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Bratislava hopes pedestrianized SNP square will compare to London, Prague

The chatter of children and the calls of street vendors are among the sounds of summer on Bratislava's Námestie SNP. And this year, the roar of jackhammers has been added to the cacophony. At the top of Bratislava's central square, Partizánske Obuv shoe store is getting a makeover, while at the bottom rival Baťa is giving its future home a whole new look. In between, a new multi-functional building is being constructed and next door, the old Dunaj department store is being reconstructed. Nowhere is the capital city's physical transformation more evident than in its bustling heart, the square named in honor of the heroes of the Slovak National Uprising. The moniker pays homage to the partisans who battled the fascists in the hills of central Slovakia, but "uprising" could just as well describe the real estate renaissance occurring downtown.



The chatter of children and the calls of street vendors are among the sounds of summer on Bratislava's Námestie SNP. And this year, the roar of jackhammers has been added to the cacophony. At the top of Bratislava's central square, Partizánske Obuv shoe store is getting a makeover, while at the bottom rival Baťa is giving its future home a whole new look. In between, a new multi-functional building is being constructed and next door, the old Dunaj department store is being reconstructed.

Nowhere is the capital city's physical transformation more evident than in its bustling heart, the square named in honor of the heroes of the Slovak National Uprising. The moniker pays homage to the partisans who battled the fascists in the hills of central Slovakia, but "uprising" could just as well describe the real estate renaissance occurring downtown.

No less than seven construction sites line the square this summer, promising many changes in the coming months. But that is only the beginning, as bigger changes are still ahead. "There is a plan to exclude automobile traffic from SNP completely," said Milan Vajda, the press secretary at City Hall. "It's going to happen in stages," he continued. "We are not prepared for it now with parking and alternative routes."

Vajda explained that the first stage was putting an end to two-way traffic along the square, ceasing to allow cars to travel up the square in the direction away from Kmart. The pedestrianizing of Nám. SNP is part of a larger movement of restricting auto traffic from the narrow streets of historic Old Town.

As of October 31, there will be no parking in the historical center between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., with access only to Hviezdoslavovo nám. and Františkanska ul. Vajda said this will be enforced by electric columns that rise and fall with magnetic codes. The wisdom of limiting cars from narrow, cobblestoned streets is widely understood, but cutting off a main artery is another story.

Vajda explained the logic by calling Nám. SNP "only a transit road." He said, "There's no destination there" for most cars that traverse the avenue. City Hall intends to create more underground parking at Hviezdoslavovo nám., Kollárovo nám., Rajská ulica and Špitálska ulica, and to encourage drivers heading east-west to cross the bridges over the Danube and use the speedy four lane Einsteinova ulica in Petržalka to bypass the city center.

The idea is to get fewer cars and more pedestrians onto Námestie SNP, which Vajda described as "the largest and most significant square in a capital city." He said, "It is sort of like Wenceslas Square in Prague or, although on a different scale, like Trafalgar Square in London."

While Hlavné námestie is the city's historical center, present day Nám. SNP developed outside the old city walls in the 18th century as a thriving market square. Different parts bore their own names, like Green Market and Bread Market and Shopkeepers' Row.

But Vajda noted that Nám. SNP has witnessed its own share of epic events in recent years. "For this generation, It will always be the square of November '89," he said. "And for some in this nation, it will always be the square connected with independence."

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