Ing. Jaroslav Zámečník: I am pleased with the solidarity between people during the corona crisis
Interview with the Mayor of Liberec and former Managing Director of the Nisa Euroregion
- July 23, 2020 11:30
- Aseniya Dimitrova
Jaroslav Zámečník has been mayor of Liberec since 2018. A former Managing Director of the Nisa Euroregion and a Member of the Liberec Regional Council for Culture, Monument Care, Sports and Sports Tourism, he is also the author of numerous publications in scientific journals in the fields of mathematics and physics.
Mr Zámečník, would you tell us a few words about Liberec: which are your favourite places, what do you like the most about your city?
I like my hometown as a whole. Only a few places have so many nicknames: the city of sports, the city of culture, the city of rhododendrons, the city of architecture, the university city…
Its unique location in a natural basin between the Jizerské and Lužické mountains near the German-Polish border largely determined its character and influenced its history and the life of its citizens. For example, the location of the dam in the city centre is quite unusual; when arriving in Liberec from anywhere our attention is attracted by a 1012 m high mountain Ještěd crowned by the elegant silhouette of the TV tower and a mountain hotel; the neo-renaissance town hall, which is the seat of the city management, is very beautiful too…
The picturesque building of the City Hall. Photo by City of Liberec
The coronavirus crisis led to a significant decrease in most municipal budgets. In the case of Liberec, which investments will be put on hold and which will continue, despite the changed circumstances?
The government measures at the time of the coronavirus crisis indeed slowed down the economy so much that the city of Liberec would lose about 20% of its revenues this year. We will simply have to be modest for a while and postpone some investments. We will give priority to providing quality services to the citizens, especially in the area of public transport, city cleanliness, and cultural life.
With the arrival of April, the construction season begins in the city. We will keep all the planned events of street reconstructions, constructions of new pavements, or road repairs and we want to complete them by the end of the summer. The planned event of the water company and Innogy in the very centre on the square in front of the town hall is in progress, which concerns the reconstruction of the gas pipeline and the replacement of the obsolete water pipeline from 1928!
We also continue to modernize the ZOO, the city theatre, and the football stadium. On the contrary, the restoration of the ski jumping hills in the Ještěd ski jumping complex or the modernization of the pavilion in the premises of the local technical museum have to wait, as well as the repair of the technical background of the buildings of the municipal institutions. In total, these will cost millions of crowns.
You strive for more greenery in the city. What initiatives are previewed in this direction and what obstacles do you encounter?
Last year, a working group called the Climate Council was set up to provide the city leadership with various initiatives. One of them is the so-called adoption of greenery.
The aim is to provide the citizens, organizations, housing associations, schools, or companies with the opportunity to actively participate in the design of the public areas in the city. Suitable plots for adoption can be, for example, front gardens, courtyards, strips of road greenery, but also grassy areas, landscaped areas, or their parts. We believe that thanks to the program the condition of the public greenery will be improved and regular maintenance of the adopted areas will be provided by the applicant, without the right to any financial reward.
Another way in which the citizens of Liberec may actively participate in improving the condition of the green areas in their neighbourhoods will be their financial contribution in a public collection. For this purpose, we plan to set up a special transparent account. The provider of the financial contribution will thus become a so-called adoptive donor, who, in consultation with the staff of the municipal office, will choose what their money is to be used for (e.g. planting trees, bushes, establishing flower beds, etc.).
This is the first year for the Participatory Budget of Liberec. Do you have favourite projects and do you expect great interest from citizens?
As stated in the question asked, this is the first year of an initiative that we have called “We all create Liberec!” (My všichni tvoříme Liberec!). A total of 29 proposals were received and about 2,500 citizens voted for them.
Compared to other cities, it is significantly more, and I believe that this number will increase in the upcoming years. Among the proposals are, for example, four children’s playgrounds, the modification of bus stops, a cycle path, a rest pier, the repair of the observation area, or the construction of an outdoor gym for citizens of all ages. My favourites are a bust of an honorary citizen, the unfortunately deceased František Peterka, the well-known and very popular actor, and floral decorations in the roundabouts at the public transport terminal.
Your team is in the process of drafting a new Development Strategy for the Statutory City of Liberec 2021+. How is the work going on so far and do you involve the citizens in the planning of their city’s development?
After the coronavirus restrictions, negotiations on the creation of a new Development Strategy for the Statutory City of Liberec 2021+ were fully launched again. The original schedule and steps for the creation of the city strategy had to be operationally adjusted because of the situation.
Measures taken in connection with COVID-19 have not allowed the planned meetings of working groups to be organized in recent months, but the work has not stopped and personal meetings with the general public and professionals have been replaced by electronic forms of cooperation. The participation of the public in the creation of the conceptual document thus took place more distantly, and the suggestions arising from the negotiations were settled by analysts and incorporated into the analyses.
What will your city look like once the Strategy is set in motion?
After completing the analytical part of the City Development Strategy document, the processing team will work on defining the city's vision, including strategic and specific goals. At the same time, work on the action plan will be carried out.
From September, further meetings of working groups on the design and implementation part will take place. The development strategy is important both for the development of the city of Liberec itself and for the preparation of grant projects after 2021.
In addition to the strategic plan of the city for the period 2021–2030, a conceptual document for the area of transport and transport planning will be created. We would like to modify the traffic in the city centre so that pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and then individual drivers have priority.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievements since stepping into office?
Undoubtedly, one of the successes is the introduction of the City Architecture Office, which we had lacked in the city for many years. We are succeeding in the reconstruction of many roads, increasing traffic safety in the city centre, preparing large projects, such as the much-needed reconstruction of the swimming pool which has been postponed for many years. There is a lot of work and everything is important, I have a hard time choosing one or two specific examples.
I also consider the perfect management of the coronavirus crisis in the city to be a success. Thanks to the functioning of the crisis team, exemplary civic initiative and volunteer activities, we were able to provide institutions and citizens with protective equipment, provide the necessary shopping and errands for seniors, etc. I was pleased with the solidarity between people.
Is there any project or an innovative practice from your city that you would like to share with the other mayors in the European Union?
I believe, for example, that the initiative for the adoption of greenery described above is an interesting and innovative project and can become an inspiration for other cities. We will see how successful the project will be, but I am convinced that it is worth trying.
The revival of the public areas is also supported by a new project of the above-mentioned City Architecture Office, which was inspired by large cities around the world. It is called the “Liberec Chair” (Liberecká židle) and it is a simple functional equipment without complicated building modifications, which will be freely available to the citizens and will function as mobile benches. The aim is to bring life to the centre and the use of other different locations in the city.
The city chairs help test the properties and potential of specific public areas. If they don't work in a given place, they can be easily moved elsewhere. People in these places can rest, snack, work at a table, a chair can be moved to the sun, into the shade, to have a better view, etc. I like that.
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