the region north of Budapestto the Hungarian border, “We’re seen not as outsidecatalysts” of positive change but “just outsiders fromBudapest and not of the community.” These parochialcommunities are close to the capital, but their socialdevelopment has been very different. There is a traditionof “very radical environmentalism and Communistcommunity developers. Community Centers in villageswere run to keep people quiet. We are seen as Budapest-based and arrogant. We’re unable to bring togetherdifferent wings to understand common problems.”


Furthermore, Hungarian tourists gravitate towestern Hungary around Lake Balaton, the largest lakein Central Eastern Europe, or northern Slovakia in themountains, two especially beautiful areas. It does not yetoccur to many tourists to venture east instead. Theundeveloped nature of the region should be of greatappeal to tourists, but promoting tourism here is a newidea. Techniques to stimulate local economic develop-ment are unfamiliar. “The Amber Trail is the bestmarketing tool,” Foltányi says, but asks, “Are we best asmovement developer? This marketing activity is notwithin our scope.”

None of the four Partnerships, in fact, have market-ing skills but have finally begun to realize they need them.

The entire Amber Trail Greenway developmentemerged slowly due to the lack of face-to-face exchangesamong staffers of the three Partnerships. Eventually,some foreign trips of staff members to the CzechGreenway and Ireland, were real eye-openers. “Webegan to understand the vision,” says Foltányi.

Foltányi adds: “Ours are not written cultures.People believe something when they see it. We need tofind coordinators among opinion leaders, whoever theyare, i.e. priests, mayors, anybody, and we need morecooperation among them. We’re not willing to exagger-ate or overemphasize democracy in order to create localneed. First we need an organizational infrastructure.We’re now thinking to start with teachers working withlocal curriculum.” This comment is particularly interest-ing in light of the Szentendre example to be describedand the Greenworks frog program in Rytro, Poland,started by a teacher and described earlier. Both projectswere started and led by teachers.

ESZTERGOMThe Amber Trail should go through both Esztergomand Szentendre. These two old, intact communities areextremely appealing as tourist attractions and alreadyhave citizen-based activity underway. There is a naturalfit between Amber Trail objectives and the work of thecommunity organizations.

Esztergom grew up around a cathedral, the thirdlargest classical cathedral in Europe. The cathedral wasbuilt in the mid-19th century on ground devastated byTurkish invasions. Communism made few inroads herebecause of the strength of the church. Thus, Esztergomremained a small city, and no large-scale Socialisthousing or heavy industry was built here. Winds,however, bring heavy pollution from industrial areas.Old thermal baths exist, but there does not seem to beany investment to upgrade or renovate the accommoda-tions. The water levels diminished due to heavy drainingfor mining and will take years to revive.

Under the previous regime, one large complex ofresidential, office and retail units was built on the mainsquare, but a smaller square remains across the road with apost office, town hall, banks and other businesses. Thistraditional square is charming and with appropriate attentioncould function as an important gathering place, a real center.

Many qualities attractive to visitors exist inEsztergom, including the town center and three camp-sites in the hills just outside of town. But Jakab, whoseems to be the city’s chief tourism thinker, was notinclined to take visitors anywhere but to the church. Herecited every last detail, the conventional litany ofstatistics, such as pounds and origin of marble, height ofspaces, size of dome, organ, and so forth. It took thecomment, “I hear you have a beautiful city here thatvisitors should be interested in seeing too,” before wedescended from the hill to the center, walked along thecharming little tributary of the Danube that snakesthrough town and on which a few home-made houseboats are docked, walked some of the quaint streets andended up in the town center with its assortment ofupgraded and not-yet-upgraded buildings. Renovationof a theater on the square was underway, a potential sitefor interesting and lively future events.

The challenge is for the community to combine itsappreciation of the history and architectural value of theplace with a vision of how to incorporate it into strategiesfor positive change and economic growth within thehistorical context. Amber Trail coordinators could helpcommunity activists broaden the local vision to use thetourism appeal to advance sustainable development.


The extraordinary leadership of Edit Kosztolányi at theForest School Foundation in Szentendre is as innovativeand effective as can be. It parallels the dynamic work inSlovakia of Vlasta Körnerová described earlier.

Szentendre is a gem-like Baroque town, with itsquaint buildings and cobblestone streets. Unfortunately,it is overrun by tourists. Local businesses in the centerhave been almost totally displaced by touristy kitsch.The Forest School and the Salamander Association’scitizen-based activity is responsible for what local lifeand character is left.

The school, in the town center, provides after-schoolenvironmental activities for local children. A walkthrough the building reveals a great spirit, energy andlevel of creativity even after the building is empty of

50 Interestingly, a young man from the city government who acts asliaison with community groups joined the interview. His job wascreated after the fall 1998 election, a response of the local govern-ment as a “gesture to show it appreciates civic involvement.”

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 69

students and study. Children’s art is everywhere. All theartwork seems to be made of recycled material. Thesubjects are nature or conservation. Posters and activityinformation are plentiful.

Teachers Start the ProcessThe school is a culmination of an interesting processthat started quite modestly. In 1987–88, 18 publicschool teachers came together (they had 210 studentsamong them) to discuss environmental issues. Theypersuaded the school canteen to stop selling chocolateand to only sell healthy food, like sandwiches. Theypersuaded each school to separate garbage, bought thenecessary containers and organized pick-ups. As volun-teers, they created an environmental curriculum for thepublic schools. One thing led to another, and eventually,a major environmental effort emerged focused onremoving solid waste such as batteries and medicalrefuse. The town now has a full waste collection system.In achieving all this, the teachers convinced the localgovernment to accept the idea of public participation inplanning and implementing government programs. Acivic coalition, the Salamander Association, was soonorganized and is increasingly involved in city planningand environmental control.

