Monday, February 20, 2012

Help! Bratislava is full of empty concrete planter boxes!

After being in Bratislava for a couple of weeks, I started noticing empty concrete planter boxes everywhere. Not necessarily empty, but you know, full of dirt , weeds, cigarette butts, and/or remnants of long dead plants. Why are there so many of these things? Are they actually alien pods lying dormant, waiting for the right moment to rise up and overtake the city?

I'm guessing that at some point, someone had grand visions of lining this grey city's streets end to end with lush greenery and went absolutely ape-shit with these things. While that is an admirable and well-intentioned goal, I suspect that at some point the funding for this ambitious project ran as dry as the dead weeds that populate many of these planters. So, now we are left with these things strewn all over the sidewalks. It's difficult to walk more than a few blocks without running into them. To be fair, certainly not all of them are devoid of living plants, but a whole lot of them are. The irony is, what was intended to make the city greener has left the city's landscape looking as bleak and grey as ever.

They come in all different shapes and sizes. 
These lovely boxes make up a wall that barricades the front of the Water Barracks wing of the Slovak National Gallery. 
Sometimes they're pushed together to form barricades. 
Some of them are shaped like hexagons. 
Sometimes they get pushed around into random clusters. 
Others get tipped over. 
This one's comparatively lush. 
So,  what's the deal? One thing that I've discovered while being here is that under Communism, Slovakia had a lengthy love affair with concrete, the result of which you can see everywhere. It appears that for a while, they were making everything out of the stuff: fences, bus stops, benches, telephone polls, and of course, housing, as seen with the thousands of panelaks that are all over the place. The kind of lots or areas that in the US would be enclosed by cyclone fences are walled in by concrete here in Slovakia. According to Slovak architect Peter Zalman, after the adventurous and relatively unconstrained architectural era of the 1960s, "the regime 'concretized'." (travel.spectator...). A friend of this same article's author added, "don't you love it? Everywhere is koncrete. You need a bench? Koncrete! You need a garbage can? Koncrete!" I'm guessing all of this concrete stuff was cheap to manufacture and it probably became an easy way to employ lots of people. At any rate, the Communists really seem to have had a fetish for the stuff, which is partly what gave the former Eastern Bloc its reputation for looking stark, cold, and grey.

Typical Communist-era concrete fence
Another type of commonly seen Communist-era fence. This one surounds an old cemetery. I know that this cemetery HAD to have once been enclosed by an old stone wall or wrought-iron fence, but when that fell apart, it was replaced with this. 
So, what should the city do with all these empty concrete planter boxes? I think they should try encouraging local residents and businesses to adopt the boxes in front of their buildings, and they can be responsible for keeping them full of whatever plants they want. Maybe it wouldn't work, maybe nobody really cares, but it might be worth a try.

(Click here to see recent photos I've taken of Bratislava).


  1. Having businesses or groups adopting certain planters and keeping them planted and cared for would be a good idea,like the adopt a highway program here where businesses pick up the trash along the roads and signs tell you who is taking care of which section. I am a little surprised that some planting and care program hasn't caught on there. Those unused planters are a free resource waiting to be utilized to beautify the city, but instead have become public eyesores. I can't imagine that that such unused planters would not be fully planted here.

  2. The planter boxes are really a trip! It was so interesting to see different examples of them.