Country Listing

Czechoslovakia Table of Contents


Urbanization and Migration

The urban tradition in the Czech lands dates from approximately the ninth century A.D., and the growth of towns centered on princely castles and bishops' seats. Artisan and trading activities were a subsidiary part of these urban settlements. Trading, in fact, defined the spread of secondary towns across the countryside, each roughly a day's journey from the next along major trade routes. Prague grew up around Hradcany Castle, having the dual advantage of being both bishopric and princely seat from about the ninth century. By the fourteenth century, it was a major continental city with 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, a university (Charles University, one of Europe's first), and an administrative seat of the Holy Roman Empire. After the defeat of the Bohemian nobles in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, Prague and the other cities of the Czech lands languished until the nineteenth century. Slovakia, as a result of its agrarian nature and Hungarian rule, remained a region of small towns scattered amid farming villages and Hungarian estates.

During the nineteenth century, there was a surge of migration and urbanization in both the Czech lands and Slovakia. Much of this was linked to nineteenth-century Europe's tremendous population increase and the spread of the railroads. Czech and Slovak urbanization proceeded apace; the proportion of the population living in towns of more than 2,000 grew from 18 percent to 45 percent between 1843 and 1910. The rate of increase in major industrial centers was spectacular: between 1828 and 1910, Prague's population grew by a factor of nearly seven, Plzen's by over thirteen. In 1910 Ostrava had 167 times the population it had a century before. This pattern of urbanization persisted through the First Republic, although at a lower rate.

Urbanization and migration patterns have altered significantly in the socialist era. A desire to balance population and industrial distribution dictated urban policy from the 1950s through the 1980s. Since World War II, such historically predominant urban centers as Prague and Brno have not been the official, preferred choices for continued growth. Despite consistent efforts to relocate citybound workers away from the traditional destinations of rural emigrants, in the 1980s the six largest cities (all major urban centers in the early twentieth century) nevertheless accounted for over 40 percent of the population living in cities of over 20,000. Beyond this, however, there was relatively little concentration; 50 percent of the population lived in settlements of fewer than 10,000. The landscape was one of small, dispersed settlements, small cities, scattered towns, and cooperative farm centers (see table 3, Appendix A).

Rural-urban migration decreased in the 1970s, apparently less because of balanced population distribution than because commuting matched workers with industrial employment. Excluding intracity commuting, between one-third and one-half of all workers commuted during the 1980s. A substantial portion of these were long-distance, weekly, or monthly commuters. In the planner's view, commuting had replaced migration; it had the considerable advantage of lessening the burdens of expanding industrialization on urban services. From the worker's perspective, however, commuting was most often a matter of involuntarily deferred migration. Scarce urban housing was the principal constraint on the potential migrant, though one year's rural commuter could still become the next year's city dweller. Commuting has placed heavy demands on the commuter's time and on public transit, which has meant a substantial outlay for both railroad and roadway passenger service. One can gauge the effect of commuting on the working populace by considering that most Czechoslovak factories begin operation at 6:00 A.M. and most offices between 7:00 and 8:00 A.M.

Data as of August 1987