In 1992, the school was founded to fill a demandfrom students and parents, says Edit Kosztolányi. Theschool requirement that students participate in civicimprovement projects ends at age l4. Students wantedto continue beyond this but with an environmentalfocus. They enjoyed joint activities, collecting scrap,cleaning the forest and town, walking in the hills toplant trees, learning about nature conservation, collect-ing dead batteries, monitoring city services.

Solid waste seems to be the environmental issue onwhich the Salamander Association is most focused. Theyadvocate garbage removal fees and tax relief for shopsselling deposit bottles. Edit points out that Hungary lagsbehind western Europe in waste collection standards.They are a founding member of a 25-member nationallobbying group, the Waste Working Group, one of thestrongest national lobby networks. Since 1990, anational waste management law has been in preparation.The local government resisted requiring garbage separa-tion and establishing a designated waste yard. Theseconcepts are slow to emerge, even with money in thebudget. No landfill is allowed in or around the citybecause it is a natural biosphere.

“I love going back to successes,” says Edit. Shedoesn’t let failures defeat her. “If something doesn’twork, we move on.”

In the 1980s, some of the early teacher participants,including Kosztolányi, had tried to stop a major road

coming through town. They lost, and the road unfortu-nately divides the town. But when McDonald’s tried tocome, the story was different. Edit enjoys telling this story:

“I was a teacher in a local school and by chance I sawon the principal’s desk a letter from the city govern-ment to get kids to sign a petition saying they wantedMcDonald’s. The letter had gone to all the schools.We called a public meeting. We expected 10–30 and40 showed up. We wrote the local governmentopposing this and contacted national organizationsfor support.

“We already had 54 eateries in town. We already had awaste crisis and didn’t want one more waste producer.And McDonald’s is modern and alien for a baroquecity. We circulated our own petitions but we gavepeople a true choice. The children carried the petitionsto restaurant owners and to the market place whereMcDonald’s wanted to locate. While children weredoing this, we convinced the city council to vote againstit. That land is owned by the city and could be sold.”

At the time, there were no privately owned restau-rants. Other communities are facing the same problemand are learning from the experience in Szentendre.“Times have changed,” Edit notes. “Now, we’re on theinternet and city representatives can read citizen opin-ions in this new way.”

Cleaning the StreamAnother very impressive long-term project is the clean-up of Bükkös, a stream that runs through the city whichin the late 1970s paved the banks and effectively killedeverything along one stretch where fishing used to takeplace. By the 1980s, the fish had vanished. Waste waterpoured in. One kind of bird that feeds on small fishdisappeared. Over time, the vegetation overgrew muchof the cement. The Forest School Foundation used it asan educational site for children to learn about both theenvironmental conditions and how to affect change.The students took photographs in front of houses of thetrash that was ending up in the stream. They testedwater quality. They published the photographs and testresults in the newspaper. This brought public attentionto the situation. They advocated allowing the cementedstream banks to disintegrate and cleaning up and leavingnatural the untouched stretch. They succeeded on allfronts and beyond. Public clean-up days are now sched-uled with government supplying the tools and bags.Collection days are established. Only one dischargepoint remains, and that building has been identified andrequired to connect to the sewer system. A bio-indicatorcrab has returned to the stream. A delightful small parkhas been created at the bridge equipped with bike racksand childrens’ play equipment. A pub has opened acrossthe street.


The students who worked on this project have goneon to become a research biologist, a school official, acivic activist involved in health protection, a communityhistorian and oral history recorder. All, Edit says, haverealized how important the built environment is, alongwith the natural. “I never realized Szentendre was sobeautiful,” one of them told her.

The Salamander Association, The Forest SchoolFoundation and all the citizen initiatives evident inSzentendre add up to an appropriate final example inthis report of bottom-up, grass-roots activity.

Szentendre, as has been illustrated by projects through-out this report, is the site of a rich assortment of localcitizen energy so necessary for the regeneration of localplaces, development of civil society and strengthening ofa newly democratic nation.

What is most remarkable about all the communitiesand civic organizations presented here is that so manymore like them exist in all four countries. We hope thisreport will accelerate the recognition of their individualand combined strengths and make clear how importantcontinued support is.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 71

Poland, more independent under the Communistregime and alone among the former Soviet bloc, nevercollectivized its agriculture, leaving most of its sixmillion farms smaller than 50 acres. Without thecooperative ownership tangle, Poland was quicker toremove restrictions about private business and develop-ment and is now witnessing unbridled suburbandevelopment. Individually and in groups, houses areappearing all over the landscape. In the middle of theirland, for example, some Poles are building houseswithout requisite infrastructure—a road, plumbing,electricity, running water. Extra-deep wells, leaky septictanks, coal or wood-burning heating systems havenegative environmental impacts. Providing the infra-structure to avoid these impacts would only legitimizethe sprawl. Instead, land use regulations should providefor compact development and preclude sprawl.51

Regulations are minimal. The laissez-faire atti-tude—“the free market will take care of things”—disguises the intractable and inevitable problems that lieahead. As the hillsides, open spaces and incomparablevistas disappear, so will the reason that people want tolocate in these places in the first place.

Czech and Slovak cooperative farms greatly alteredthe landscape by eliminating small fields, taking outallees of trees and sometimes ruining the soil. But theydid not build in the landscape, and great vistas remain.Czech and Slovak co-ops are so difficult now to disas-semble, chop up and return to private ownership thatthe random suburban development with houses in themiddle of fields witnessed in Poland does not appear inthe Czech and Slovak Republics. Instead, as has beenshown, some Czechs and Slovaks are now trying to savethe fields and meadows created by the co-oping of theland, while restoring the diversified agriculture of pre-Communist times.

