24 hours in Prague – Part six

Words by Lucia Udvardyova
Words by Max Dax

Meet Vít Masare, urban activist and extremely nice guy, Auto*Mat. For this feature he is one of seven voices in our series of monologues on the city of Prague. Read more here.

Auto*Mat was founded in 2003 in response to the city government’s growing support of individual car traffic in Prague. As one of the team leaders, I’m responsible for external communication, lobbying, foreign relations, and, last but not least, the Critical Mass rides. Over the past ten years, the city’s efforts regarding transport have been focused on building the largest urban highway tunnel in Europe… right through the neighborhood of Blanka in the center of Prague. Construction of the massive, over-priced 6.4-kilometer behemoth has elicited allegations of corruption and completely stalled the urban development in the city for the past seven years. Indeed, it’s a twist of irony that in Czech, the word “to tunnel” means “to corrupt”. But perhaps even more ironic is that highway construction and car traffic will be the city’s main investments over the next few decades, despite the fact that we have one of the most developed public transportation systems in the world. The government’s focus on historical traffic patterns from Western European capitals is anachronistic—especially considering that most of these cities have begun to focus on the damage of car traffic, not its advantages.

Artists are at the core of Auto*Mat, with the initiative founded by filmmaker Martin Marecek in 2003. The whole idea sprang out of a documentary about public space and transport issues in the city. But of course Marecek wasn’t interested in merely documenting what was going on: he also wanted to change things. Auto*Mat the film was shot between 2003 and 2009, with artists, musicians, graffiti writers, painters and actors performing and creating in public spaces in order to call attention to the destructiveness of Prague’s transport policy. Aside from having won the Czech Documentary of the Decade Award, the film and our organization have effected real change over the past two years, with public opinion having risen from the bottom rung of political representation and a handful of new civic associations and initiatives sprouting up in its wake. As a result, we think the future in Prague is looking brighter.

This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 31 (Fall 2012).

Photo: Luci Lux