“Out with the old and in with the new” – a mantra that, in the past couple of years, numerous smart cities have become well acquainted with. Despite the numerous advantages that new infrastructure, technologies and services can contribute to the development of more efficient and attractive cities, newer is not necessarily always better.
Research by Kazimierczak (2012) indicated that urban policies supporting complete replacement of the old in favour of the new may deprive citizens of a particular city of a part of their identity. This may subsequently also leave cityscapes incomplete and lacking an essential part of their history.
Fortunately, Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic has opted for a different mantra to accompany its development policies pertaining specifically to the public transportation infrastructure: “Preservation of the old, in a complementary fashion with the new”.
As a result, preservation of various metro stations’ building styles and finishes bear witness to the efforts made in maintaining the unique identity and history of Prague’s public transportation infrastructure. A selection of Prague’s nostalgic and historical trams (in their original condition) also operate in harmony with modern trams on the city’s existing transportation infrastructure. These trams operate public tours on predetermined routes, as well as private tours with custom route planning – certainly a big attraction for leisure seekers, tourists, historical boffins and enthusiasts alike.
As a result of the integrative public policy and planning, Prague’s history and identity is arguably transported along with every passenger that is privileged enough to make the trip.
Prague subsequently serves as an exemplary city demonstrating the preservation of historical identity in a complementary fashion to introducing modern amenities – a key factor to consider in smart city and urban regeneration projects going forward.
In order to understand how Prague has grown into the urban powerhouse it is today, we discuss its developmental background in more detail, next.
Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, lies in the north west of the country on the banks of the Vltava River. The Slavs settled on the territory of Prague towards the end of the 6th century and at the start of the 13th century, the Old Town (Staré Mesto) contained some 3500 inhabitants in an area of about 1.5 square kilometres (Semotanová, 2000). During the course of the 13th and 14th centuries the conurbation of Prague, formed by Old Town (Staré Mesto), Malá Strana, Hradcany and New Town (Nové Mesto), grew to 50,000 inhabitants in an area of about 8 square kilometres and was among some of the largest European towns at the time. In 1348, the foundation of Charles University, the first in central Europe, considerably enhanced Prague’s appeal to a further extent (Semotanová, 2000).
Today, the Prague metropolitan area, which consists of the capital city of Prague and the Central Bohemian Region, has a total area of 11,291 km2 and in 2017, was called home by
2.6 million inhabitants (MarketLine, 2018). Moreover, with a dynamic business environment, the area can be regarded as the manufacturing and financial centre of the Czech Republic with Prague acting as key financial and economic centre of the country.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Prague is one of Central and Eastern Europe’s leading tourist destinations, while also being one of the most visited cities in the world (Euromonitor International, 2019). Its popularity particularly stems from a rich heritage full of historical monuments conserved in an increasingly modernised, safe and smart city environment. Further reasons for increased tourism forecasts include internal developments (such as the easing of entry, exit and currency restrictions), growth of GDP, increased disposable income, and the mobility of many Eastern Europeans themselves, thereby stimulating domestic demand for tourism products (Johnson & Vanetti, 2004).
The rate of Prague’s innovation in urban mobility will, however, be one of the key factors that may contribute to further tourism development (Euromonitor International, 2019). As it currently stands, the city awaits a substantial airport expansion (Joe Bates, 2018), a new metro line expansion to its southern districts (Fraňková, 2018) and growth of shared transport solutions in 2020s (Euromonitor International, 2019).
With major expansion expected in the future, the preservation of the city’s historical identity as far as public transport is concerned now becomes of particular interest.
Prague Public Transport Network
Prague boasts with a comprehensive public transport system that allows ample coverage of both the city and its surrounding districts. In and around the city centre specifically, metro (including the funicular) and trams are most prominent on both sides of the Vltava’s banks as is visible in figure 1.
Figure 1. Trams and Metro in Prague. (Source: Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy – Metro and trams. http://www.dpp.cz/en/transport-around-prague/transit-schematics/)
Buses (autobusy) in turn cover the outskirts of Prague and areas where trams or the metro do not run (myCzechRepublic, n.d. a). In terms of tariff, public transport tickets for travelling in the city of Prague zone include access to the metro, trams, city buses, Petřín funicular, ferries and selected railway sections (Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy, n.d.).
With the exception of the Airport Express bus (which offers an express service running between Prague’s Hlavni Nádraží train station and Vaclav Havel Airport), multi-modal transit options across the entire public transportation system of Prague within a certain time limit is thus a possibility with a single, validated ticket. Journeys are therefore time-bound (as is visible in figure 2) rather than trip-bound, which implies that transfers are possible.
Figure 2. From left to right: Prague 30 minute transfer transport ticket (from ticket machine); Prague 90 minute transfer transport ticket (from kiosk); Prague 72 hour/3 day transfer transport ticket (from ticket machine); Prague Airport Express (AE) non-transfer ticket (from kiosk). [Source: Candice Louw]
Prague’s public transit system thus has its own unique approach and subsequent identity, arguably also contributing to shaping the identity of the city and its citizens as a whole. In order to efficiently meet the needs of commuters, however, continuous maintenance, improvement and upgrading of transportation infrastructure is necessary. This process may inevitably result in older, more traditional vehicles or means of transport being retired, inadvertently resulting in the loss of core components of a city and its residents’ historic identity (Kazimierczak, 2012).
Fortunately, the city of Prague has realised the value of preserving and maintaining the historical identity of both its metro and tramways to complement new infrastructure development. We focus on how this has been achieved with the metro system next.