Czech and Slovak intellectuals and traditions werehighly valued before 1989 because intellectuals weredriven underground and traditions suppressed.Forbidden fruit. Following the revolution they werecelebrated and openly revered. Kafka, Dvor]ák, Kundera,and Klíma were the national heroes. Sports heroes, likeMartina Navrátilová, Dominik Has ]ek and Ivan Lendlwere on as high a pedestal as authors and poets, not anoverarching one. After 10 years, however, this is chang-ing. With capitalism and consumerism, western televi-sion, film and music are now in the ascendancy.National literary heroes, theater and film have lostaudience share.52

Unwittingly, the former regime preserved traditionaltowns and villages by drawing people out of thosecenters and moving them into high-rise housing blocsconsidered quite modern at the time of their construc-tion. The towns, villages and cities ignored or over-looked in this process were not thus “modernized” or“renewed” out of existence. They exist intact now, ripefor renewal of the most productive kind. These placesare probably the region’s greatest undervalued asset onwhich to rebuild. The West lost so many of theseappealing and livable communities during the pave-overplanning years. The West is now trying to recreate justthese kinds of places.

This is about preservation of living, functionalplaces in which historic buildings happen to predomi-nate. Thinking about preservation in this manner is notcommon in Central Europe. For that matter, it is notcommon in the West either, but in the West it is rapidlybecoming more so. Historic preservation in much ofCentral Europe is considered elitist, appropriate forcastles but not understood for its potential for vernacu-lar buildings and whole towns as organic communities.

51 Two erroneous notions have an impact here. One is the belief in theabsolute right to do what one wants with his land. The other is abelief that a property owner building in the middle of his land todayis in the tradition of the landed gentry. The parallel between the pre-modern, 18th century tradition of the landed gentry living on estatesthe size of villages and the suburban housing today in the era of theautomobile is ludicrous. A useful rationalization at best.

G E N E R A L O B S E R V AT I O N SContradictions and Paradoxes of the Legacy of Communism

52 In some quarters, this seems to be changing again. Peter S. Green,Eastern European correspondent for the International HeraldTribune, wrote an article entitled “Politics and Czech Art: The PartyIsn’t Over” in The New York Times (Sunday, May 21, 2000). Noting anumber of exhibits, Green wrote: “…political art seems to bemaking a comeback in the Czech Republic, largely because the newgovernment has failed to deliver on promises of creating a prosperouscountry on the cinders of Communism.”


In Poland, building big new homes was a rareexpression of individual success and status permittedunder Communism. One of the first things people didwhen they could afford to was to tear down theirwooden houses and rebuild in stucco. This is still true.Building as big a house as possible has long been aprimary status symbol—even if one did not need thespace. An empty third floor of a house is, apparently,not uncommon. Before the revolution, it was politicallyokay to have what would seem to be a capitalist luxury,the big house. This was also a way to hide money fromthe tax assessor who raised your taxes if you bought a carbut not if you built a bigger house. One only neededenough money to buy building supplies, since everyonebuilt his own house. This point gains importance for thevarious historic preservation projects that have emergedthroughout the region focused on wooden houses.Additionally, we were told in Slovakia that you areconsidered poor if you still live in the house you built,even if it is stucco and reasonably modern. Thus, newsuburban developments have the appeal of beingdeveloper-built. Buying a new development house isconsidered a step up.

Some traditions that predate the Soviet era were takenover for new authoritarian purposes but survived toreturn to former civic uses. Loudspeaker systems, forexample, visible in so many Slovak and some Czechtowns are an old tradition, were co-opted under theformer regime and are once again well-used by democraticmayors for weekly announcements of local happenings.Announcements were always part of village communica-tion in the region. As Mirek Kundrata points out, “Weused to have the special function of the ‘drummer’ and‘night watcher’ whose role was announcing news forcenturies. Modern age brought radio and loudspeakersto most villages and towns in the 1960s. Of course theywere used for the Communist agenda but also forcongratulations to citizens for birthdays and for an-nouncing important and practical news.” Today, theloudspeakers keep people connected and informed andserve as a local newspaper. Information includes when

the visiting doctor is coming, what new opportunitiesexist, who is selling a tractor and who’s celebrating abirthday—all important community stuff!!! Thesignificance of this seemingly inconsequential patterncannot be overestimated. Broad communication is afundamental ingredient of a democracy. With thehistoric absence or recent demise of newspapers incommunities around the globe, communication issometimes quite rare. The Internet has the potential tobroaden the possibilities, but it is a distant opportunityin many places. Ironically, in the New York State villageof Castleton, volunteers serve as runners—one of theoldest vehicles of communication but only recentlyintroduced here—to place public notices under thedoorways of all residents. Many old fashioned mecha-nisms can serve modern needs.

Throughout the region, longstanding tensions seem toexist between populations living adjacent to or nearnational parks. Several reasons help explain this. First,citizens living near parks still do not appreciate theimportance and benefit to their local economy of eco-tourism. The potential is misunderstood. Economicbenefits and jobs are primarily, if not solely, still associ-ated only with the factory or the farm. Second, amisunderstanding prevails about buffer zones, thedesignated land surrounding national parks. Whilebuffer zones allow property owners to do most, if notall, of the things they want to do, a lack of trust persists.Park officials are still government regulators. Sometimesthey can be as dictatorial now as they were under theformer regime. In fact, some of them hold the same jobnow that they did under the Communists. Third, thedependency syndrome interferes with the emergenceand growth of entrepreneurism. Not many propertyowners recognize the entrepreneurial opportunitiesoffered by owning seven hectares of land. Many eco-nomic uses are compatible even with buffer zones thatare not thought about. This challenge is being addressedby many of the programs included herein. As successfulexamples gain attention, new ideas should catch on.

