Prague ignores UNESCO warning

Mayor wants to loosen the rules for tall buildings in the buffer zone

Prague has been criticized by UNESCO for its handling of the World Heritage Site in the city center, but despite that City Hall is contemplating loosening rather than tightening building restrictions in the designated buffer zone.

In a worst-case scenario, the city could be put on a list of endangered sites and eventually lose its UNESCO status. This could have a large impact on tourism.

UNESCO expressed concern about the number of tall building projects visible from the historical center, and earlier this year called for stricter measures to be taken when approving projects. UNESCO was particularly concerned about tall buildings in the Pankrác Plain area.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) advises UNESCO on heritage site issues.

“In 2017, ICOMOS concluded that the ‘Rezidence Park Kavčí Hory’ project would add substantially to the harm caused by the existing tall buildings cluster. Nevertheless, in its decision, the Prague City Council’s Department of Heritage Management concluded that this project was not in conflict with the heritage preservation regulations for the given area. It is noted with concern that in several locations the newly-developed draft Metropolitan Plan proposes filling in the composition of existing dominant structures with new high-rise buildings,” UNESCO said in its report for Prague following a June 24– July 4 meeting in Bahrain.

The lack of planning was also criticized.

UNESCO requested that it receive by Dec. 1, 2019, “an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above [concerns]” so it can be discussed by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.

Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) did not attend the Bahrain meeting but sent Deputy Mayor Petra Kolínská (Greens) instead.

Mayor Krnáčová has largely ignored the UNESCO criticism. On Sept 6 city representatives were set to discussed a draft law supported by the mayor that would allow new buildings to no longer require permission from the National Monument Institute (NPÚ), which looks after historical heritage.

The proposal, in the end, was removed from the agenda, though, as it was opposed by most of the city councilors who were present.

The historical center of Prague, but not the entire city, was added to the UNESCO list Dec. 4, 1992. It was clarified in 2012 that the zone also included Průhonice Park, just south of the city.

While it is rare, sites sometimes lose their certification. There are currently 54 endangered UNESCO sites, with three in Europe.

In 2017 Vienna was put on the list of sites in danger due to planned highrise buildings exceeding the approved limit of 44 meters.

Liverpool, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, is also building highrise projects that would jeopardize its status. Liverpool managed to remain a World Heritage Site at the Bahrain meeting this year, but is still on the endangered list, where it has been since the project was announced in 2012.

Medieval monuments in Kosovo are also considered endangered.

The country of Georgia in 2017 lost its World Heritage Status for Bagrati Cathedral because the renovation was seen as detrimental to its integrity and authenticity.

In 2009 UNESCO voted to remove World Heritage Site status from the Dresden Elbe Valley because the Waldschlösschen Bridge would bisect the valley.

In 2007, Oman's Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was the first site to be removed from the World Heritage list. Poaching and habitat degradation had nearly wiped out the oryx population. The government wanted the removal of the status after oil was found at the site and the size of the sanctuary was greatly reduced.

There are 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic. Aside from Prague there is the gardens and castle at Kroměříž (1998), historic center of Český Krumlov (1992), historic center of Telč (1992), Holašovice historic village (1998), Holy Trinity column in Olomouc (2000), Jewish Quarter and St Procopius' Basilica in Třebíč (2003), Kutná Hora’s historical town center with the Church of St Barbara and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec (1995), the Lednice-Valtice cultural landscape (1996), Litomyšl Castle (1999), the Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená Hora (1994), and the Tugendhat Villa in Brno (2001).

There are 19 properties that the country would like to be considered as well for inclusion, such as the Fortress of Terezín, industrial complexes in Ostrava and Karlštejn Castle.

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