5. 3. 2008

Brno - Stepping on to the World Stage

I reckon that if you quizzed everyone on Earth about a city called Brno, approximately 95% would plead ignorance. As residents of Brno we all know this & don't really like this, no matter how hard we justify the benefits of "small is beautiful" in our small circles. The desire for fame in an ever connected world, is not uncommon. You could even argue that branding a city is a necessity. Of course I don't mean doing city branding quite literally like Prostejov in Czech Republic & Bikini-Atoll in France did. Today, most people think of "lots of clothes" when they hear the word Prostejov & most people think of "very few clothes", when they hear the word Bikini. Even the French have forgotten that there exists a city, once famous for its first nuclear blast site, which had merely leant its name to a new piece of swimming clothes.

Some lesser known cities in the world are taking the approach of direct marketing. Poland's second largest city, Lodz now directly advertises on BBC World TV with a cryptic - Would you in Lodz ? - commercial. But such direct advertising of cities/countries are so focused on showing the supposed good life of their cities that once the ad campaign is over, they've achieved little but attract a tourist inflow. And dont we all by now know about the side effects of such direct brand building tourism efforts - the lasting image is often of a sleaze city - cheap beer, gambling dens & night clubs...

We know what we don't want. So here is the Brnopolis question - whats the lasting image of Brno, which Brno residents would like to create for the world to see ? What is an ideal city - the closest thing to heaven on earth ....

My thoughts -
"Unity in Diversity" is the essence of humanity. Such a utopia would have to strike a balance between the following -

a) Young & Old people
b) Travellers & Residents
c) Arts & Science - in Education & in Occupation
d) Old & New - in Architecture, Infrastructure & Technologies
e) Construction & Nature
f) Academia & Entertainment/Leisure/Sports
g) Private & Public Enterprises
h) Individual freedom & Team Activities

Whats the right balance for the Brno of today, on the above 8 criteria ? Your comments/ thoughts .....

3 komentáře:

Don Sparling řekl(a)...

Enough to keep one thinking, and writing, for days. But here are some brief responses off the top of my head.

a) Young & Old people
What is crucial is neither one nor the other, but middle-aged people, both Czechs and foreigners – i.e. there must be in Brno opportunities, facilities and services that will be attractive to people from 30 to 50 plus, and keep them here. As the country’s major university centre, we will always have lots of young people, and will always lose most of them, and lose many of the best of them. This is inevitable. But we must be able to keep some of them, and some of the best of them. And once we have a highly-educated and successful middle-aged population, living their professional lives and bringing up their children here, then we will automatically have, with the passing of time, an alert and committed community of old people.

b) Travellers & Residents
Think of Leeds; think of Lyon; think of Porto; think of Bergen – think of second cities in general. Almost none have been, are, or will ever be prime tourist meccas. But when tourists do go there, they find that the rich cultural, sports and social life that the locals enjoy is also open to them too. This is the balance Brno should strive for – not “Look what we’ve prepared for you”, but “Look what a wonderfully rich, distinctive local culture we have – and it’s one that you, too, can enjoy.”

c) Arts & Science - in Education & in Occupation
This is a false dichotomy. Just as “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, so all arts and no science (or vice versa) makes for a dull society. Virtually every important IT centre internationally is also marked by a rich cultural life. In fact the class of people that creates these important IT centres demands a rich cultural life.

d) Old & New - in Architecture, Infrastructure & Technologies
This is quite a bag of stuff, and no clear answers. I’m not nostalgic for old technologies – I still remember with shivers of dread the typical socialist public toilet, and travelling on a local Czech Rail line only makes me long for France and Spain and their super high-speed trains. On the other hand, I’m not convinced Brno needs a spanking new metro. (I am convinced it needs a spanking new train station, and on a site other than the present one.) Does it need all the ring roads and tunnels that are being currently built? I don’t know. But it certainly needs state-of-the-art infrastructure at its universities (the new university campuses, the new Central European Institute of Technology). SO it's a mixed bag.

Concerning architecture, we should remember that at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, Brno was a brash, booming city. And like every brash, booming city, one of the ways it expressed its confidence was redevelopment. In other words, tear down the old, bring on the new. Hence the present appearance of the city centre – an ensemble that makes it, to quote a phrase once used for another city I love (Toronto), “no mean city”. On the other hand, the rate at which the Functionalist heritage is disappearing from Brno is nothing short of scandalous. This is particularly puzzling given the fact that the Functionalist heritage is alive and well in the younger generation of local architects. And this is good, as it is creating a modern Brno that has its own, unique visual style. In the twenty-first century, this is something that is becoming increasingly rare. Larger cities all want to go international, and the buildings they are erecting are more or less interchangeable: they could be erected anywhere, and these large cities have lost or are losing any sense of a local tradition. It is only in the smaller cities, like Brno, that architectural continuity and distinctiveness will continue to thrive in future. And that is a VERY GOOD THING.

e) Construction & Nature
Again, a false dichotomy. For example, we have to construct more cycle paths so people can enjoy the natural beauties of the city better. And we have to construct and renovate buildings all along the Svitava in such a way as to open up the river and its banks to public use. And we have to insist that new construction always take nature into account – beiing ecological, incorporating natural elements, using natural materials,being energy-efficient and so on.

f) Academia & Entertainment/Leisure/Sports
Academics do more than sit in dusty libraries and carry out experiments in stinky labs. They actually find time to go to films, concerts, galleries, theatres, play tennis, watch hockey and football, cheer on their local teams … And students from the university put on plays, mount exhibitions, compete in sports at every level up to the Olympics. What’s needed is ways of enabling the academic and the civic spheres to work together more creatively – sharing facilities, providing expertise, cooperating in getting grant money.

g) Private & Public Enterprises
On this I pass.

h) Individual freedom & Team Activities
This seems to me more an issue for firms and institutions than for the city of Brno as such. But perhaps I’m missing something here.

Em Jay řekl(a)...

Gotcha!

That's an interesting write-up there.
Perhaps, Brno is Brno, because Prague is Prague...

~ Milind

PS: I reckon the blogging language at this one is Slovak as well as English.. If that is the case, it would perhaps help having an English version/"translation" of the page also..? I had to take my chances with a few links in order to post this comment :-)

Vlastimil Veselý řekl(a)...

You are right, em jay. We are going to make a summary in English what is Brnopolis about. All posts in English are available via the "in english" link in the topic list on the right.

Concerning the language of the navigation buttons/links, you can switch it to English once and I guess Google Blogger system will remember your setting.