While Prague’s three operational metro lines (A, B and C) cover substantial distances, the addition of the previously mentioned fourth metro line expansion to serve Prague’s southern districts is planned to alleviate some of the pressure on the metro C line in particular (Fraňková, 2018).
It is interesting to note that the architects of Prague’s metro were not just aiming to build an effective transport system, but also intended for individual stations to have an illustrative function (Radio Praha, 2018). As such, each station, including those of the funicular, exemplify a wide range of building styles and finishes including metal, glass and stone (as is visible in figure 3) with some metro stations’ characteristic design finishes also being indicative of the time that they were constructed (Radio Praha, 2018).
The choice to preserve the various metro stations’ building styles and finishes therefore bears witness to the efforts made in maintaining the unique identity and history of Prague’s public transportation infrastructure – a key aspect in the formation of the city’s identity.
Figure 3. Selection of Prague metro station building styles and finishes. (Source: Candice Louw)
While the future development of the Prague metro to introduce a new metro line D and driverless trains is a key topic on the city’s urban development agenda (Prague Morning, 2018), the history of the city and its metro system has successfully been captured by each of the individual metro stations for generations to come.
Complementary to the Prague metro system is the tram system (tramvaje). Numerous tracks cover a substantial area of Prague with roughly 300 million people a year making use of the city’s trams (myCzechRepublic, n.d.). What singles out the Prague tram system as being something special, however, is the predominance of the iconic Tatra T3 tram and its derivatives (Fox, 2017). Moreover, Prague has the biggest fleet of T3 trams which can be seen as appropriate considering they were built in Prague (Fox, 2017).
Similar to the metro, however, in order for the tram system to efficiently meet the needs of the masses, continuous maintenance, improvement and upgrading of infrastructure is necessary. This may of course result in older, more traditional tramcars being retired, inadvertently resulting in the loss of core components of a city and its residents’ historic identity (Kazimierczak, 2012).
Fortunately, the Prague Public Transit Company has realised that in this case, newer is not necessarily always better. A decision has subsequently been made to preserve, maintain and operate a wide selection of tramcars within the existing transportation network including nostalgic (antique) trams, historic (old) trams and modern (new) trams.
While many historic and modern trams (visible in figure 4) operate within the Prague public transit network on a daily basis, the nostalgic trams operate their own exclusive routes and schedules (Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy, n.d. a).
Figure 4. Various models of Historic (left two) and Modern (right two) trams in operation in Prague. (Source: Candice Louw)
Nostalgic trams such as line numbers 23 (http://www.myczechrepublic.com/prague/historic- tram.html), 41 (visible in figure 5) (https://www.prague.eu/en/object/places/848/historical- tram-line-no-41) and 91 (http://www.dpp.cz/en/fun-and-leisure/) are available and open to the public throughout the year – at a surcharge (Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy, 2019; TripAdvisor, n.d.).
Figure 5. Nostalgic Prague tramline 41. (Source: Candice Louw)
Private sightseeing tours on nostalgic trams such as the T3 Měsíček or T3 Coupé (https://t3coupe.com/) are also available throughout the year by means of reservation (Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy, n.d. a). Interested parties can choose their own route, the length of the duration of the tour and also the stops along the way. Naturally, the ride in the tram can also be livened up with refreshments, a musical accompaniment and guide services.
Whether taking a public or private trip, Prague’s nostalgic tramline services provide an opportunity for historic preservation while also offering the growing tourism market an authentic and iconic sightseeing experience. Similar to other major tourism attractions (visible in figure 6) such as the Charles Bridge, Petřín Hill, Prague Castle, Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square, Prague’s nostalgic and historic trams (collectively referred to as “vintage” trams) have arguably also become a core component of both its historic and touristic identity.
Figure 6. Iconic Prague attractions including the Charles Bridge, Petřín Hill and Prague Castle captured from the bank of the Vltava River (left), Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square (middle), historic T3M2-DVC tram (right). (Source: Candice Louw)
The ability of these vintage trams to seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructure and operate in harmony with newer trams is exemplary and illustrates a historically rich, yet fully functional transportation preservation initiative.
In certain cases, public transport systems may become a major contributor to the formation of a particular city and its residents’ identity. The cultural and historical value of these systems and their constituent parts subsequently make them worthy of preservation. In the interest of increased efficiency, capacity and comfort of commuters, however, it is necessary to continuously introduce new vehicles and modern technologies in order to meet growing demands. Prague is no exception as is evidenced by the introduction of new tramcars (visible in figure 7) to its fleet.
Figure 7. New Škoda trams in operation in Prague. (Source: Candice Louw)
The introduction and adoption of modern technologies within a transportation network may also be to the benefit of numerous ancillary services associated with public transport infrastructure on a wider scale including ticketing, access control and user experience enhancement (live reporting on expected waiting times for example) as is visible in figure 8.
Figure 8. Modern technologies integrated with Prague’s transportation system: Bus and tram waiting time displays and interactive maps. (Source: Candice Louw)
While new may not always be better, new is certainly necessary for urban development purposes. Despite the advantages brought about by new infrastructure development and modern technological advancement that underpin the growth of smart cities, preservation of historical identity is equally important.
Prague serves as an exemplary city demonstrating the preservation of historical identity in a complementary fashion to introducing new amenities and modern technologies, specifically
pertaining to its public transportation infrastructure. This is certainly a key factor to consider in smart city development and urban regeneration projects going forward.
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Candice Louw is part of the IGLUS alumni network and appointed as a senior postdoctoral research associate by the Department of Business Management at the University of Johannesburg.