Interviews

David Vodrážka: I live by the words “Things don't always turn out the way you expect.”

Published: 5. 7. 2022
Author: Karel Černý
Photo: Photo archives of David Vodrážka
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If the district election in September does not shuffle the cards, Mayor of Prague 13, David Vodrážka, will celebrate 20 years in the mayoral seat this December. And what a shame it would be if he did not celebrate this jubilee because the district has been constantly growing under his leadership.

We last spoke two years ago. What are some new developments in your district since then?

The newest development is likely the end of Covid and the start of the War in Ukraine, which is still keeping us extremely busy. We managed to deal with Covid even though the situation with schools was not easy. I mean distance learning specifically. Dealing with a city of 70 thousand people, you find out that not everybody has access to the internet or a computer. And so, we bought laptops that we loaned out to people. The Ukrainian crisis is putting a lot of pressure on education again. From one day to the next, you are suddenly saddled with 300 Ukrainian children that need to be placed in schools but they do not speak Czech and are all a different age, and then you also need teachers who speak Ukrainian. But thanks to the schools and the education department, we got through it. We managed to place a lot of refugees in Ukrainian families because we have quite a large Ukrainian community here. We managed to find housing for others thanks to the parish charity and other non-profits, and I would like to express my thanks to them for that. So those were the biggest challenges we faced recently. But outside of that, the city district has to keep running as usual.

And out of the "normal" projects, which ones are the biggest?

We are building a new P+R parking lot with a capacity of roughly 300 cars in Petržílkova Street close to the Nové Butovice metro station. In the pipeline is also the construction of a preschool with six classrooms in the British district close to metro Stodůlky. We have signed a contract for this new preschool with the developer in charge of housing construction in the area to make sure that the capacities of local educational facilities are covered. In parallel, new apartments are being finalized in the Lukáš senior center. Funds have also been invested in various school buildings, specifically adding capacity and equipment for elementary schools to make sure that all of our children have a school to go to. We have the construction of an art school at Sun Square planned. On the smaller side, we will soon open a community garden in Velká Ohrada where people will be able to grow their own fruit, vegetables, and herbs, and spend their free time. The space next to the school there has already been cleared of old shrubbery, we will build raised beds for the plants, bring in trees, and also provide a storage shed for tools and a composter. Once our work is done, the community will take over and manage things on its own, we want it to be up to the people.

Speaking about parking lots, I noticed that your district does not have blue zones...

My thoughts on the matter are that if I do not offer people an alternative parking space, how can I ask them to pay for parking in blue zones (Translator's note: paid residential parking in Prague). Besides the one in Petržílkova Street, we are planning another P+R lot close to the metro station in Zličín, an entire parking structure is in the works close to metro Luka, and we are about to sign a contract with a private construction developer to build another P+R parking lot close to the Stodůlky metro station. When all of this is done, we can put in the zones. It is not just me but my peers from other city districts as well who feel that the current parking model in Prague follows no clear system. Each city district having a different parking arrangement and different prices makes no sense. We are all citizens of Prague, after all, so if we pay, we should have the right to park anywhere in the city.

What about the constant additions of new bike lanes?