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 73

central bureaucratic control, unenforced rules of law,weak banking laws that facilitate money laundering andquestionable real estate development, overwhelminginfluence of big, mostly foreign money, absence ofadequate conflict-of-interest rules for government andbanking officials, and international control persist.Equally damaging is the willingness of municipal anddistrict governments to sell land and give zoningvariances without proper assessment of economic, social,financial and environmental consequences and mort-gage policies that favor new construction in suburbanareas over rehabilitation of existing buildings. Meaning-ful access to public information, full disclosure laws,government policy-making with genuine public partici-pation, uncorrupted development approval and buildingpermit processes, environmentally sound transportationpolices and sustainable development policies, in largemeasure, are not in place. If fundamental change does notoccur, the future is bleak.

Given these realities, the fundamental values ofdemocratic society are endangered.

The long-term impact of current trends is grim.Accelerating car dependency, diminished public transitand increased highway capacity guarantee worsening airpollution, destruction of cherished landscapes andcultural heritage, community dispersal and inescapableWestern-style sprawl. Under the former regime, a thicksmog, hung over the region’s cities created by theubiquitous coal furnaces and industry smokestacks.Today vehicular exhaust is rapidly replacing the indus-trial smog and traffic is clogging city streets. Proliferat-ing malls and overcapacity of retail stores guaranteemore severe destabilization of small and large down-towns, increased foreign ownership and control andcrippling of local economies. The tyranny of sprawl isquickly taking over. Dependency on high-tech, capital-intensive infrastructure solutions guarantees unwar-ranted financial burdens on local public budgets andenvironmentally unsound public projects. The profitwill be distant but the cost will remain local.

Progress does not have to come at such costs.The future is filled with choices. It is an insidious but

Change is inevitable. Positive change is not. Change canbe shaped. The real question and primary challenge iswho will shape that change? Will it be foreign retailchains, whose narrow corporate interests have little to dowith building healthy communities? Will it be suburbandevelopers or home builders whose sole interest isbuilding and selling new homes, not in preserving orrebuilding community? Will it be the traffic engineerswho are more concerned with speedily moving cars andtrucks than efficiently, environmentally and costeffectively moving people and goods? Will it be thebanks and suppliers primarily interested in big deals?Will it be real estate investors whose primary interest isto build what is easiest, cheapest and most efficient forthem? The harshest question is, perhaps, whetherCommunist Central Planning will be replaced byanother form of Central Planning, this one shaped byinternational corporations and institutional forces. Or,in fact, will the task primarily rest with the people incities and towns of all sizes whose lives will feel thegreatest impact and on whom the future of each countrydepends? A fundamental question, however, is critical tothe answer to all these questions: Can a genuine rule oflaw take hold to insure that governmental decisions arenot made on the basis of cronyism and corruption?

One concludes from the evidence presented in thisreport that appropriately sized, participatory develop-ment is occurring with significant impacts throughoutthe four countries. This can not be captured in bigphotographs and macro-statistics. Impressive citizeninvolvement exists throughout the four-country regionwith significant cumulative impact. The civic initiativesdetailed in this report blaze a hopeful trail for the future ofthe region, if they are really heeded and nurtured. Howwell the civic initiatives detailed in this report are heededand nurtured will make the difference. This is probablythe most hopeful conclusion of this report and the bestnews coming out of the region.

Another conclusion is that the region’s well-publi-cized progress and growing prosperity mask fundamen-tal problems either not being seriously addressed orbeing given deceptive lip service. Top-down planning,



persistent myth that all this is part of progress andchange. The successes presented herein demonstrate theuntruth of the myth.

A democratic nation and civil society depend firstand foremost on public process, civic engagementthrough which citizens are genuinely involved ingovernment decision-making. The first and probablymost important thing that can be said about the projectsand organizations included in this report is that theyhave produced an enormous amount of that essentialpublic participation.

Most significantly, all of these activities represent amulti-disciplinary approach which overcomes thedestructive limitations of conventional planning. Natureprotection, environmental cleanup, historic restoration,cultural preservation, economic innovation, sensitivetourism, sustainable development, all or most of thesevalues are combined in almost every project.

Small Steps, Big ImpactFrom the Greenworks Project in Rytro, Poland, to theZawoja Project of the Polish Ecological Club. From theA-Projekt questionnaire to the Listening Project inSlovakia. From SOS Prague to Nadace Via’s multipleinvolvements throughout the Czech Republic to theGreenway’s Southern Moravian Wine Trail. From theClean Air Action Group in Budapest to the SalamanderAssociation in Szentendre. From the cross-border lessonlearning and lesson sharing of the four Partnerships tothe forging of productive connections among smallcommunities along the nascent Amber Trail. All repre-sent the high degree of public participation that onlyemerges from grass-roots efforts. The enormous impactof connections and of collaboration among people,communities and the Partnerships themselves—is mostclear.

The amount of public participation generated bythe NGO sector covered by this report contrasts sharplywith lack of the same among the four national govern-ments. Citizens are excluded from formulation ofpolicies and plans. Meaningful disclosure regulationsand public information process are still not in place.Citizens do not have access to the basic informationneeded to make informed decisions.

In addition to the public process initiated by thediverse community-based efforts is a broader democraticinvolvement in specific issues. For example, a forum onflood control—following the devastating floods of1997—organized by the Czech Partnership in conjunc-tion with the USIS was the first time that flood controlwas discussed among a broad section of Czech society.The forum provided the opportunity as well to touchon broader water management problems. To examine

such issues, as well as many similarly significant ones,outside of the narrow circles of the specialists is a greatachievement, a genuinely democratizing force.

