“We decided to GO FULL TIME for a real change”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
Jan Čižinský will soon be able to celebrate a remarkable 10 years in office, as he has been serving as the Mayor of Prague 7 district since 2014. The level of his popularity among fellow citizens is clearly illustrated in the results of the two subsequent elections – in 2018 and 2022 – when his PRAHA SOBĚ association of independent candidates won an absolute majority of votes in Prague 7. “We could no longer watch how our predecessors conducted things here. As citizens, we managed to achieve something, but it was not enough for a real change. That’s why we decided to “go full time”, he explains.
Your name is very well-known in Prague; however, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
I grew up in the heart of Prague’s Old Town. I am a teacher by profession, an active politician, and a proud father of four daughters. It is important for me that I deliver what I promise. Instead of saying ‘maybe, if, and but’ I prefer practising a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Should I name a personality who brings great inspiration to me, it would definitely be Přemysl Pitter, a Czech evangelical preacher – this is because, among other things, he was always on the side of humanity.
Can you go back to 2014 and tell us how you were elected the Mayor of Prague 7 for the first time?
I entered public life with other people who could no longer watch how our predecessors from ODS conducted things here. We were actively involved in events in Prague 7 long before the elections in 2014. Our biggest action was certainly the successful referendum against the overpriced CZK 1.5billion city hall. We also uncovered some cases of the former management, such as favouritism for friends or family members when dealing with municipal apartments. Together with other parents, we were also upset that up to 60% of the children did not get into kindergartens at the time, and the management claimed that nothing could be done about it. In addition, everything was decided very non- transparently behind closed doors. There weren’t even online broadcasts of council meetings – we somewhat pirated them to the public. As citizens, we managed to achieve something, but it was not enough for real change. That’s why we decided to “go full time“. And the citizens repeatedly confirmed to us in the elections that it was worth it.
As a member of the PRAHA SOBĚ association of independent candidates, why are you missing in the current coalition?
The post-election negotiations on who will govern the capital after the municipal elections in 2022 were the longest in the modern history of Prague municipality. Cooperation was offered on the basis of the former coalition (PRAHA SOBĚ, Pirates, STAN, Spojené síly) together with the victorious ODS, in the new coalition group SPOLU. However, the SPOLU refused to include PRAHA SOBĚ because they knew that our work for the people of Prague would complicate their plans. So, we entered into a so-called Stability Alliance with the Pirates to make it clear that our goal is to continue the set trends in the management of the city, and to continue the projects from the last term. Unfortunately, after some time the Pirates terminated the Stability Alliance treaty, and let SPOLU convince them to conclude a coalition without our presence.
What are the duties of the district’s mayor?
The range of the mayor’s duties set by the law is quite wide. He represents and acts on behalf of the city district, runs the sessions of both the city district council and the assembly meetings, signs contracts and other legal documents, and supervises the performance of tasks and the overall operation of the local government. In addition, my competencies in the Municipal Council of Prague 7 include communication with the public, foreign relations, and public order and security. Together with my colleagues, we try to solve all the everyday problems of our citizens. We listen to people: what bothers them, what they would like to change, and how they see the future of the neighbourhood where we all live, work, and spend our free time together. It is time-consuming, but we are the employees of our citizens, and we need to work for them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If we didn’t make time for people, it wouldn’t make sense.
You have been acting as Mayor of Prague 7 for over nine years. Can you share some of your highlights?
As I have already mentioned, we had a number of big tasks ahead of us that we had to master, all while learning about the management of the municipal district as we went along. And there sure was no lack of things to learn. Those were hectic times, but when I look back today I am glad to see the results behind us. In 2020, Prague 7 got its own representative seat for the first time in 135 years of its existence, and currently all children who are entitled to it are repeatedly admitted to kindergartens and schools. Street cleaning has also improved, and is now provided by our company, which also functions as a social enterprise. Our city district is friendly, solidary, and open, and will not leave anyone without help. We managed to regain the trust of our citizens in the public administration, and I am really proud of that.
What are some of the most persistent tasks that still need to be solved in Prague 7, and maybe in the entire city?
The biggest long-term problem in Prague 7 and throughout the entirety of Prague is traffic and parking. The number of cars in the capital is increasing every year, and it is often difficult to balance how much public space to devote to the vehicles, and where, on the other hand, it is necessary to ensure a safer space for pedestrians. We also have to find ways to achieve smoother public transport, build infrastructure for cyclists, and plant new trees. There are no simple answers to these questions, as we have to respect the different needs of, for example, a regular car user, an elderly person, and a mother with kids. We strive to ensure that all Prague residents can move around the city comfortably and safely, but finding compromises is often very difficult.
What are the main current challenges for you and your colleagues?
We are planning the construction of a new elementary school for 600 kids, as well as a municipal residential house with 60 apartments. We organized an open international architectural competition for these buildings, as well as for our new town hall, which was not a well-established tradition in Prague. Such large projects are always a real challenge, but, in the case of the town hall, we have already proved that public buildings could also be successfully realised according to the project, based on the outcome of the architectural competition.
A mayor’s job comes with lots of criticism. How do you handle that?
We, at our town hall, take criticism as part of our work. We try to stay in touch with the public, and we are always interested in feedback. Problems we know about are much better solved than those we are not aware of.
What are your plans for the next few years?
We will continue to expand capacities in our kindergartens. It is very important to provide enough places so that the parents who need to work do not have to stay home with their children, especially in these financially demanding times. There is one important project currently underway – the modernization of the train route to Kladno, with the link to the airport. In connection with this large and demanding construction, we are preparing follow-up modifications of the affected locations, with new pedestrian links to Stromovka and the emerging train station. We are also very much looking forward to a new link between upper and lower Holešovice for pedestrians and cyclists. We will continue to improve the public space so that the streets and other places in Prague 7 are welcoming, safe, and easily accessible for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. We would like to develop a wide range of services for seniors, disabled people, and those who take care of their loved ones. Families with children will certainly be happy with the new park U Vody, which is being created as a site for sports and leisure activities by the river.
We shouldn’t forget that Prague 7 has a lot to offer, not only to its locals but to its visitors as well…
Although I may be biased in this regard, I definitely consider Prague 7 the most beautiful part of the capital. And yes, there are many “must-see” places for both tourists and locals. I can mention the very popular parks – Stromovka and Letenské sady – with unique views of Prague, the green paths to Troja Chateau and the Zoo, two national museums, and numerous galleries, including the big and well-known ones, like DOX and National Gallery, but also the smaller ones with a distinctive atmosphere. That’s why we run the Art District 7 project here, which is focused on the natural development of the local cultural environment, as well as the creation of suitable conditions for Prague 7 to be able to fulfil the role of the cultural center of Prague.
Finally, I’d like to say that we have a very important anniversary next year: Prague 7 will celebrate 140 years in the autumn. We are planning a number of cultural, social, and commemorative events throughout the year, including the publication of a book on our district’s history, an honorary citizenship ceremony, and other events to commemorate this important jubilee.
Will people remember you as a competent mayor after all these years in service?
I really don’t know what people will say about me years from now. I will be happy if they say that they live in one of the best neighbourhoods in Prague, and that they enjoy living here. In that case, my mission at the Prague 7 town hall will have been successful, regardless of whether people still remember some Čižinský or not.