Outdoor Stage I.P. Pavlova: transforming biggest road in Prague into a cosmopolitan boulevard

Outdoor Stage I.P. Pavlova, photo: CTK

I.P. Pavlova is known as one of the busiest areas in Prague – a metro station, crossroads of a number of key tram routes, and two arteries of the one of central Prague freeway the Magistrála, all make it a loud, dusty and fairly unfriendly location, especially for pedestrians. The Prague-based Centre for Central European Architecture decided to bring this place alive for three weeks, starting this past Saturday, with a multi-genre event called Open Stage I.P. Pavlova.

Outdoor Stage I.P. Pavlova,  photo: CTK
The organization has been lobbying for a revamping of the Magistrala for a number of years now and the event is one way they are trying to show that positive change is possible. I headed over to the often overlooked I.P. Pavlova square to meet one of the centre’s founders Yvette Vašourková and first asked her if this place was different in the past.

“Before, the name of what is now I.P. Pavlova square was Náměstí Komenského, or Komenský square. And actually a hundred years ago this was one of the best addresses in Prague, it was one of the most luxurious space of Prague’s Vinohrady quarter. So, it used to be a beautiful spot. Actually, when we started the project, we realized that people don’t really know where I. P. Pavlova is. Everybody thinks it’s the tram stop, which is actually 100 meters away. Actually, even this crossroad used be a nice square before. “

And you’ve been working on trying to change this place for quite a while. Exactly, what do you think should appear here, how should this place change?

“Our main focus is to support the change, or transformation, of the whole magistrála, not only I. P. Pavlova square, into a new Prague boulevard. Because we think that today it is an obstacle. It is a problem for Prague – there is a lot of traffic going through Wenceslas Square and the main station into Holešovice. And we thought, we still believe, that it’s actually not a problem, but can a potential for Prague to create a nice, beautiful boulevard, where you have cars, pedestrians, bicycles, you have trees, shops – everything which belongs on a nice boulevard.”

Creative writing workshop,  photo: Masha Volynsky
You’ve also been discussing this with the politicians at town hall. What has their response been like?

“We started with a small symbolic happening in 2009. During several minutes we rolled out and rolled up a red carpet on the pedestrian crossing here. The reason was that when you want to cross the street here, you have only five seconds, but cars have 60 seconds. So, we wanted for at least a few minutes to make an equilibrium in the space with this VIP red carpet for the pedestrians.

“And then the project has become more strategic. In 2012, we decided to begin debates and negotiations with local politicians in the Prague districts, specifically in Prague 2, Prague 4 and Prague 7. In the beginning of 2012 to create a kind of initiative of local mayors to support the fast transformation of the Magistrála. Together, we agreed that the transformation should take place through very slight interventions, which are effective and not expensive. So, for example, to build new crossroads, to put trees in places where it is possible, to maybe even implement some new public transport in the future on the Magistrála, and of course put cycling paths there too.

“So, this was a big success, since the Prague districts around the Magistrála now share the same vision of fast change without building any tunnels, without any underground spaces for cars, etc. So, it’s very important to say that today the idea is not to separate the traffic, but to share the road among pedestrians, cars and bycicles.”

Michele Porsia,  Yvette Vašourková,  photo: Masha Volynsky
It sounds like a great idea. But realistically, when you have so much traffic, would pedestrians want more access to this road with how loud and dirty it is?

“Of course, they would like being able to walk across the magistrála, because it is kind of a shortcut from one part of Prague to the other. Especially for cyclists it will be a great opportunity. And, of course, you need time. With time, when they will start to reduce the traffic a bit, when there will start to be implemented things like cycling paths, new crossroads, I believe that the ground floors of the buildings will change too and will bring new qualities.

“You can see it at our Open Stage event, which is going on right now. Here before, we had not a very important small street, which just served as a parking spot. And nobody could imagine that if you were to change it into some kind of more lively public space with a place to sit, extending the restaurant, etc. that it could bring something of quality. Nobody could imagine this, and we wanted to prove that small changes can have big and rapid impact on a spot.

Outdoor Stage I.P. Pavlova,  photo: Masha Volynsky
“That’s why we’re actually testing this space for 15 days. It was important that it wasn’t only for one or two days. It was important to communicate to the public that you just need to believe it can bring a certain quality.”

I also had a chance to speak with one of the program coordinators for the Open Stage event, Michele Porsia. Michele, who has been living in Prague for the past year and a half, helped put together a program of over 40 events for the three-week festival. Open Stage will feature over 100 artists, teachers, thinkers, activists and many others from different countries, although Czechs are in the majority. The event brings the strange strip of concrete, which is normally used as a parking lot and is mostly ignored by pedestrians rushing from busy street crossing to the next, literally to life throughout the day and in the evenings. I asked Michele how difficult it is to deal with the noise from the three large roads surrounding the I. P. Pavlova square.

“Of course, there is a lot of noise, but we reply to this noise with music. But, now, for example, we are having a workshop of creative writing by René Nekuda, who is a teacher at the Literary Academy here in Prague. And in the past days we’ve had sever concerts with a number of artists, and people are really enjoying he place. And I think you can feel that there is a real need to have a space like this in this part of the city.”

And is it easy to get people to come to this place. Usually, I think people just run through this place, because it’s so noisy here. How difficult has it been to drawn an audience?

Outdoor Stage I.P. Pavlova,  photo: CTK
“Well, of course, it’s not easy, but at the same time, but there are people who are getting out of the metro and they stop here to have a coffee or a drink. And it is maybe a strange place, because there are really a lot of cars, but at the same time we tried to change the space, for example, with these trees and with this painting on the ground, which is by Patrik Hábl, who just now finished an exhibition in DOX, so people are really attracted to this place and I think that they can forget completely the noise and the place where they are. It’s a kind of a dream in the middle of the city.”

For more information on the events at the Open Stage go to http://novamagistrala.wordpress.com/