Workshops and public forums organized by thePolish Ecological Club for the Zawoja Project, anotherexample, brought together for the first time local peopleand National Park representatives, longtime combatants,to discuss the historic problems and conflicts betweenthem. To openly discuss long-term festering conflicts isthe first step to accommodation and resolution, amilestone for democratic participation.

Confronting Difficult ChallengesOf cross-border significance are the varied Polish andSlovak communities forcing debate of the proposal for afuture winter Olympics in the High Tatra Mountains.The Olympics is the highest impact development issuein that two-country region. Educating the public andinitiating debate at an early stage gives hope that somekind of public involvement in the decision will happen.

In considering the specifics of the individual effortspresented here, one cannot help but marvel at therichness, the endless innovation, and the enormouspotential of each effort no matter how small.

The citizen effort, for example, to minimize displace-ment of existing residents in Cracow’s rejuvenatingKazimierz District is significant. The real estate marketeverywhere can be ruthless in its impact on longtimeresidents. The issues apparent in Kazimierz have parallelsin each country and, in fact, in cities around the globe.Rarely, if ever, is displacement addressed at all or success-fully minimized without an aggressive grass-roots effort.

Nowa Huta also offers a generic lesson in urbanchallenges. Factory towns with an oversized, pollutingfacility either closed down or diminished in scale andworkforce dot the region. Quite a few places in CentralEurope were built from scratch or fundamentallytransformed in the 1950s by big industrial projects.Now, they have large populations, collapsing, partially-privatized, obsolete industrial assets and—as is the fateof one-company towns—very high unemployment.Many of these plants are inherently inefficient and havebeen or are being downsized or privatized. But solidcommunities have grown up around them and needhelp finding a future based on a community-generatedvision. The array of measures occurring in Nowa Hutahave more of a chance of achieving broad improvementsthan any single large-scale policy and can serve as oneuseful model.

The flood control, sewage treatment schemes andlandscape reclamation efforts are all innovative strategiesfor region-wide problems. The several Slovak commu-nity revitalization schemes developed for historic

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 75

preservation are significant new models for CentralEurope. The National Trust of Slovakia plan for theFrantis ]ek Iron Works and its work in the wooden housevillage of Podbiel are particularly important as morecommunities are motivated to preserve their ownhistory in a structural way. As more communitiesrecognize the threat to their cultural heritage andhistoric landscapes caused by out-of-control sprawl,citizen-led preservation efforts will become more urgent.

The A-Projekt’s evolution from restoration of onewooden house to a regional strategy for sustainabledevelopment shows clearly how small local initiativescan have sizable impacts. The various efforts to revitalizeBanská S ]tiavnica highlight the new young, energeticpeople ready to commit themselves to meaningfulrejuvenation efforts even in the face of government andbureaucratic resistance. “Center Pioneers” are evident inmany localities in all four countries. The SlavoniceRenaissance Association’s rebuilding of communitythrough the arts introduces a strategy successfullyapplied in many Western communities and uniquelysuited for historic towns throughout the four-countryregion, even though the appeal of each town will bedifferent from the rich assortment of sgraffito-embel-lished buildings of this small Czech town. The Roz ]mberkSociety reflects a growing interest in Jewish Heritage bynon-Jews increasingly aware that a significant thread ofnational history was destroyed in the holocaust.Kosenka’s effort to restore the southern Moravianworking landscape and Veronica’s reintroduction of fruitorchards and dried fruit tradition in the same Moravianregion are both high impact models applicable all overCentral and Eastern Europe. These are all innovativeprograms with significant economic implications. TheClean Air Action Group’s advocacy work in Budapest,the City Preservation Association in Esztergom and theSalamander Association’s programs in Szentendre areHungarian efforts that illustrate strategies for strength-ening centers necessary for containing sprawl.

The people portrayed in this report are a remarkablegroup of civic leaders of the highest quality and strongestcommitment. Undeniably, they have initiated democraticinvolvement in many ways. They are the catalysts for thepublic process that is building a civil society. On everylevel, the public is involved in new ways, and formerlyhostile interests have been brought together. This groupof individuals must be both nurtured and expanded. Onequestion is: Will their message and missions be over-whelmed by the events occurring around them? Havethey created organizations and relationships strongenough to withstand the global pressures of the EU andinternational institutions? Another question is: Can theycontinue to attract necessary financial support critical to

their continued success? And, most significantly, cangovernments and international institutions learn from thelessons of these successes?

The civic activists introduced here represent astability not customary among public officials. Mayorsand bureaucrats come and go. Elections shape that castof characters. Civic leaders endure, if their activities andmissions do. They cannot survive, however, withoutoutside support and broader recognition. More impor-tantly, domestic support is necessary. And while, to besustainable in the long term, that support must be basedin the local community, current realities dictate thatfinancial assistance must come from outside if thesegroups are to survive.

SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONSAND NEW CHALLENGESThese recommendations and challenges are generally,but not exclusively, directed at past and future founda-tion supporters, organizations covered in this report andothers that are similar but not mentioned, and tointernational financial institutions.

Economically effective, environmentally soundnational policy and international finance strategies arereflected in these recommendations, building on thestrengths already exhibited in the success stories.Entrenched politics and private interests resist them.The effectiveness of the NGO sector can make thedifference.

Promoting Low-Tech Solutions for Public Infra-structure: Many of the communities seeking high-techsolutions do so because they don’t know that cost-effective, environmentally sound alternatives exist andthink generous financing from the national governmentis the only course to follow. The challenge is to bringmore attention and more access to financing for thelow-tech, lower-cost solutions. Such alternatives havethe additional advantage of using local labor andservices and can be implemented more quickly. Severalprojects illustrate beautifully the wisdom of low-techalternatives— the community-based flood controlproject in the Carpathian village of Kicznia, Poland, thenatural water filtration system in the Moravian village ofHos]tetín, Czech Republic, the stream cleanup project ofthe Forest School Foundation in Szentendre, Hungary.

