Over the past decade and a half Czechs have spent a lot of money improving their homes - new furniture, new electronics and new materials have changed interiors beyond recognition. However changing the exterior has not always proved as easy. A third of all Czechs live in pre-fabricated blocks of flats built in the communist era, many of which are now the worse for wear. Now, the European Union has promised to help fund their renovation.
The future of pre-fabricated blocks of flats - known colloquially as panelaky - is something that all post communist countries are struggling to deal with. They are to be found in almost every town and city and since they are home to a large part of the population they cannot be discarded as an unwanted relic of the past. As a result teams of architects are working on projects which would transform them from grey and uniform "rabbit hutches" into modern, high rise buildings that differ in shape and colour. Those which have undergone such a transformation now stand out in sharp contrast to the sea of grey - they are painted in bright colours, penthouse apartments have been added, new terraces have been built in, the draughty old windows replaced, and insulation put in. All this is a vast improvement, but it costs millions of crowns and cannot be done without the consent of the majority of flat owners who need to co-finance it. The state development fund contributes around 400 million crowns a year to this process - but it would need 400 billion crowns to transform all the panelaky in the country. Now EU funds may make it easier for other flat owners to get a make-over. Daniela Grabmullerova of the Ministry for Local Development explains how the newly available EU funds will be used:
"We will use it to help finance three existing programmes that target pre-fabricated high-rise blocks of flats. One of them targets public spaces in the vicinity - roads, playgrounds, parks, parking lots etc. And the two others are aimed at renovating the buildings as such. European funds will be used as a supplement, as further motivation for renovation activities provided mainly by the owners, of course."
Is there a fear that some of these blocks of flats - whole areas - which have been badly neglected could one day turn into ghettos?
"Yes, there is a real danger of that happening and we would like to prevent it. Fortunately, at present people of different social standing inhabit these residential areas and we would like to help maintain this mixed social structure and prevent these panelaky from becoming what I'd call "a bad address". The way to do that is to maintain a nice, normal environment with good transport facilities and nice buildings."