Brooklyn to Prague: Rough to Luxurious

Martin Barry answers why he chose to move from Brooklyn to Prague.

When I tell people in my personal, professional and media network that I have moved from Brooklyn to Prague, a similar question arises in several forms. “Why would you move from Brooklyn to Prague?

Over the last ten years, Brooklyn has been the epicenter of the local, urbane and hip lifestyle of New York City’s urban renaissance. It has been an inspiration for many comeback, creative cities or neighborhoods in North and South America, Asia and Europe; and referenced at major urban design conferences as experts refer to the “Broooklynization” of a certain place. What this means, of course, is that the place has become cool with young professionals and so-called hipsters, gentrifying and quickly becoming too expensive. So, when I tell people in my personal, professional and media network that I have moved from Brooklyn to Prague, a similar question arises in several forms. “Why would you move from Brooklyn to Prague? Is there a woman here?” No, there is not.

Recently, I had a coffee with Michael Kimmelman in one of his favorite cafes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Kimmelman is the well-respected architecture critic of the New York Times. He asked the same question that countless friends and journalists have asked me in Prague. “Why did you move there?” Having lived in Berlin as the art critic for The Times, Michael recognized part of my answer. “Europe is luxurious,” I claimed.

We quickly shared stories about living in Europe. Our fellow New Yorkers would certainly hate us for those stories. Mine went like this: Last week, I took a 7-minute bike ride, partially thru Letna park, to the office from my flat. On the way, I stopped for a cappuccino and ran into a friend, which is a relatively common occurrence in small city. I left my bike against the window of the shop and we drank coffee on the pedestrian mall, under a budding cherry tree. I arrived at the office at around 9:45, a bit later than usual. The day was typically full of meetings, but I was back on my bike headed to meet a project partner for an evening prosecco at a new shop across the street from my flat in Letna, where we talked about our work together. It was a nice evening. Being alone in Prague, I spend most of my time working. Naturally, I had no food in the fridge. So, we decided to eat fish at the local Italian/Croatian place in my neighborhood. I was home by 10pm, finished some work and had a nightcap at a local cocktail bar with one of my only expat American friends who lives nearby. The most difficult part of my day (outside of work) was walking through the minefield of dog excrement that usually dots the sidewalks in Letna. For some reason, until recently the police have decided not to regulate a law which bans dogs from using the sidewalk as their toilet. I will never understand the people who own these dogs and allow them to roam freely on the streets, dropping their poop wherever they please, even if it happens to be directly outside of the front door to my building. Do they allow their dogs to use their home floors in the same way? Who do they expect will pick up this mess, if not the poor shoes of an unsuspecting pedestrian? In any case, it was the enjoyment of my day that Kimmelman could relate to and remember well from his time in Berlin.

In New York City, everything is a challenge from getting to work in the morning to finding a good doctor. Relative to lifestyle, it is luxurious to live in Europe. It is especially luxurious to live in Prague, a city with most of the amenities and lifestyle of any other great European capital and a slower pace and greener town than most other cities. The everyday experience that might seem common for most foreigners in Prague is a dream that seems out of reach for so many of my former neighbors and colleagues in New York City; a place that is incredibly exciting but seemingly impossible to live a normal life.

©Martin Joseph Barry 2016 | ASLA, MLA, Fulbright

Prague, Czech Republic

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