Plzeňské sympozia

Hana Svatošová

The Beginnings of Socially Conscious Municipal Development exemplified by vienna and Prague

pp. 204–218 (Czech), Summary pp. 219–220 (English)

The masses of people moving into the cities during the 19th century in search of work were obliged to seek accommodation on the housing market, and consequently fell into dependence on speculative rental housing  construction. The resulting situation of overcrowded flats, coupled with totally inadequate hygienic conditions, had a devastating impact on the living and health conditions of their occupants. This problem was particularly sorely felt in Vienna. Its specialists involved in the fields of engineering and architecture, and in hygiene and health care, in due time followed by government and local authorities, became engaged in probing into ways of changing this situation. Local government authorities in Austria-Hungary had long believed their jurisdiction extended only so far as to provide the traditional forms of care for the poor, and did not comprise the construction of accessible and sanitary socially conscious housing. To end the housing crisis, the government adopted a number of legal provisions. With a view to encouraging a housing reform, it set up, in 1907, the Zentralstelle für Wohnungsreform in Österreich, which  branched out into a number of provincial branch offices. Prague and Vienna differed in more than a few respects: in size and in the real-estate development potential of their areas, in the seriousness of their social problems, the rates of substandard building projects, or the party-political structure of their governing bodies. In Vienna, the ruling Christian-Social party long resisted any alterations of the building code, aimed at making it instrumental in rising the standard of housing construction. It was not until the economic recession of 1909 – 1911 that the Vienna municipal  administration felt obliged to adopt new guidelines for its real-estate policy, along with a new conception of its housing policy – which, however, ultimately nodded to the interests of the party’s electorate. Before the First World War, it proceeded to build makeshift housing for families with children. Similarly, Prague municipal government favoured the interests of their own middle-class voters, and did virtually nothing in support of a socially conscious urban development. Affiliated to the city council and engaging in pertinent activity was then a widely respected Committe on Social and Humanitarian Affairs. Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, a decision was made on the building of two houses in the city centre for the families of smallscale businessmen. Simultaneously with that, the Prague council set up the Curatorium for the Improvement of Housing Conditions in Prague and Its Environs, contributing 200,000 crowns in fixed assets to its primary capital. The task of the Curatorium was to build a rooming house for 500 residents in the district of Libeň. In contrast to Vienna and Prague, the city of Budapest did actually build 6,500 flats for workers. In due time, the postwar socio-political changes ushered in a shift in the political makeup of municipal governments towards the left. Both Vienna and Prague then launched socially conscious communal housing projects, albeit at different scales.

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