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"Holes in the Ground. Detrimental development in Poland" A sad and important compendium by Łukasz Drozda

Kuba Głaz
17 of February '23

Are you in a bad mood? Wait with this reading for better days. „Holes in the Ground. Detrimental development in Poland” by Łukasz Drozda is a grim condensate of knowledge about how different forms "detrimental development" takes, who was and is behind it, and why we let ourselves be set up this way. There are also prescriptions, but not easy ones. A must-read for anyone who still believes that the market will regulate housing.

The term detrimental development has taken hold in Poland at lightning speed, which is a testament to how—despite the marketing ploys of developers—their housing „products” are received. The book „Holes in the Ground. Detrimental development in Poland” by Łukasz Drozda fills the new concept with condensed content, which should facilitate future discussions and corrective actions on housing issues.

By defining detrimental development, Drozda probably also quashes investors' efforts to make the term disappear from the language as quickly as possible, becoming a seasonal curiosity. Rather, it will stay with us as long as we continue to experience housing malaise and its attendant price tag. That is, for at least three decades. That's how long it took to get to its current state, so it's probably safe to assume that it will take just as long to fix. For the transformation (if it happens at all) must take place in the entire system, because, as we read in Drozda:

detrimental development is not an anomaly in the system, but a natural product of it.

valuable background and profiles

So what do we find in „Holes...”? Housing pathologies have been written and talked about for a long time, but Drozda finally collects them, catalogs them and—what is most interesting in all this—presents them against a broader background. Thus, we will read here about more or less well-known examples of disastrous housing, perversely small meters, fencing, doe urbanism, gentrification, micro-apartments and so on.

Particularly interesting, however, are the chapters introducing the profiles of the leading businessmen behind the biggest real estate development companies, as well as the passages about the politicians of all probably options who cooperate with them. Praise to the author for wading through this rather boggy matter and synthesizing it in an accessible form—saturated with little-known facts and connections at the interface of power and business.

Also important are matters of economics: how everyone's basic need has become the subject of investment and speculative games—not only in Poland. Perhaps, outlined in "Hole..." synthetically and factually, the picture of the situation will finally reach the heads that still believe in the „invisible hand of the market” and talk about the law of supply and demand, although, as has been obvious for a long time, the Polish housing market is not the domain of the customer, but of the manufacturers. They are the ones who have been imposing the rules of the game for years and cynically exploiting people's desire for as much stability in life.

Conspiracy or omission?

This is, of course, an offshoot of Drozd's oft-mentioned massive imbalance between the three sectors: housing for sale, for rent with moderated rent (e.g., TBS) and communal and social housing. It's no surprise, then, that one of the prescriptions given in the final pages of „Holes...” is to create competition for detrimental development in the latter two segments, neglected by the state and local governments. For, whatever demonic picture we may have of Polish housing, it is hardly the result of a Grand Conspiracy, but rather the exploitation of an occasionally stimulated opportunity. Drozda notes that

inaction in the sphere of a given public is also a way of making policy—and in Polish housing, precisely such policy is being made by omission. Whether this happens in someone's interest, as a result of a systemic mess or because of someone's ignorance—that's another question entirely.

With the last sentence, the author of „Holes...” whets the appetite. One would like to get more information about what the rank-and-file parliamentarians of various terms have done on the housing issue, for example, and what their current views on housing are. How they voted and what they opined in committees. This also applies to the laws on urban planning and construction law, which have allowed many housing pathologies and have never been repaired.

shortage of architects

There is also a lack of coverage of the position of the architectural community: both the Chamber of Architects and the SARP. Somewhat because the position has been phantom in recent decades, which, however, is also significant information. Yes, Drozda points out the mistakes of contemporary designers of bad estates and apartments. They especially pale in comparison with the postwar panorama of Polish housing plotted at the beginning of the book, but—despite a few mentions—there is perhaps a bit too little here about architects as accomplices in the current state of affairs. Perhaps it's out of pity? Because designers have long been at a loss and will either "just follow the developer's orders" or drive their teeth into the wall?

Maybe it's also because for some time now it's been some architects who have been promoting creative ways to solve housing issues, led by Agata Twardoch and her "System for Housing." Drozda quotes both her and sociologist Katarzyna Kajdanek, who studies the phenomenon of returns to cities from crumbling peripheries, and several other scientists, With their books they have provided the author of „Holes...” with solid material. Solid material, and thanks to the references in the book—they will, perhaps, become reading for a wider audience than before.

will there be a game changer?

"Holes in the ground", as a factual but popular reading, is therefore a must read not only for those who want to confirm their grim diagnosis of Polish housing, but—above all—for those who downplay the housing misery we experience or do not want to see it. All the more so because the last chapter presents possible solutions to the situation. The readers should therefore be government officials, parliamentarians, local government officials and developers. There is a chance that „Holes...” will be read at least by the more socially responsible group of investors, which—to be fair—Drozda also mentions.Finally, it is also reading for architects, who, stuck for years in a sick system, often seem not to notice what they are participating in.

Drozda's two-hundred-page book is worth several hours of reading theirwill lower the mood, because, first, it is a condensed and factual read (although it cries out for more footnotes to the information provided), and second, it is written briskly and dynamically. Drozda, a sociologist and urban planner, has managed to gain lightness and panache from the somewhat heavy-handed „Refining Space...”, a work devoted to gentrification. He balances skillfully between academic and popular levels, juxtaposes aptly hard statistical data with selected cases of a more anecdotal, „reportage” nature.

He is also not afraid to call disastrous phenomena by name, while never turning into a folk tribune. And will „Holes...” will change anything in Polish housing? That's already a lottery. Before Drozda, much had already been written about housing pathologies and—so far—not much has come of it. But, maybe it is the monograph of the Polish pat-developer that will become a long-awaited game changer. Let's hope so.

Jakub Głaz

"Holes in the Ground. Detrimental development in Poland" by Lukasz Drozda.

Czarne Publishing House, Wolowiec, 2023

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