Young Czechs move out of town

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Sociologists have noticed a significant change in Czech lifestyles. While in the past, young people couldn't wait to get out of the country and live in town, now many are heading in the opposite direction. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

In past decades a young person who lived in the country was a regarded as something of a country bumpkin and a bore. Most teenagers couldn't wait to get out of the sticks, opting for city life even if it meant cramped living quarters. In an attempt to fight this trend, many Communist Party mayors expanded their towns, building hideous blocks of flats in the hope that cheap housing would entice young families to stay. Many remained empty. The Czech tradition of "country houses" emerged not from affluence but as a result of young people moving out and inheriting their parent's country house when they died. Thus many small towns and villages would have a quiet air about them until the regular weekend invasion of city dwellers, for which shopkeepers would order more food and the little streets would be jammed with cars.

Now suddenly, the country has become a good 'permanent address'. An increasing number of smart young people have realized the value of a clean environment, a house and garden, the freedom which country life gives their children, and last but not least, a wider choice of accommodation and cheaper rent. Only the affluent can afford all that on the outskirts of Prague. The less affluent are moving out further afield. Statistics show that in villages of less than 500 inhabitants the number of new dwellers each year is 10% higher than those who move out. In larger towns the ratio is even higher.

Sociologists note that it is not just a change of values or the vision of romantic nights out on the porch which is driving people out of the larger cities. For many young couples it's a question of money; the cost of living is so much higher these days and left to choose between a four-room house and garden in the country and the high rent of a tiny flat in Prague, they'll choose the former.

The interest in country estates is now such that many mayors say they have trouble meeting the demand. "We want the town to flourish and we would welcome these new dwellers, but they often want sizeable chunks of land to build on," one mayor says, "the trouble is that much of the surrounding property is now in private hands and many people are holding on to it as prices steadily rise."

The process of accounting for every bit of surrounding land also brings some surprises. When the mayor of Brestko, Jindrich Krusina, went on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the owner of a piece of meadowland which an affluent buyer was desperate to acquire, he found that according to the musty village records the owner was his own wife.