reSITE: Planning for Prague’s future

The reSITE festival and conference looks at the city’s urban development, May 21-27

Alex Went

Written by Alex Went Published on 18.05.2012 14:55:15 (updated on 18.05.2012) Reading time: 3 minutes

reSITEConference: May 24-25, 2012, Veletržní palác
reSITE Festival: May 21-27, 2012, National Theater piazza and other locations

What does the city mean to us? How do major urban centers like Prague aspire to meet the challenges and opportunities of life in the 21st century? What can be done with public spaces to improve not only access, but also real value in terms of society, the economy, and the environment? And what benefits are there in a collaborative approach to urban development? These questions and more are at the heart of an international festival and conference to be held in Prague from 21 to 27 May at a number of key venues throughout the city. Over the course of the week, architects, planners, landscape urbanists, and the general public will have the chance to meet, discuss, and participate in a huge array of events intended to shape a response to some of these questions.

All cities depend for their smooth functioning on careful design and planning, and while Prague is rightly admired for its history and heritage, its urban development has been hampered in recent years by inefficiencies, corruption, and a lack of transparency. Now planners are seeking alternative approaches – for example through public-private partnerships – that focus on quality of life and economic growth through sustainable development. In the same spirit, the reSITE festival has been designed as an open cross-disciplinary platform, bringing together everyone with an interest in the future of Prague’s development to share their experiences and ideas.

The festival is the brainchild of American landscape architect Martin Barry, who has been responsible for designing exterior urban spaces across the world, including the India Street Waterfront Park in Brooklyn and the King Abdullah Financial District Urban Plazas in Saudi Arabia. He is joined for the two-day conference at the Veletržní palác (Dukelských hrdinů 47) by Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation; Jan Gehl, Professor Emeritus of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen; Reinier de Graaf of Rotterdam’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and Craig Dykers, principal of Snohetta Architects of Oslo and NYC.

Also addressing the conference will be the celebrated Czech economist Tomáš Sedláček, and Alexandros Washburn, director of Urban Design for the New York City Planning Department. The department was responsible for implementing the celebrated High Line project, a city park converted from a disused 1930s elevated rail line. Prague’s reSITE has a similar interest – the revitalization of the Vltava waterfront between Libeňský bridge and the railroad bridge at Výtoň. In the build-up to the festival, an international competition has been taking place sponsored by construction firm Skanska; and the finalists’ entries will be on display towards the end of the week.

As a way of encouraging public participation, it’s good to see that reSITE is not confined to a single venue. Highlights of the city-wide festival include an ‘Instant Park’ – designed for the Náplavka section of the Rašín embankment (Rašínovo nábřeží) by students from the Czech Faculty of Architecture, which will be open to the public on May 24 and 25, with an accompanying barbecue and party.

In the piazza of the National Theater on Narodní, a spacious bubble pavilion (eccentrically named Rosy the Ballerina) will be open all day long from May 25-27. A cultural venue with community activities, dance, and film screenings, ‘Rosy’ will host a preview of the upcoming United Islands Music Festival (17:00, May 25), a Vltava Riverfront creative workshop at (9:00, May 26) a variety of ‘urban games’ designed by the iSPY performance group to bring entertainment to public spaces, and a Tango social dancing workshop (16:00, May 27).

Several side events will also take place around the city streets, including two architectural heritage bike rides at 10:00 and 13:00 on May 26 starting at the National Theater, and an urban drawing workshop on the same day at 14:00. At 19:00 on May 26, there will be a special screening at Kino Svĕtozor (Vodičkova 41) of the film Urbanized, a new documentary about the design of cities, looking at the issues and strategies behind urban design and featuring some of the world’s foremost architects.

For the full program of events at both the conference and the festival, please visit the official website.

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