Such projects demonstrate clearly how much betterthese projects are environmentally, financially andcivically than any of the more common big, high-techprojects. But the multiple values represented by thesealternatives are not adequately publicized. If they are to berecognized as a logical alternative to conventional practices,publicizing their success is urgent. It is not clear if


minimum media attention is due to the media missing “agood story” or a minimum public relations effort by theorganizations on their own behalf. It is also not clear if areal depth of understanding about the interconnections ofthe varied issues and the significance of small successesexists among many members of the press.

Promoting Low-Tech Solutions for the TransportSector: Governments want to spend millions on newhighways and new metros when much cheaper improve-ments in the surface public transit systems exist and couldhave an immediate, low-cost impact. Make bus, tram andtrolley lanes exclusive. Upgrade trams for improvedpassenger comfort and higher speed. Increase, rather thandecrease, transit schedules. Decrease, rather than increase,passenger fares. Limit downtown parking and make itexpensive. Improve bicycle lanes and pedestrian access.Dramatically upgrade freight train service to competebetter with rapidly growing truck usage. Each of thesemeasures can improve transit service, give transit acompetitive edge over automobile usage and avoid capitalintensive expenditures that burden public budgets.

Some observers speculate that public transit is notconsidered as urgent an issue as highway buildingbecause Central Europe retains such an elaborate transitnetwork. That is a dangerous view. The intricate web ofpublic transit can erode rapidly and is already doing so.Without major attention to management and capitalinvestment, the velocity of its deterioration will over-whelm all half-measures.

Public transit passengers and pedestrians need tohave a stronger voice in the transportation planning anddecision-making process. They are a majority, but theirneeds are seldom heeded. City planners promote theidea that planning, whether land use or transportation,is too technical for ordinary citizens. This entrenchednotion is nothing short of ridiculous. If common senseis not the basis of any kind of planning, it is invariablywrong and harmful. Users, not planners, are the bestexperts. Planners’ technical knowhow should be usedto implement the vision and choices of citizens, nottheir own. The Clean Air Action Group (CAAG)performs this function to a great extent in Hungary, andTransportation For The 21st Century may evolve toperform this function in the Czech Republic. But moreNGOS need to champion these reforms. They need tounderstand the inextricable link between transit andfarming, center city strength and suburban sprawl,between highways and their indirect costs. The citizenadvocacy on these issues needs to be broadened andstrengthened.

Marketing: Global corporations, mall developers,highway promoters, car manufacturers and internationalretailers succeed through many means. Political influ-

ence and financial chicanery are common assumptions,but much of their success is directly due to mass market-ing, advertising and public relations. Public relations hasbeen developed to the high art of selling an idea, acompany or a person. Multinational and transnationalfinancial corporations are creating a universal culture,making national and regional identities less distinctive.This consortium of big-scale interests has persuadedmuch of the public that their products representprogress, status, democracy, that the negative tradeoffsare a necessary price and that life is better this way.

The strategies and programs represented in thisreport contradict all such assumptions and offer acompletely viable alternative. In reality, these alterna-tives are most often cheaper, quicker, more innovative,more sustainable and more effective at enhancing civiclife. But the marketing, advertising and promotion ofthese alternatives is inadequate or non-existent in theface of the expensive marketing campaigns of conven-tional projects and programs. Too often, in fact, theseefforts are left to sell themselves on the basis of sub-stance and logic, a strategy that is no match for thecompetition. New thinking, new energy and newresources need to be directed at an aggressive marketingcampaign that enlists the skills of the same promotionalindustry that has worked so well for big developmentand big corporations.

Education of the Media: Journalists have no morereason to understand the full complexity of urbandevelopment than citizen activists. Activists, however,often learn, because whatever issue involves them isinextricably related to all others. Journalists, on the otherhand, may not have the background or understandingnecessary to critique and scrutinize the government andbusiness policies they write about. Workshops, forums,study tours and other mechanisms need to focus onmembers of the press, if the public is ever going to reador hear about alternative choices.

Small Business and Entrepreneurial Training:Big so-called economic development projects are alwayspromoted as creating jobs. Less importance seems to beplaced on promoting and encouraging innovativeentrepreneurs. Merchants in all four countries facedouble jeopardy. They don’t have years of businessexperience to help them survive either outside the mallor as a tenant in the mall. Experienced American andEuropean merchants have trouble with this, and theyare not novices in the business.

In countries where malls have been emerging andgrowing for decades, like the U.S., they are by now astruggling institution. Their dominance is diminishingand many are economically failing as traditional down-towns regain appeal. In Central Europe, however, malls

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 77

have just begun their long cycle. The second generationof malls which get built even further from centers thanthe first, for the most part, are yet to come. But comethey will, more and more, unless Central Europeanpolicy-makers choose to follow the example of someWestern European countries, like Great Britain andDenmark. Those countries protect both city centers andex-urban greenfields, instead of following the land-wasting and community-destroying policies of the U.S.Without serious policy interventions, new and biggermalls will continue the pattern of drawing from bothexisting malls and established centers, attracting theusual assortment of smaller car-dependent businesses onthe roads between them, the inevitable ingredients ofroadside sprawl. Many consumers, merchants andpublic officials mistakenly believe this is merely aboutfair competition, the free market. Survival, they oftenbelieve, of the small, localized businesses is possible.This is a dangerous misconception.

