The American dream is proving illusory, recent reports from the US would seem to suggest, as the rising cost of petrol drives people away from the suburbs, where they are completely dependent on their cars, and back towards the cities and public transport. The opposite is true for Slovakia.
A boom in suburban living is still underway in Slovakia and middle class customers still appreciate good projects with reasonable prices, experts say. The suburban model known to the world as one expression of ‘the American dream’ is partly copied in Slovak suburban areas – although while in the US the population of these neighbourhoods can be homogeneous (such as a community of golf fans around a course), in Slovakia inhabitants come from varied backgrounds, partly due to the fact that the suburban concept is still new and areas have not had time to develop distinct characteristics.
The trend is by no means confined to Slovakia. According to Silvia Heleninová, operations director at the regional directorate of real estate agents RE/MAX Slovakia, her colleagues in other European countries are observing a similar development: clients from big cities moving to suburban locations, giving rise to satellite towns and villages with different qualities of housing and appearance, depending on the target group for each suburb.
Bratislava – the only city with real suburban life
Many property experts point out that the trend of moving to the suburbs, away from the city centre, is limited to Bratislava and perhaps, to a lesser extent, to Košice. Other Slovak towns experience it only to a marginal degree, mainly due to the lower standards of living in other parts of Slovakia, something which creates less pressure for the development of more comfortable and innovative housing.
“There are some inklings [of the development of suburban life] in some towns such as Trnava, Košice or Žilina, but the real suburbs can only be seen in the surroundings of Bratislava,” Martin Lazík, the general secretary of the National Association of Real Estate Agencies (NARKS), said as quoted by the Pravda daily, adding that Bratislava is the only city of regional European significance in Slovakia and it resembles a metropolis in the way it is currently developing.
“It resembles a metropolis also with its suburban parts and the differences in prices between housing in the centre of the city and housing in the surrounding neighbourhoods or villages,” Lazík said as quoted by Pravda. Suburban neighbourhoods regarded as satellites of Bratislava have mushroomed around the neighbouring towns of Stupava, Pezinok, Senec and Šamorín, as well as around some nearby municipalities in Austria (Kittsee, Hainburg) and Hungary (Rajka). Future projects include Bory, Triblavina, Kapitulské Polia, Južné Mesto (Southern City) and Domové Role.
Why leave the city?
Suburban development to the south of Bratislava has been studied by Zuzana Mészárosová-Lamplová, from the Forum Institute non-governmental think tank. In her paper Beyond the Borders of Bratislava she presents a case study conducted in 2010 which mapped emigrants from Bratislava living in the upper Žitný Ostrov area and around the Hungarian municipality of Rajka. These, according to Mészárosová-Lamplová, are typical representatives of suburbanisation who moved away from Bratislava in order to enjoy better living conditions and a quieter environment.
“Almost all of them made their dream come true in the new place, bought their own flat or, in most cases, their own house, which has become their real home,” she wrote in her study.
Real estate experts say it is hard to define a typical customer who seeks life in the suburbs. Such people often have young families, but also include elderly, retired couples who want to live a more quiet life and leave their flats in the big towns for their children.
According to Heleninová, the target group for suburban housing projects is hard to define and much depends on how demanding clients are, as well as their motivation for moving out of the city.
“Living [in suburban areas] is attractive for young families who dream of their own family house – even if it is a terraced house – but they also want to be close to the city where they work or where their children study, and where they are not able to buy similar housing for financial reasons.”
In fact, the price of real estate in suburban areas can be regarded as an advantage too, as it is comparable to the price of flats in more central apartment blocks (the infamous paneláky), and Mészárosová-Lamplová mentions this as one of the most important factors that has prompted the suburbanisation of Bratislava.
According to her study, the main reasons for migrating to the suburbs are the prices of land and family houses, the vicinity of Bratislava, a more economical life altogether, the proximity of the countryside and a rural lifestyle, but in many cases also the closeness of friends or relatives.
“The comparison of the housing conditions of respondents [when they lived] in Bratislava and in their current neighbourhood confirms that they have significantly improved their housing by moving away from the capital,” her study states.
Pros and cons of a Slovak suburb
But obviously there are also cons to balance the pros. Most of the respondents in Mészárosová-Lamplová’s study continue to work in the city, meaning that they now commute to the capital on a daily basis – but, simultaneously, the transport infrastructure has tended to become their biggest problem. Thus, if one chooses to live in a suburban area, one must count on the necessity of using a car every day to reach the city, as the public transport facilities are rather limited. More than 60 percent of the respondents in the study said they were unhappy with the public transport links to Bratislava. But commuting by car is not problem-free either and traffic jams feature in the everyday routine of commuters to Bratislava from most directions.
Another downside is that while a typical Slovak village offers places to socialise and develop a community feeling among inhabitants – such as pubs or small local grocery stores – the suburbs usually lack these features. As a result, the social life of the suburb’s inhabitants, but also such banal things as grocery shopping, take place mainly in the distant centre of the city. A house in a suburban neighbourhood can thus become just a place to sleep, or more akin to a weekend cottage.
The trend towards satellite towns was particularly strong five years ago and people from big cities would move from the city centres to the quiet, green suburbs in herds, said Heleninová.
“Over time, however, these locations became densely populated to the extent that the population outgrew the facilities, and the previously easy daily trips to work or to school in the city have become more than problematic,” Heleninová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that – also due to the problem of commuting – the shift towards the suburbs is slowing significantly. She said that some clients have even contacted their real estate agents after a few years to say they would like to return to the city.
“Despite that, if a developer can provide pleasant housing in the vicinity of the city for a reasonable price, their chances of success are still very high,” Heleninová said.
More information about Slovak real estate market you can find in our Real Estate and Construction Guide.
20. Jun 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani