18th May 2016

QUO VADIS BRNO conference: facts, opinions, interview

The City of Brno organized conference QUO VADIS BRNO on 12 May 2016. Experts debated how metropolitan areas can foster the development of the Czech Republic or how knowledge-based economy and society can become a source of the economic development of Brno, metropolitan areas and the country as a whole. 

Deputy Minister for Regional Development Klára Dostálová presented details on the integrated territorial investment (ITI) tool and mentioned, among others, that the Czech Republic and Croatia are the only EU member states that use all EU-funding possibilities for regional development, including the ERDF, ESF and CF (for the Czech Republic, it is 35bn Kc available). The presentation is available here.

Mayors present discussed, among others, the conflict of competences and interests at the three levels of government (local, regional, central) and how ITI and metropolitan areas administration could work under the current model of division of power. Deputy Minister of Regional Development Zdeněk Semorád admitted that some legislative changes might be necessary, as well as some shifts of power between the local and regional authorities; there might be need to define who will play the integrating role in the metrpolitan areas. As for funding of the metropolitan areas by the state and by the EU, Deputy Minister for Regional Development Semorád said the level of EU support to metropolitan areas should rise in the future. Deputy Minister for Regional Development Dostálová added that the Czech Republic, unlike other EU member states, does not use lobbyists at the EU level heavily (in a positive sense) to influence the EU list of thematical areas. In this way it is possible to add themes that reflect Czech cities‘ specific needs to the EU list. As a result, Czech cities are trying to fit in the thematical areas of urban development set by the EU/other member states' needs.

Expert panel on urban planning and development discussed details of creation of urban plans. For example, Prague has 58 districts with local councils, Ostrava has 23, with numbers of inhabitants of districts ranging from 300 to 110,000. Debates with districts and creation of plans are a long-term process. But Karel Majer of the Czech Technical University in Prague sees the problem elsewhere – in competitiveness rather than partnership; unless cities do not stop perceiving their districts as enemies, there cannot be progress.  

Petr Hlaváček, Head of Prague‘s Institute for Planning and Development (IPR), said that the Master Plan for Prague sets out four main areas where potential threats could arise and where active approach needs to be taken : 1. Prague as a prosperous city (Employers, work), 2. Civil society, 3.Social coherence, 4. Authentic and beautiful city (Prague is losing its quality in some places). As for Brno, Head of the City Strategy Office Marie Zezůlková said the competitor for Brno won't be Prague, but other 300+ cities of similar size throughout the Europe. Among the challenges mentioned were international accessibility and qualified workers (need to look for them outside the Czech Republic), for example. Investors are not interested solely in incentives, but also in transport/accessibility, gastronomy, and what the city, region offers in terms of culture, safety/security, housing.

Luděk Sýkora of the Charles University, Prague, Department of Social Geography and Regional Development, outlined some hard data and trends of urban development in Prague and Brno. We live in multiple cities, plurality of cities such as the city of the young generation, the city of the elderly, the city of the developers, the city of the civil society, the city of employers, not just one city as we personally see it. He mentioned the challenge of avoiding the privatization of public areas (ecology of fear, segregation, cyberspace and the importance to know who has the power to lead the public discourse), dynamically growing peripheries (and growing numbers of commuters to more and more concentrated jobs in the city centers), plus consequences of this trend (environment, energy consumption). His presentation is available here.

Professor Zelený of Zet Foundation said that regional development is in hands of businesses, universities and local governments. They should come up with initiatives and ask government how they can be supported. There has been an unprecedented acceleration of change. Do not underscore the speed. We are catching up on the future. I am not sure for how long digitization will still be a revolutionary concept. Already today there are things surpassing digitization. Look at the smart cities’ concept. It is heavily supported by the private sector, IT sector. If you keep on waiting on what the EU or the national government says it can happen that the private sector, in the interest of its own survival, will take the lead, professor Zelený told mayors. Representatives of cities responded by outlining the initiatives they have already actively taken.
In the U.S., the share of employment in agriculture, industry and even services has been decreasing. The share of employment in the government (this includes the unemployed population) rose in the past, but now it is falling, too. We have always had four sectors of the economy and now we would need the fifth sector. What would it be? What is the next step? We could be on the verge of a qualitative change of the society and the economy. The globalization trend is there, but on the other side, there is a tendency to return to regional and local economic activities. In business, the current trends are elimination of intermediaries, tendency towards customer self-service, “mass customization”, reintegration of work and activities, shift from the information (that you are able to find anywhere and for free) to knowledge (i.e. shift from description to coordinated action with a result, from “vědět” to "umět”). His presentation is available here.

Also at the conference, representatives of businesses debated the attractiveness and competitiveness of Brno. Click here for more details about the event.


Also, we asked Member of the Board of Directors of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic Michal Klimeš, Managing Director for Central and Eastern Europe, SGI, who was present at the conference:

Do you agree with Professor Zelený who says that regional development is in hands of businesses, universities and local authorities? Is such cooperation happening in Brno/Brno metropolitan area? Is there anything specific that has positively surprised you recently in terms of competitiveness of Brno and/or Brno metropolitan area?

Let’s say that I would understand the statement of professor Zelený as a need for a more intensive cooperation at the level of regions or metropolitan areas. There are probably too big expectations from the centralized management and the process of communication is not very effective. For quite some time now, Brno has been focusing on the innovation strategy and potential and a number of formal activities were launched that are supporting this trend effectively.  An example that should be mentioned are long-term, continuous activites of the JIC (Jihomoravské inovační centrum). The results are visible. This is where interests of the city and of Brno University of Technology intersect. What I view positively is the fact that the results appear rather gradually, not by accident or surprise. On the other hand, I think there is a big room especially for communication in the area of economic development, so that the whole region can develop in an organic way. An example, the construction of industrial zones is not linked with housing development and vice versa. I welcome the effort of the city of Brno to enhance this kind of communication, though. 

As for Smart City Brno project, first steps could be taken in the field of transport (apps addressing the issues of traffic jams, parking, or services for commuters), for example.


Česká verze:

Souhlasíte s tvrzením prof. Zeleného, že rozvoj regionů je v rukou podniků, univerzit a místních samospráv? Daří se taková spolupráce v Brně, v čem/ve kterých oblastech ano a ve kterých nikoliv? Co Vás v poslední době ve smyslu konkurenceschopnosti Brna nebo Brněnské aglomerace pozitivně překvapilo? 
Řekněme, že bych tvrzení profesora Zeleného chápal jako potřebu intenzivnější spolupráce na úrovni regiónů, nebo případně metropolitních oblastí v okolí velkých měst. Asi je až příliš mnoho očekáváno od centrálního řízení a proces takové komunikace není efektivní. Brno se delší dobu zaměřuja na inovační strategii a potenciál a bylo založeno několik formálních aktivit které tomuto trendu účinně napomáhají. Za zmínku stojí kontinuální dlouhodobé aktivity JIC za kterými jsou vidět výsledky. Zde se dobře snoubí zájmy města a aktivity VUT. Vnímám pozitivně, že výsledky jsou spíše postupné, nepříchází jako náhodné nebo překvapivé. Na druhou stranu si myslím, že je ještě velký prostor především pro komunikaci v oblasti rozvoje ekonomiky, tak aby se celý region mohl organicky rozvíjet. Například budování průmyslových oblastí nenavazuje na rozvoj bydlení a opačně. Vítám snahu vedení města tuto komunikaci rozvíjet.





Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic