A city needs to be well understood. That’s why the Institute of Planning and Development (IPR) collates relevant data to produce strategies, documents, analyses and other important documents and projects. All this is the responsibility of the Office for City Analysis, which is headed by Zdeňka Havlová, an architect and researcher whose methodical and highly organised approach betrays years spent working in Japan.
The Office for City Analysis produces analyses that are used throughout the IPR. What exactly is it that you do?
The Office for City Analysis handles many citywide issues that need to be understood so that Prague can make informed plans for its future development. These include the accessibility of parks, the flow of development, cultural heritage, the size of buildings, the amount and importance of public spaces, and the concept of a city of short distances. Then we have to consider the residents, foreigners, tourism, visitors, residential development projects and city-owned housing. We keep an eye on public amenities, which means nurseries, schools, hospitals, retirement homes, shops and offices, cultural facilities and churches. We look at the current land-use plan and its capacities, and we also pay a lot of attention to sustainable development.
In these areas, we prepare analyses and forecasts of future developments, methodically coordinate data collection, or even create the data ourselves. We work to find connections and correlations, patterns, trends and development indicators, identify deficits, and seek out opportunities. We point out critical problems that need to be fixed. The work we do is used by colleagues to draw up opinions on new buildings, by land-use planners for site knowledge, by designers, and by political figures as a basis for their agendas or the preparation of new legislation. In the last year, we have completed an Architectural and City Planning Analysis of the Prague Heritage Conservation Area and the related app covering the historic city centre, an analysis of municipal housing stock, an analysis of Airbnb in Prague, and a study of the quality of life enjoyed by Prague residents. Our goal is for decisions on the future of Prague to be made based on knowledge of the facts and what is actually happening in the city, instead of on personal opinions or assumptions and the inaccuracies that seem to bombard us from all sides these days.
Your office is also involved in the preparation and processing of spatial analysis data and manages the Spatial Analysis Data Portal. How does spatial analysis data affect the average Praguer?
Municipalities and regions are required by law to produce spatial analysis data (SAD) documentation, but this is also a golden opportunity to collect and make available an incredibly rich and thematically interlinked compilation of information about an area. It describes the current state of the city, traces its gradual development and transformation, and defines important values and limits. The topics covered include urban planning, the landscape, population, transport, technical infrastructure, land use, environmental quality and nature conservation, and the economy. The Office for City Analysis produces some of the technical content itself, but we are also responsible for coordinating this huge project. It is challenging because it is the largest IPR project in terms of the team needed to work on it (more than 60 people) and its scope (15 books, 8 drawings, 80 analyses, and 800 maps and graphs). At the same time, we are in charge of the Spatial Analysis Data Portal, where we make everything we have prepared available online. Almost everyone can find the information they are looking for in the spatial analysis documentation, whether that be the overall length of tree-lined streets in Prague (487 km), the share of municipal flats in the total housing stock (0.1%), the number of active Airbnb units (9,395 in 2019, falling to 2,011 in 2021), the area of sites earmarked for transformation in the wider city centre (223.2 ha), the share of boroughs with poor walking access to primary schools (40.4%), the supply of natural gas (8,998 GWh), or the average duration of zoning procedures (2.0 years). Everyone can find a use for this data in their particular situation. Someone might see a discussion in the media about Prague’s UNESCO membership and use the SAD Portal to look up the precise definition of this world heritage site and find a text about how a social agreement on cultural values is progressing. Someone else might have a child about to start nursery school and want to see how their borough is dealing with capacity and where all the local primary schools are. Someone who is about to move can use the SAD Portal to see where the longest commute to the city centre will be, where they will be closest to a park, and where the best access to health clinics or GP surgeries can be found.
What – besides long-term analyses – are you currently working on?
The City Council has commissioned a project called Population and Public Amenities Forecast, in which we are looking at how the city’s population and services for citizens will evolve by 2050, particularly in the fields of education, health, social services, culture, sport, recreation and commerce. Interestingly, in addition to realistic scenarios, we will also model a number of different situations, e.g. what would happen if everything permitted by the land-use plan in Prague were built. In order to do this, we are working on the methodology for such a calculation. This year, we are also paying close attention to culture – we are collecting data from all boroughs on the cultural facilities they host, and next year we will be analysing this.
This year we are also embarking on projects seeking to respond to issues currently being discussed in the Czech Republic and across the world. We are collecting data on gated communities, which are major barriers to pedestrian movement in a city. We are also working on an analysis of production zones to determine how industry is evolving in Prague and whether these zones are in decline, perhaps at the expense of housing. In connection with current events, this year we are planning to publish an Analysis of Foreign Nationals and Asylum Seekers in Prague. We are currently putting together several web applications and are preparing a Localities Catalogue, making it possible to retrieve data from the IPR database for any locality in the city.