That is a chapter in its own right. I feel that it was especially Deputy Mayor Scheinherr who drove a wedge between drivers and cyclists instead of having them live in synergy. I have personal experience because I both drive a car and ride a bike. The whole issue stems from the forceful construction of bike lanes, which often make zero sense and are redundant in many places, instead of proper bike trails. These lanes often even run parallel to bike trails. In Podolí, for instance, there is a bike trail running along the river but then there is a bike lane on the road that runs in parallel. Why? Somebody was not thinking straight. I have had several heated discussions with the Deputy Mayor when he allowed a bike lane to be added across the area where the D5 highway connects to the city motorway. It was something he did despite our protests, and it is extremely dangerous to both cars and cyclists. You take an exit off the highway, run into a bike lane right across the road, and you have to give right of way! Luckily, I don't think there has ever been a single cyclist in that lane. When we suggested to Mr. Scheinherr that there should be counters for the number of cyclists on certain bike lanes, he was strongly opposed to that. It feels as though some people have elevated their vision to a sort of religion that dictates, "Now we will all ride bikes, no matter the cost." And I really take no issue with cyclists. We built the initial stage of the Prague-Vienna bike trail in our district, our Central Park has a bike trail called "Destination work and fun," so there is no need to even go on a road and people can get around the city district surrounded by vegetation, ride to work, a sports court, or to the Prokop Valley... We purchased new bike stands where cyclists can fix their bikes and so on. So, we are supporting cyclists, but things need to make sense. We can't just say, "Let's bike around the same way they do in Amsterdam," things just aren't the same here. In Czechia, you have Pardubice or Hradec Králové that are flatlands, so it might work there. But if I told my mother to bike from Stodůlky down to the Motol Hospital, she would never come back because the hill going back is just too steep.

The elections are coming up in September, are there a lot of changes required at City Hall?

I would much rather talk about improvements than changes. There needs to be communication with all the mayors, no matter the political party they belong to. There needs to be a push to finalize the Prague Ring Road. The Radlická and Běholorská radial road, the one heading towards Karlovy Vary, needs to be finished. Furthermore, there should be no more talk about association housing in connection with all kinds of regulations. I feel that association and rental housing can be done by the "bad developers" who have the experience and background for it and are easier to sign contracts with. When the City builds, it is always more expensive, that is well known. And then a few other things such as the consolidation of parking zones, auditing bike lanes and bike trails, and so on.

In November, you will celebrate 20 years in the administration, and in December, it will be 20 years as mayor. Based on the election results that is. Do you believe you will get to celebrate this mayoral jubilee? Or perhaps as deputy mayor or mayor at City Hall?

I believe so, but likely not at City Hall. Sure, there is always "never say never," but throughout my time in politics and as a mayor, I have been through so much that I live by the words "Things don't always turn out the way you expect." [laughs] Not that I live day by day, but I am not a big long-term planner either. At the danger of sounding strange or cliché, I will say that I still enjoy my job even after all these years. My Thirteen makes me happy because that is where I was born, where I grew up, where my friends and children are. The job is close to my heart and I would like to keep doing it if the people give me their trust. And if something else comes along in the future, we will see, but I don't think about that overmuch.

CV BOX

David Vodrážka (born on March 23, 1971 in Prague) has been the mayor of the Prague 13 district for 19 years and since October 2018 he has also been a member of the Prague City Assembly for the ODS.

He had been an assemblyman previously from 2006 to 2010, following which he was an MP for three years and also the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. For two years (2008–2010) he was also the first deputy chairman of the ODS (he joined the party in 1998).

He originally worked as an electro-mechanical engineer, but then he did his bachelor's degree at the University of Hradec Králové and a subsequent master's degree at the University of Finance and Administration, passing the final exam in 2006.

He has three children - Kateřina (21), David (17) and Václav (13). His greatest hobbies include music and sports (he used to play competitive rugby).

Praguer

When speaking about the current situation in Prague with David Vodrážka, we touched on the reason for some of the chaotic decisions possibly being the lack of a Prague-native mayor for quite some time. "The last ones were Pavel Bém and Bohuslav Svoboda," agrees David. "It could certainly be a factor in some issues. I am the mayor of Prague 13, I was born here, I went to school here as did my mother, my grandmother and great grandmother lived here. Great-grandma was the one who first came here and she knew all the neighbors. So I have a good knowledge of my district and Prague as a whole. I do not mean where which street is, but more what people need, how they think. And I think this should apply to mayors at City Hall as well. I cannot imagine arriving in Olomouc, living there for three years, and then becoming the city mayor. It is not even so much about not knowing where the train station is, it is primarily about knowing the community, what makes it run, what issues it has. If you don't know your city, learning the streets and history from maps and encyclopedias will not help. You have to live it, run around its streets and climb its trees as a kid."

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