Many local businesses will not find a place in thenew economy under any circumstances. But manycould survive and compete in new ways. This is unlikelyunless specific programs are introduced to educatemerchants. The programs and technical assistanceneeded by merchants to compete and implementinnovative strategies are not apparent. Advisers and/ortrainers can be brought into communities to work withmerchant groups and individual merchants whereappropriate. Resistance to advice or assistance is com-mon among local merchants worldwide. Often, thisleads to their eventual demise. But many are open tonew ideas and changing strategies. The opportunity tolearn new ways must be made available to them. Theycould be the reinventors of independent businesses andthe initiators of significant new ones. Programs tonurture this process are strongly recommended.

Parallel to this is the need for entrepreneurial accessto small amounts of capital, the kind necessary for newbusinesses to start or existing businesses to grow. Some ofthis exists. The research for this report did not scrutinizethe adequacy or efficacy of existing programs. A surveyand/or study of existing efforts is needed to reveal futureneeds. The availability of big capital for big, oftenirresponsible, retail and development projects is clear. Butthe availability of the kind of modest capital that nurturesinnovation and modest efforts is not apparent. Bigfinancial institutions, both national and international, payminimal attention to this area and in fact are not the rightones to manage the needed programs. Such institutionsshould consider establishing loan funds for this purposeto be administered by not-for-profit organizationsexperienced in this work whose understanding of theissues, communities and people cannot be replicated by

conventional lenders. This resource should be developedas close to the locality as possible.

In general, small business interests are weaklyorganized. Organizing them politically to preventfurther unfair tax privileges being granted to largeshopping malls is overdue.

Advocacy Capacity Building: Many NGOs have aproven ability to raise awareness, bring in experts,organize lectures and produce educational publications.The kind of grass-roots action that achieves fundamen-tal change, however, requires campaign strategizing andvigorous civic activism. Grassroots and policy-orientedorganizations throughout Central Eastern Europe needto improve, coordinate and expand their efforts toaddress the complicated mix of sprawl-related issues.

A new initiative launched by the New York-basedInstitute for Transportation and Development Policy(ITDP) has the potential to go a long way in this direc-tion. Working mainly behind the scenes for more thanfive years in Central Europe, ITDP has helped localgroups improve their economic and financial analyses,open dialogues with national government officials andbusiness people and build local advocacy. It has producedexcellent research on how inadequate conflict-of-interestrules, banking regulations and real estate codes havefacilitated sprawl and encouraged inappropriate invest-ments in transportation and land-use.

In the next three years, ITDP will assist in develop-ing sprawl-related campaigns in Budapest, Warsaw,Lodz, Cracow and Prague, help develop and publicizecase studies on the impacts of sprawl, hold region-wideworkshops and continue technical assistance to localgroups promoting transportation reform. This effortshould go a long way in assisting NGOs to take theseissues to the next step.

Review and Revise Local Zoning Codes: An urgentneed is apparent to review local zoning provisions, tounderstand how they encourage sprawl and to spotlighthow they are administered. Considering the kind ofdevelopment possible under many zoning codes andconsidering how easy it is to overcome sensible restric-tions, zoning codes are at best ill-considered and weakand at worst an obvious joke. This should be done bypeople experienced in traditional town planning that isnot car-based.

Develop a Farmers’ Markets Movement: Farmers’markets historically the world over have served as greateconomic and civic rejuvenators. Central and EasternEurope used to be filled with agriculturally rich andproductive areas. Reestablishing farmers’ markets inmany of the town squares in which they once func-tioned could go a long way to stimulate productive local


economic activity and sustainable development. Experi-enced farmers’ markets experts are available.

Farmers’ markets are the best mechanism to encour-age organic farming and preserve small farms. Marketsoffer farmers an opportunity to sell directly to consum-ers and eliminate mark-up by the middle-man, increas-ing the farmer’s profit. In addition to fruits andvegetables, other local products, including wine, spe-cialty foods like honey and jellies and crafts can be soldat such markets. Where traditional farmers’ marketsexist, they should be modernized and vigorouslypromoted.

All four countries could benefit greatly from a majorproliferation of farmers’ markets. This would have particu-lar significance for Poland where under the former regimeagriculture was about 80 percent private, and those smallfarmers are particularly endangered by imports.

Establish an Organizational Equivalent to the U.S.Natural Resource Defense Council: Impressive natureand environment protection laws exist but need to bestrengthened and enforced. Protection laws—for nature,environment and heritage—need to be promoted fortheir positive values instead of spotlighted for theirnegative limitations. An organization similar to theNatural Resources Defense Council in the U.S., focusedon air and water pollution with the ability to sue, isneeded in each country. Some efforts along these linesexist. Coordination among them is needed. Some effortsshould be expanded and new ones started where appro-priate. This was obvious in the Ruz ]omberok, Slovakia,story where an appropriate legal challenge could createan important new precedent nationally for factoryemission standards. A survey of existing environmentalorganizations with the capacity to sue is a needed firststep.

Land Trusts are still a recent concept for CentralEastern Europe. The Quebec-Labrador Foundation hasdone a good job educating people from the region abouttheir value and their application. This work needs to beexpanded. And while other legal mechanisms exist toconserve and preserve land, encouraging increased use ofland trusts seems the prudent thing to do rather thanintroduce new strategies. Land Trusts are not intendedto be a substitute for solid, long-term, smart-growthstrategies, but should be part of them. It must be noted,however, that these countries have some very impressiveNational Parks administrations and conservation andprotection laws which Western countries would also dowell to pay attention to.