You are also preparing a publication called Prague DataCity. What will it be about?
I am very much looking forward to this book and I hope we will be able to bring it to successful fruition. Prague DataCity will feature a selection of the most interesting data about Prague in a visually attractive and easy-to-understand format. It is neither a tourist guide nor a geographical atlas. What we are doing is telling the story of today’s Prague and targeting a broad audience. Experts and the general public alike should find the information in the book interesting and surprising. We want to show what Prague is like in an engaging and lucid way, without compromising the veracity and credibility of the data. We are starting work on the project this year and are trying to arrange cooperation with world-renowned experts in the field of high-quality spatial data visualisation, such as those behind London: The Information Capital and Atlas of the Invisible. If all goes well, the book should be published in 2024.
You studied for your PhD at the University of Tokyo, were awarded the Japanese government’s Monbukagakusho MEXT Scholarship, and have worked at Kengo Kuma Architects and Associates in Tokyo, as well as other companies in Prague and Belgium. How has this international experience shaped you?
I think that everyone should try living in a country where they are obviously a foreigner, where they are different because of their appearance, but also their basic views on life, culture, values, approach to work and family. It was not until I experienced that distance and lived in a completely different society that I really got to know myself and Czech culture. I feel that my experience abroad has taught me respect and, ultimately, the thrill of diversity. I realised that my previously firmly anchored absolute truths or attitudes and simple division of things into right and wrong are actually not at all self-evident. And that this is what makes the world interesting. You never have it all figured out and know everything there is to know. There is always something new to learn, something interesting to discover.
That’s how I try to approach my life now. Thanks to my doctorate, the world of science and research opened up to me; a world of trying to advance societal knowledge, stand on the shoulders of giants and greats and contribute to creating new knowledge through my work. I have been greatly inspired by the sense of responsibility with which scientists approach what they claim. We try to back up our own opinions and claims with knowledge, data and analysis. I was also excited by the experience of discussing the results of my own and others’ work. I met some great mentors, including the actual sensei Kuma, who gave me feedback to help improve my research and move me forward. At international conferences, it was similar – I was surprised at how calmly, matter-of-factly and constructively research was discussed. Quite frankly, I wasn’t used to that at all from the Czech environment.
And I’m sure my colleagues and friends would not forgive me if I didn’t mention how Japan made me a systematist and organiser. My natural inclination to solve complex problems and organise complex systems, which most architects probably have, was augmented by the need to survive... You see, a PhD is a very lonely undertaking that simply forces you to be independent and self-organised. There I was, embarking on a three-year process that was supposed to result in a meaningful 80,000-word work. Unlike my local and international classmates, I had not been prepared for research at all when I was an undergraduate in the Czech Republic, so I had to help myself, which meant online courses and books on scientific methods, plus preparing and working on my own research, learning Japanese, and teaching part-time at a language school at weekends. I needed to manage all this somehow, and project management methods and good time management helped me. I then tried to apply them in my other projects and I use them in the management of my office at IPR.
What do you like best about your work?
What I perhaps enjoy most is that the work is so varied. One day I’m trying out font sizes and image indentation in the development console on the Spatial Analysis Data Portal, the next, I’m commissioning a spatial analysis and writing a technical text on public spaces. After that, I might be giving a lecture on spatial analysis documents at the city hall, devising methodology on how to analyse sustainable development with the help of indicators, or preparing a training session on new software for my colleagues. I am also really happy to have people on my team not only from different fields and specialisations, but also with different backgrounds and professional experiences. We are a team of architects, geographers, a demographer and an environmental engineer. This is a source of incredible cross-enrichment and learning, even though it can be hilarious at times. One of the classic problems is that we architects use the term “small scale” to mean a big zoom-in on a map, but geographers use it to mean a big zoom-out... So sometimes we have to clarify what we mean. There are a lot of experts at IPR from whom I can learn new things. It means a lot to me that I am part of an organisation that is trying to make Prague a beautiful and pleasant place.
Zdeňka Havlová is an architect and researcher. She is currently head of the Office for City Analysis at the Prague Institute of Planning and Development, where she mainly handles the preparation and processing of Prague Spatial Analysis Data documents, the online app known as the Spatial Analysis Data Portal, and other expert analyses of the city. Havlová holds a PhD in architecture from the University of Tokyo. Her research focused on the city planning of grade-separated pedestrian space and public space in Japan, and she was awarded the Japanese government’s Monbukagakusho MEXT Scholarship. She gained practical experience in architecture and urban design at the studio of Kengo Kuma Architects and Associates in Tokyo, as well as other firms in Prague and Belgium. She has also taught urban theory and planning, architectural design and research methods to students at universities in Japan and the Czech Republic. She is a co-founder of the Urban Research Table research group and the editor of its online platform.