How is it possible to relate the dramatic story of the metropolises of Central and Eastern Europe at the end of the 20th century? Perhaps the path of these cities from late socialism into restored capitalism could be framed as a tale of emancipation from the dead hand of rigid central planning, highlighting the potential of a deregulated market and the polyphony of democratic participation. Or conversely, as the search for an escape from the failure of modernist utopias, bringing in its wake the daring architectural experiments and the chaotic urbanistic reality of postmodernism. Yet no less justifiably, we could also speak of the self-destruction of urban-planning expertise, a narrative of the gradually weakening position of architects and even more so planners as they relinquished the field to spontaneous development, lay actors, political compromises, and primarily neoliberal commodification as the chief factor shaping the growth of cities in the wild 1990s. An unleashing of creative potential – or a new hegemony grounded in “creative destruction” and deregulation of public planning?
The primary ambition of the present issue is to understand the conditions behind the transformation of architecture, urban design, and indeed city functioning in the Central and Eastern Europe region that occurred in the final decade of the 20th century. Its theme is derived from an ongoing research project involving researchers from both the Institute for Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences (ÚSD AV ČR) in Prague and the Department of Architecture at the Historical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (HÚ SAV) in Bratislava, examining the transition from late socialism to postsocialism through the example of the development of the two capital cities of the former federal state of Czechoslovakia. Yet the current issue also works to present a wider geographic picture of the region in the condition of post-socialism. The reality of the 1990s was not formed exclusively by the export of economic, intellectual, or aesthetic situations from the “West” to the “East” after the collapse of the Iron Curtain: without a thorough understanding of the essence of late socialism, we cannot understand what happened to the cities between the Baltic and the Black Sea in the Nineties – or more importantly, why it did.
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