Article from A&B issue 10|2022
City planning in modern Poland is a problem faced by architects and urban planners, local authorities, as well as economists, lawyers and social scientists. "The invisible hand of the market," contrary to the hopes of many, has not regulated everything. At the same time, the inadequacies of existing regulations have led to the creation and perpetuation of spatial chaos. Can city planning models based on the potential of local communities be a recipe for this state of affairs and an answer to the challenges of the present day?
planning or chaos?
Urban planner-economist, Professor Mariusz E. Sokolowicz (University of Lodz), has no doubt that things are bad with city planning in Poland. "During the years of Poland's political transformation, changes in spatial planning regulations consistently undermined the role of planning acts, and attempts to reform this state of affairs were - despite work on new solutions in this area - consistently rejected by successive governments, regardless of political option," - he stresses, noting that planning regulations are still associated by the public with unnecessary "restrictions on economic freedom." "Only in recent years has there been a little more talk about the negative effects of so-called spatial chaos. Unfortunately, I do not yet see this translating into a renaissance of spatial planning in Poland." - he adds.
The ideal city in the spirit of New Urbanism? Ekomiasteczko Siewierz Jeziorna, design: arch. Maciej Mycielski, MAU studio
Photo: © Mycielski Architecture & Urbanism - MAU
Professor Jakub Szlachetko of the Metropolitan Institute speaks in a similar vein. His perspective, he stresses, is that of a lawyer. "From this position, it is difficult to talk about "models" (in the plural), and perhaps even "model" (in the singular). This is because it should be borne in mind that the possible model is determined in large part by the law. Thus, the freedom of planning authorities is secondary and severely limited. At the same time, actions of an ad hoc, punctual nature create gaps in the system. The legislature has been systematically distorting the original assumptions of the spatial planning system for more than a dozen years, through fragmentation of regulations, numerous speculative laws and poorly thought-out amendments."
Is it really as bad as the experts say, and are we living in a "Developer's Republic," where the most perfect models and best long-term plans must give way to short-term interests? Perhaps, however, in view of the inertia of the "top," it would be appropriate to look at what is happening "at the bottom." It is worth considering what models Polish cities and towns are implementing and the scale of their implementation.
Where to look for planning models?
The history of city planning in Poland shows that the reference point for the solutions implemented in our country were the achievements used in Western European countries. Medieval locations based on the Magdeburg law, the Renaissance concept of the città ideale or, finally, the modernist housing estate - all these models were developed outside our borders, but they have lived to see creative interpretations on domestic soil. Perhaps also today it is worth analyzing how the problem of city planning is solved by others. After all, German institutions responsible for urban planning are more than two hundred years old.
Experts seem skeptical. In Poland, the foreign experience is rarely reached. "When we try to do it, for example, drawing on the French experience of planning the development of metropolitan complexes, or the German experience of introducing planning agreements between investors and the municipality - the ideas fail at the stage of the legislative process." - Mariusz E. Sokolovich explains. Jakub Szlachetko, in turn, warns against "copying" ready-made solutions, although, as he points out, he is a great supporter of comparative studies. "The law must be tailor-made, and Polish conditions are specific: far-reaching and wild suburbanization, spatial chaos, lack of metropolitan spatial planning," he - he mentions.
The slow city model assumes raising the quality of life of city residents away from the big-city hustle and bustle; Bartoszyce is the largest center in Poland affiliated with the Cittaslow network
photo: Bartoszyce Town Hall
The urban modernization models developed decades ago are already completely inadequate to meet today's social and technological challenges. German architect Klaus R. Kunzmann believed that the key tasks facing European city authorities and planners include the implementation of the idea of well-understood sustainable development and the preservation of European urban cultural heritage. It is worth noting that the problem of reducing unnecessary displacement and consumption of land, stopping the dispersion of development, as well as the revitalization of degraded areas and measures to halt environmental degradation all fall within such a framework. One example of a solution is the model of a compact city - a center with a high intensity of development, well-organized public transportation and wide availability of services and public spaces. Alongside it can be mentioned a number of models referred to as alternative, which are united by the desire to inscribe growth in the idea of sustainable development: smart city, slow city or new urbanism.
The sustainable city model includes not only minimizing the negative impact on the environment. It is also the pursuit of a balance between the modern and the traditional; the local and the global. Finally, it's an economic and technological balance. "Spatial solutions alone will not resolve social and economic problems, however, economic vitality, social stability or a healthy environment cannot do without a coherent and supportive spatial framework." - postulated in 2001 in Chicago by participants of the Congress for the New Urbanism.1 Their assumptions, derived from a critique of the modernist model of city planning, were an important voice in the discussion of the directions of urban thinking. Even the biggest skeptics of the concept of New Urbanism, who resent the romantic vision created by Leon Krier in Poundbury or the "ideal" American towns designed by Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andrés Duany, must admit that the idea of strengthening local communities or designing in accordance with the local climate and conditions, are appropriate.
