Budapest became a real metropolis during the period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and before World War I, as the city’s population reached one million. The aim of the Hungarian political leadership was that Budapest should match Vienna, the capital of the empire, which housed two million citizens, in all respects. The communist regime extended the border of the city, where two million inhabitants were living by 1980. After the fall of communism, suburban living trends gathered momentum. More and more people moved to the suburbs surrounding the capital in order to obtain cheaper accommodation and also to live in a quiet and peaceful environment.
At present, the number of Budapest dwellers amounts to over 1,7 million. Although there have been considerable and even spectacular developments in the city in recent years, the program of making Budapest a more live-able place hasn’t attained the level where it can be felt by the majority of its residents. The city center is continuously being left by its inhabitants (a worldwide trend anyway), green areas are insufficient, the Danube is not really accessible to people to spend their spare time there, and city transport, though not bad by international comparison, needs vast improvement.
Since István Tarlós came to office as a mayor, several developments have occurred such as the inauguration of Metro 4 in 2014, extensions and reconstructions of tram lines, the rearrangement of City Park (Városliget) has started, the renovation of Metro 3 is underway, and many office buildings and living parks have been built. Still, clear conceptions of city planning cannot always be perceived, even if it can’t be compared with the 20-year-long Demszky-era (named after the previous mayor) when it was practically missing or wrong. Cleanliness also requires more attention in the future. The most imminent task should be to achieve somehow, however difficult it seems to be, for the depopulation tendency in the inner areas to be stopped, and local residents returning, instead of tourists inundating them. Tourists would have to be put up in several parts of the city, more sparsely placed. Even though Budapest is world-famously beautiful, its citizens, unlike those of Vienna for example, don’t really feel it to be something of their own. On weekends and on holiday, and not just in summer, everyone that can afford it ’escapes’ from here. As a major project, a lot more parks, green spaces, and ’pedestrian-only’ areas have to be created even at the cost of pulling down houses where it is possible. Dramatically rising real- estate prices in big cities are common features all over the world. Anyway, the process should be slowed down, or rather stopped, because if this doesn’t happen, the Hungarian capital may become a paradise for investors and Airbnbs instead of a live-able place for its own citizens.
Suburbanization is the wrong direction for metropolises like Budapest to go. It increases problems of city transport, traffic jams etc. and increases the army of commuters, who feel rootless and alienated towards the city that gives them jobs but not homes. To revitalize the historical parts of Budapest is a colossal task. ’Unorthodox inventiveness’ is not unfamiliar to PM Orbán, as it has already been proven. He should help Tarlós if reelected in this spirit or find modus vivendi with the new mayor in order to secure the long-term development of this wonderful city.
Featured photo illustration by Péter Lakatos/MTI