As part of ITDP’s efforts to accelerate the “civilizing” of out-of-town retail, Yaakov Garb recently spoke at a major regional conference in Vienna on the Future of Retail in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
He summarized some of the international findings on the impact of out-of-town retail, including on city center shops, and presented ITDP’s recent findings on the traffic impacts of out-of-town hypermarkets in Warsaw and Prague from studies conducted together with Tomek Dybicz of the Warsaw Technical University, and Greg Newmark of the Technion.
In western Europe, more than a decade of concern about the impact of out-of-town retail has led to their regulation in many countries. Ken Baar, a lawyer working with ITDP recently completed a review of such legislation, which is now being adapted and translated for use in central European countries. ITDP’s presentation in Vienna underscored the future likelihood of such legislation in Central and Eastern Europe, and the topic evoked considerable interest, not only among government officials but also among retailers themselves.
Interestingly, several major retailers not only displayed an interest in increasing the availability of city center sites, but looked favorably on some form of regulation of out-of-town retail, and offered to work with ITDP in furthering these. It would seem counter-intuitive for an industry to want to regulate itself, until you remember that now that some developments are already built or under construction, retailers begin to be threatened by uncertainty in the possibility of further adjacent retail facilities.
A keener interest in brownfield development is also beginning to emerge among planners and in the real estate industry, though many barriers remain (these are reviewed in a report on brownfield leadership in Central Europe available from ITDP). There have been many requests for workshops on the topic (around the Czech Republic, as well as in Poland, Hungary, and Romania), similar to the one ITDP held with the City of Prague last year. This March, we held a second seminar in Prague, co-hosted by the EU Twinning Unit and Deloitte & Touche consultancy, which attempted to refine the agendas in the light of developments over the year.
New participants this year were representatives of all 14 of the newly established regional administration, as we are working with them to develop proposals for a regional studies unit with a strong sprawl and brownfields emphasis. During concluding discussions between the audience and a panel of experts many were surprised to learn that the lag in preparing brownfield projects for EU funding might cost the Czech Republic use of these funds; and that a strong emphasis on brownfields development is not a value in its own right, but derivative of more comprehensive and strategic community development.
The Czech Ministry of Regional Development is now in advanced stages of revising its new planning law (the Territorial Planning Provisions of the Construction Act). ITDP is working with the Ministry to provide inputs into this law from the experience of the American Planning Association’s Growing Smart model legislation initiative. A series of stakeholder meetings conducted by an APA team is anticipated for mid May, and parties interested in meeting with the team should contact ITDP (Yaakov Garb).
In Romania, which is considerably further away from EU accession and far hungrier for foreign investments, awareness of smart growth issues lags behind those of Central Europe by several years. “A developer who has the funds can put up whatever they want wherever they want,” a senior real estate consultant told us bluntly, on a week-long study and evangelism tour of sprawl issues around Bucharest, at the invitation of George Multesco (a Romanian doctoral student at South Bank University).
Our discussions with ministerial officials, NGOs, planners, real estate professionals, and academics left us with a sense of the galloping development of sprawling construction, especially in northern Bucharest. Several projects are being discussed with people there to draw on Central European lessons to accelerate smart growth awareness and policies.