Our Village Isn't Flourishing, It's Only Growing in Size

The rapid expansion of Květnice, just outside Prague, is causing problems for residents

Eight years ago, when the Stroses were looking for some land to build their dream home on, the village of Květnice, just outside Prague, looked like the perfect location. With just a hundred inhabitants, a large pond and tranquil scenery, all only 15 minutes' drive from a metro station, it seemed like an ideal place to relax away from the rat race. The price per square meter was reasonable too, so the couple began construction and, two years later, moved into their new house. "We knew there would be more families pouring in," says Markéta Štrosová, an economist by training, in the middle of their three-story home's living room. "But we didn't have a clue there would be so many of them and what problems that would cause everybody."

The village of Květnice holds a national record when it comes to expansion: the number of inhabitants has grown to 2,500 over a 10-year period and the developers plan further construction projects, which could increase the village's population to 4,500. Yet there's not a single kindergarten, school, grocery store, post office or doctor. And on top of that, the old residents and the new have begun to quarrel over whether or not the village should approve the construction of additional apartment buildings and houses. To complicate matters further, they all have the same goal: a good life in the village.

It's obvious, even at first glance, that two worlds collide here. The original village, around the pond, is made up of picturesque old houses, narrow streets and tall trees, and exudes a traditional rural atmosphere. The new Květnice follows the road, with houses ranging in style from mock Baroque to futuristic to large American-style homes with lawns out front. Kids ride around on bicycles fitted with headlights because, four years after the developer promised it, there's still no public lighting. The same goes for the sidewalks missing from the road.

"It's a stopgap we're living in here," says Štrosová, the mother of a three-year-old girl. "Which doesn't mean we'd like to move out," she adds, pointing out that she still enjoys barbecues on summer evenings with her husband, and enjoys good relationships with her neighbors.

Mud Forever
The Stros family is one of the happier ones. Their house stands in darkness at night but at least they have a place to live. A few blocks further along, the situation is much worse. The developer, Flipperstav, hasn't started building the road yet, meaning there's only a muddy path leading to the new houses. That's why the authorities haven't signed off on the final building inspection and why the new occupiers can't officially move in yet. The ones that are already living there are doing so illegally, under the pretext of "guarding their property."

The new villagers have consulted a lawyer who advised them to come to an agreement with Flipperstav, under which the residents would carry out the remaining work on their own. In practice, this means that a civic association set up by the newcomers should build the missing road and complete various other unfinished infrastructure projects. The hundred or so members of the civic body must now raise around 15 million crowns to pay for the work.

"It's madness but we wouldn't get anywhere without that solution," says Helena Hakenová, one of Květnice's "property-guarding" inhabitants.

In fact, this is about much more than living in one's own home. A permanent legal address is a requirement for voting in local elections, which is a crucial question in Květnice nowadays. The vast majority of newcomers believe that the current village council gives unconditional approval to everything Flipperstav wants, the result of which is that the village doesn't have a zoning plan specifying where building is and isn't permitted. Markéta Štrosová and others hope that this will change after this year's elections.

"What can we do?" asks Jaroslav Kulič, Květnice's deputy mayor and the owner of a local bowling club. According to Kulič, the land on which the new houses stand belonged to a wealthy local landowner and his descendants -- none of whom now live in the village -- sold it. Mr. Kulič says the council doesn't have the right to determine what's constructed on privately owned land. "Of course, we had a plan 15 years ago for what to build here," he says, "but what will happen there now depends on the contract between the new owners and the developer." He reckons the council members are afraid of open conflict with the developer: "They would use any bureaucratic faults on our part [against us] and it might end up with the village having to pay high fees."

Let Them Take Care of It
"The city council came up with the argument that the village might be sued for millions if we stand by our decision to hold a referendum [on a ban on multistory buildings in the center of the village] but of course it's nonsense," says Štrosová, who is also an opposition councilor. "We can't prevent the company going ahead with its plan on land that it owns. But we can push our demands. Indeed, we must push them."

"Well, let them rule the village and see with their own eyes how much trouble it is," says Květnice Mayor Ladislav Rathouský in response to the newcomers' criticism. He is satisfied enough that, under his mandate, the sidewalks in the older parts of Květnice have been repaired and that a new sewage system and natural gas distribution system have been put in place. "The old part of the village is in good order and it's up to the newcomers to take care of the new areas now," he adds. "After all, nobody forced them to come and buy land here."

This is a shortened, translated version of the original article, Naše obec nevzkvétá. Ale roste, which first appeared in Respekt 10/2010

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