Smart Growth is a term recently introduced into theU.S. to encompass the array of positive policies thatstrengthen existing communities before permittingdevelopment of new ones, invest in existing housing

stock before encouraging construction of replacements,reinforce pedestrian and transit-based localities andavoid car-dependent ones and minimize the dramaticerosion of open space that has been occurring fordecades. Preserving open space, however, is only part ofa smart growth strategy. Strengthening existing centers,maintaining the traditional mix of residential, commer-cial, institutional and entertainment uses, protecting thedensity of uses and avoiding suburbanization of the coreare all crucial to smart growth policies. This is notwidely understood. In the U.S., for example, as well asin CEE, suburban housing developments are replacingtraditional density in urban neighborhoods. Withoutdensity, local retail, viable transit, neighborhood schoolsand pedestrian activity are impossible. Attention needsto be paid to understanding these issues on the part ofNGOs, government officials and the media.

Endowments for NGOS is an idea whose time hascome. All types of grant-giving organizations shouldconsider initiating such funds to help establish a levelplaying field for the array of diverse but modest scaleefforts. A real danger exists that they could receive andbecome dependent on funding from the corporateinterests they should be watch-dogging. Withoutfinancial security, this could undermine the validity oftheir work.

A lot of the work reported here was informed andenriched by people in Ireland, Denmark, Great Britain,The Netherlands and the U.S. Regular travel and expertexchanges with foreign counterparts has alreadyoccurred but should expand as much as possible. Theseare valuable educational and eye-opening experiences.Investing in people is the foundation of all thesesuccesses. Study tours, especially to Western Europe, arevery useful. Tours to the U.S. can be problematic unlessthe right assortment of non-mainstream, genuinelygrass-roots organizations are involved. Seeing first handthe good and bad experiences outside the community isthe best form of education.

The Czech Greenway and Amber Trail should be asmuch about a trail of ideas circulating among itscommunities as it is about a physical trail. More atten-tion should be paid to the larger context of appropriatedevelopment and change. Activities within or amongthe communities need to emphasize long-term commu-nity values and goals and not just the short-term gain ofincreased tourism. The Czech Greenway and AmberTrail are potentially great opportunities to stimulatesustainable development policies.

Multiple levels of value can be found in the CzechGreenway and Amber Trail efforts. They are justbeginning to emerge. Thousands of kilometers of trails,for example, exist throughout the region. They connect

Ten Years of Community Revitalization in Central Europe • 79

large areas and, to some extent, whole countries and, informer regimes, provided a place to go where “the treesdon’t have ears.” The Greenway concept, while attractiveas a tourism stimulant, is growing in appeal as a mecha-nism to unite communities and bring together variouspublic and private groups. The community regenerationaspect of the Greenway concept needs to be moredeveloped.

New Focus on Historic Sites: Before 1989, heritagesites, such as castles, village museums and other land-marks, were not heavily visited by international travel-ers. In recent years, the world has become aware thattourism can be the economy of the future for manycommunities. But, too many are struggling with how tomanage historic sites and develop interpretive program-ming that does justice to both the physical site andarchitecture and the human stories. Introducing some ofthe innovative interpretation techniques developed invarious places in recent years to the Central Europeancountries would be quite useful.

The restoration and reuse of historic buildings inmany areas of the world provide a creative impetus forcommunity revitalization that reflects local characterrather than replacing it. This is a broader view ofhistoric preservation than is often held. Such projectsmost often start modestly, require small capital invest-ment, potentially involve many citizens and helpbroaden the focus of public issues. More informationoutlining successful redevelopment strategies withhistoric preservation as the centerpiece needs to begathered and disseminated.

A final recommendation comes in the form of aplea, a plea for continued and expanded support byprivate foundations, governments and internationalagencies, particularly the European Union. TheRockefeller Brothers Fund, German Marshall Fund,Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and all the otherfoundations supporting the initiatives represented hereover the past 10 years showed enormous wisdom ininvesting in an extraordinary but untested assortment ofpeople and ideas. It was bold, risky and innovative. Thisis no time, however, to cease the effort. A new and insome ways more difficult set of challenges awaits thecivil society of all four countries. Expanded support isnecessary to build on the first 10 years and succeed inthe next decade. The potential value of increased success

goes beyond the four-country borders. The lessons hereare transferable to the beleaguered countries to the eastand west where many mature democracies are lookingfor rejuvenation. This new challenge is unthinkablewithout additional support.

No trend in history lasts forever. Actions bringreaction. The expansion of the global economy intovirtually every phase of human life is bound to repeathistoric patterns and generate a powerful reaction:ordinary citizens will turn to leaders close to home tomediate against the global colossus. The governmentsand civic organizations they will turn to for this purposewill probably be accessible and modest in scale insteadof national in scope. Many of the people and groupscovered in this report fit the requirements of thisreactive trend. The transcendent question is to whatextent they will be in a position to respond to thatinevitable occurrence. Some indications already existthat a reaction to globalization is underway, thatrecognition of the threats to tradition and culturallegacies is growing and that disillusionment with globalconsumerism is spreading. The people and effortsrepresented in this report offer the best alternatives.

The more governments and markets functionglobally, the more people are thinking and acting locally.In Western Europe and North America, neighborhoodties have become more important in recent years.Community-based activity has increased enormously.Local economic and social resources and existingphysical assets are valued in new ways. Traditionalurbanism has been partially incorporated in the NewUrbanism, and historic preservationists are demonstrat-ing worldwide that the inherent value of organicallyevolved communities endures. Regional connectionsmore than international ties are gaining in importancein many areas. The balance to the globalization ofcontrol, whether on the government or corporate level,rests with the kind of people and civic organizationsrepresented here.

The projects represented are small and dispersed,but the change they represent is large and significant.The potential for low-cost, fiscally prudent, democracy-strengthening policies illustrated here is clear. Thefundamental challenge for policy-makers, governmentalagencies, international institutions and private funders isto be open and responsive to the innovative choicesthese successes represent.