This past May, Via Foundation invited the Friends of Via board of directors to participate in a week-long tour of community development projects supported by Via.

From left: William Lafe, Carol Hochman and Marge Petruska on Charles Bridge, Prague

The bus tour included visits to seven projects in different parts of the country: a public park built along the waterfront in the Karlin district of Prague and a meeting with a representative from the Karlin civic association, a former flour mill in Pardubice and former factory in Usti nad Orlici, both targeted for renovation, a thriving community  garden in Liberec, a tour of restored small historical monuments in the Broumov region, and a village green redesigned and rebuilt for and by the community of Markousovice.

During each visit, Board members interacted with a wide range of community leaders and local experts who were instrumental in developing the projects. The first stop was Pristav 18600 in Karlin-Prague.“Přístav” means harbor and 18600 is the zip code in the Karlin district of Prague and Přístav 186 00 is the name of a park created out of a former train shunting yard along the waterfront in Karlin. In 2014, a group of friends leased the property from the City of Prague and began developing an open space for people in Karlin and the broader area. Cultural and educational events are held there throughout in the summer and people also use the site on a daily basis for walks, picnics and the like. The site features a bar that serves a unique local beer, an open-air workspace, a large bread oven and a fruit tree orchard.

Jindrich of Pristav 18600 explaining the project to FoV Board members and Via Foundation staff.

In Karlin, Board members also had a chance to meet with Maria Foltynova of Karlín sobě, a civic association working to improve the quality of life in the Prague Karlín district. The association formed in 2011 in response to a park reconstruction project and related problems with communication with the local government. Since then Karlín sobě has been engaged in and led a number of community development efforts in the area.

From Prague the tour headed north to Liberec, where Board members enjoyed a visit to the Liberec community garden. Founded in 2015 by a group of local women, the community garden offers people a place to grow a few radishes, heads of lettuce, beans, herbs or whatever else they fancy. It serves this city of 100,000 as a refreshing patch of green where people can relax and meet others at special events or during daily watering and weeding.

Board members and Via staff with the founders of the Liberec community garden.

The next stop was the small village of Markousovice in the Trutnov region, where residents wanted a village green – and they went for it. With a Via grant and guidance from Via consultants, they engaged the community in the redesign, planning and construction of the site.

The most unusual aspect of the redesign is the Emperor’s bed, built in honor of Emperor Joseph II who visited Markousovice in the 18th century.

Board members did not get to sleep in it, but they were treated to a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

…and a tour of the community’s historical sites under the guidance of the local amateur historian.

From left: Local historian, Robin Zoufalik, Helen Lenda, Carol Hochman, Marge and Julia Petruska in Markousovice

From Markousovice the group moved on to Broumov for a tour of the Broumov Monastery, which has been transformed into an educational and cultural center by the Broumov Regional Development Agency.

Next Board members embarked on a guided tour of small historical monuments in the surrounding countryside that have been renovated by members of the Omnium non-profit organization, which preserves and restores damaged, threatened and neglected monuments such as small buildings, crosses, ways of the cross and other sacred and secular monuments.

From the Broumov countryside the group shifted gears to industrial sites, first in Usti nad Orlici and then Automaticke Mlyny former flour mill in Pardubice, shown below.

Below you can see Šárka Zahálková of the non-profit organization Offcity, which is working to transform this former flour mill into a multi-purpose center, ready to answer questions from Board members Robin Zoufalik, Marge Petruska and Jim Mauch.

From left: Šárka Zahálková, Robin Zoufalik, Marge Petruska and Jim Mauch at Automaticke Mlyny flour mill in Pardubice.

The visit began and ended with meetings with Via Foundation staff, some of whom accompanied the Board on the tour.

Carol Hochman from Friends of Via had this to say: “Each of the Via project managers we met were incredibly dedicated to the projects they oversee. We enjoyed meeting them and learning more about their work for bringing about change “one community at a time” in the Czech Republic,”.

That made us feel really good:).