Social geographers preparing a recipe for the transformation of the heart of Ostrava

One of major fields of action of the social geographers based at the Faculty of Science of the University of Ostrava (FS UO) is a city. What social geographers study particularly is the transformation of a city over time as well as the relation between the transformation and the life of people. Social geographers help town and city halls prepare their future development plans. One such plan is currently being prepared for the Central Ostrava District.

Despite some ailments, the heart of Ostrava has been changing before our very eyes over the last years. There is a variety of projects at play the purpose of which is to advance the city centre transformation even further. At present, for instance, the city's slaughterhouse complex in the vicinity of Stodolní street is being transformed into a new and modern exhibition hall, and a New Archway (Nové Lauby) is being constructed near the Masaryk square. For its original architectural solution, a new under preparation concert hall is currently one of the most anticipated buildings in the world. The construction of a regional scientific library called the Black Cube (Černá kostka) is also worth mentioning. Distinctive buildings on the premises of Černá louka Exhibition Centre that also contribute to the development of Ostrava even pertain to the University of Ostrava. And there is much more space for prospective transformation in the administrative district of Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz.

In the context of the city's future development, the Central Ostrava District management wants to rely on a sophisticated strategy the elaboration of which also the social geographers of FS UO have been invited to. The forthcoming document entitled “fajnOVA CENTRUM“ is supposed to determine the direction of the Central Ostrava District development in subsequent years.

“I wish, in the long run, our central city district remained to be a good address for all fellow citizens that live or work here and not only for them but for their kids too. I wish it were a place where visitors love to come back. We know that there are still many things that need to be improved and developed. To define the right direction, we are going to take, to set priorities and steps that will lead us to individual goals, we want to involve both the general public in the preparation of the strategy as well as professionals and professional institutions. I welcome in this respect the cooperation with the team of the University of Ostrava the result of which is going to be a flagship strategic document for the years to come,“ explains Zuzana Ožanová, the mayor of the Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz district.

The core of the team of the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of the FS UO consists of Ondřej Slach, Alexandr Nováček andVojtěch Bosák, supplemented by Lucia Hýllová and Lenka Paszová, graduate students. The city district can thus rely on experts that worked, among others, on The Concept of Cultural Development of Ostrava Statutory City#Culture2030. At present, the social geographers are about halfway through the preparation of the fajnOVA CENTRUM strategy.

“The procedure of our work does not change significantly. The preparation of development strategy resembles the procedure patient treatment. First, we need to describe the conditions of the district and then suggest an imaginary long-term treatment. That's why from the very beginning, we have been collecting complaints and suggestions of citizens and visitors at a specific e-mail address.We have launched a questionnaire survey, and at the same time we are working with the results of questionnaire inquiries from previous years. Citizens and visitors to Ostrava can complete the up-to-date questionnaire on 7 October at the latest. In the following weeks, we would like to finish the analytical part of the plan, and then we will start working on the proposal part of the strategic plan that should show the district which direction to take until at least 2027. Our idea is that the document should be usable with a few updates until 2035,“ describes Alexandr Nováček (on behalf of the team of the Department of Social Geography and Regional Development of FS UO), saying they will present the whole conception by the end of February 2022.

From the very beginning, we have been collecting complaints and suggestions of citizens and visitors at a specific e-mail address. We have launched a questionnaire survey, and at the same time we are working with the results of questionnaire inquiries from previous years. Ostrava citizens and visitors can complete the up-to-date questionnaire on 7 October at the latest.

Through interviews, the social geographers then brought another 40 professionals into the preparation of the strategic document, namely representatives of various institutions such as the National Heritage Institute and Lower Vítkovice area, or politicians, e. g. mayors of surrounding districts or the president of the Regional Council. There are other personalities involved who meet in working groups and within the strategic team, which contains the management of the Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz District, the Mayor of Ostrava, MAPPA (Space Planning Studio) Director and representatives of Ostrava universities. To make the city development plan viable and supported across the political spectrum, geographers and an opposition representative got involved as well.

„When preparing similar strategies, in the early stages, we are often confronted with the distrust of politicians and other persons involved. Therefore, we try to have everything backed up by data, and we address a wide range of people and experts who may give the strategic plan a new dimension and help us define the solution more flexibly. I believe that we are gradually succeeding in breaking down the initial distrust,“ adds Nováček.

District potential waiting to be fulfilled

According to social geographers, Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz belong to the most representative areas of the whole Ostrava. On the other hand, there are many places within the district in great need of improvement (e.g., Most Miloše Sýkory trolleybus stop or Frýdlantské mosty tram stop). And this plus some other problems could be solved right by this new strategy.

“A great potential in the district is related to vacant lots and undeveloped areas. We also see the possibilities of transformation in making the sites where people don't want to live much more attractive. For instance, Přívoz is a very beautiful area but its poor reputation discourages a lot of potential citizens. We think the district experiences failure because it is badly spatially defined as a result of numerous physical obstacles such as roads, railway or river. If we manage to deal with these obstacles in the future and succeed in connecting individual sites to make them more accessible for pedestrians and people on bikes, or scooters, it would definitely be of huge benefit. What is most limiting, however, is the budget that is constrained and therefore some of the solutions must be covered from external sources – either Ostrava City Council, Czech state, or European Union,“ states Ondřej Slach on behalf of the team of social geographers.

The development strategy the geographers are preparing for the Moravská Ostrava and Přívoz District will also draw inspiration from approaches from abroad.

“Similar problems that our District or Ostrava City itself are troubled with have also been addressed abroad. Great Britain or Germany, for instance, offer major sources of inspiration both concerning transport issues and revitalisation of urban localities. We can come up with various model solutions but it is upon the Central Ostrava District to make the final decision. It only depends on which direction they will choose to take,“ concludes Alexandr Nováček.

It is already clear that in the future, the forthcoming strategy will be updated and refined, which will provide the key document with a certain degree of flexibility and necessary vitality. What this strategy will be affected by is, among others, the support coming from the RESOLVE regional project intended to facilitate urban and responding to spatial changes.

Updated: 10. 11. 2021