Picturesquely located, with a population of less than 2,000, Sepopol is the smallest Polish city implementing the development model in the spirit of slow
photo: Sepopol City Hall
One of the most interesting attempts to implement the idea of New Urbanism in Poland is the Siewierz Jeziorna district invited by Maciej Mycielski and the MAU studio. "The project assumes the realization of an ecological district referring by its character to a small town, facing the Przeczycko-Siewierz Lagoon," the authors write. - The basis for the developed concept was to provide space that gives the greatest possible comfort to residents, using objectively feasible urban planning measures. "2 The result of these efforts was a project maintained in the spirit of sustainable urbanism - with a traditional layout of space, a privileged role of pedestrian traffic and the availability of services within the idea of a fifteen-minute city. Environmental aspects also play an important role. A large share of biologically active areas has been provided, and "the layout of greenery, linked to the terrain, is to combine leisure and ecological functions."
Verification of design assumptions will take place in subsequent years. As Maciej Mycielski points out, Ekomiasteczko Siewierz Jeziorna is a city-building project, which "differs significantly from typical developer investments, [...] and the entire project is spread over 25 years "3.
The slow city model can be combined with other concepts - including a green and environmentally friendly city. The nature trail on the Lyna River in Sepopol is part of an educational program, and at the same time builds a higher level of comfort for residents.
Photo: Sepopol City Hall
an "unhurried" city
The idea of rapid growth is questioned not only by planners. Residents of cities and towns and local authorities are looking more and more favorably toward the idea of Cittaslow - the "unhurried" city.
It was born in the late 1990s in Italy and from the very beginning aimed to promote a model of good (unhurried) life in smaller centers, providing an alternative to the big-city rush. Among the main tenets of the Cittaslow movement, we will find many points in common with the Charter of New Urbanism - drawing on local resources, creating infrastructure to improve the quality of life of residents, protecting the environment.
The identity of an "unhurried" city is based, among other things, on history and local tradition; in Prudnik, the 19th-century villa of Hermann Frankel is now the headquarters of the Prudnik Cultural Center
Photo: City Hall in Prudnik
In Poland, one can observe the growing popularity of the slow idea, which is becoming an element of a city's identity and its distinguishing feature. Among the thirty-five centers belonging to the Polish National Network of Cittaslow Cities, we can find both Sępopol, with a population of less than 5,000, and Bartoszyce, with a population of almost 30,000. What's more, in large cities (such as Krakow), slow districts are beginning to emerge.
The slow city model seems to be a great opportunity for smaller centers that, for example, lost leading industrial plants (like Prudnik) during the political transformation. Redefining one's own identity and searching for value in "not being a big city" are the starting point for revitalizing cities and towns with a peripheral (but not provincial!) character. At the same time, it should be noted that an unhurried city is not a "backward" city. An interesting perspective is the hybrid models of development of slow city centers, combining its assumptions with the concept of a green city (slow green city) or smart city (smart slow city).
The smart city model is based not only on innovation and the development of advanced technologies. It is a model that also (and perhaps above all) uses the creativity of residents, based on the involvement of all stakeholders in the process of creating the city. "A truly smart city focuses on people, taking into account not only similarities, but also differences, as well as the needs of minorities or groups at risk of exclusion. In the smart city model, it is important to listen to the voices from different sectors - the voices of the city's experts from the authority, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations, but most of all residents and citizens." - Joanna Krukowska of UrbanLab in Gdynia emphasizes.
A smart city is not only an environment based on new technologies, it is also a city that "learns" its residents, for example during debates or workshops; UrbanLab Gdynia is actively involved in implementing the smart city model in Gdynia
photo: A. Trafas
Gdynia is a flagship example of the implementation of the smart city model in Poland, awarded a certificate under the ISO 37120 standard - "Sustainable social development - indicators of urban services and quality of life." This is not surprising, since, as Krukowska points out, "Gdynia consistently implements the smart city model, in a multifaceted and comprehensive manner." A smart city is a responsive city. It is an organism that is not designed once and for all, but bases its functioning on adapting the implemented solutions to the changing needs and expectations of users, requiring constant evaluation. "Gdynia has been focusing for a long time on the Human Smart Cities model, which puts people at the center," the expert adds. - Residents and residents should be treated not only as owner(s), user(s), but also as expert(s) or customer(s). An important role of the city in including citizens and female citizens in the creation of a smart city is to listen and observe carefully - not only during meetings and debates, but also by watching from the level of application usage, popularity of selected services or solutions, and direct reports to improve the performance of existing solutions. When it comes to innovation, it is essential to be open to ingenuity and creation, supporting entrepreneurship, start-ups and innovation incubators, as well as participatory tools like citizen budgets." The most important characteristic of smart beings is the ability to adapt and learn. This also applies to smart cities that "learn" their residents.
1 The Charter of New Urbanism, translated by. M. Mycielski, A. Buczek, "Architecture Criticism," 2014, 10.
2. M. Mycielski, D. Piotrowski, Siewierz-Jeziorna - a sustainable district, "Urbanist Review" 2014, vol. VIII.