Saturday, 21 March 2009

Town Planning and Cesky Krumlov

The ongoing saga of the ducks and the island has reminded me that I have been meaning to blog about town planning in Cesky Krumlov. Regular readers of this blog will know of my concerns about the commercial exploitation of the town at the expense of its heritage and community - if you haven't do check out my post on the Alchemist's house and UNESCO or Not.

Some of you may even know that I work in community development and planning. I am fascinated by the way towns work both practically and spiritually. In my profession I am amazed by how little is taught to town planners on how to study the historical geography of place. Towns do not simply appear, they evolve, they respond to the dynamics of their community and the physical geography of the landscape. The town gains a memory, a grain in the wood, and planners play with that at their peril.

If you look at Cesky Krumlov you will be struck by a number of things. Firstly there is the oxbowing river with two bends so acute that they nearly touch and create an island. This river brings trade and money, its control means power. And so on one side there is the castle built on to a cliff, the second largest in the Czech Republic, its owners richer than the Holy Roman Emperor himself. And spilling down the hill from the river are houses and shops, in the foothills of the castle so to speak, serving the castle.

Across the river there is another force in play – the New Town with its many elaborate merchant houses focusing on the town square. Just as the Castle had its tower as a prominent statement of power, so in the New Town the tower and spire of St Vitus church speak of the power of the church. A dialogue is taking place between earthly and heavenly powers (of castle and church). While around their feet the process of trade and transaction gives the town its life blood.

Water forms boundaries – the river a natural moat and highway. Water also is at the centre of things, as both in the castle's courtyard and in the new town square there are wells and fountains. And under all is the granite rock that forms the cliff on which the castle sits and the building stone for church, castle and merchant home alike. But look close and you will see that the granite cliffs are riddled with holes, where mines have been dug to extract graphite and where water springs from the rocks.

Modern Krumlov is moving away from the old dynamics. The community life that was the life blood of the town is being forced out, evicted by commercial pressures, to the outskirts of the town and in its place come hotels, shops and restaurants catering exclusively for the tourists. Schools, banks and foodshops are being displaced. I understand that some Japanese tourists have been under the mistaken belief that the frontages of the town's buildings are folded away for winter. If this carries on, they might as well might be. But it is even more profound than that – Cesky Krumlov is a place of great power. It has an ability to knock people sideways in a way only a few special places do. I believe that is because of the forces at work in its geography. These forces are more than playthings for people to abuse for self gain. In circumstances such as this I have faith that this extraordinary town will get its own way and it will gather around it and within it people who will ensure that it does.

Which brings me back to the current campaign about the destruction of the island. Both of the photos I have chosen to illustrate the historical dynamics were taken when there were trees on the island. The trees have been lost but there appears to be some hope. In the light of public anger about the issue, the Town Council is holding a special meeting to discuss a compromise. For the latest visit So let us hope that the power of community action is beginning to be felt in Cesky Krumlov.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wrote a (rather lengthy) note to the Tourist Planning site expressing concern re: "preservation" of the natural features as well as architectural beauty of this UNESCO city. It seemed a logical place to which I should express this, as a family interested in making Krumlov a holiday base, with many local friends also having interest in the city. Every wee bit may help---hurrah for community organizing ;-)

And I'd love to get tips from you about which genuinely preserved places in the city would be recommended for holiday accomodation. We do not want to give support to those businesses which have not tried to conserve historic structures but installed mini-bars/cable TV instead! There's a place for that, but not in what we're looking for :-D

Thanks for all your great posts,
Morgan, Oberlin USA


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