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Hubert Trammer on MKUA's role in the public space debate

22 of February '24

Article taken from A&B issue 11|23

What role should MKUA play in the debate about the quality of urban space? Does it fulfill such a role at present?

The urban planning process definitely needs to be more socialized: not at the expense of the substantive level, but going hand in hand with raising it. I would see ways to do this primarily in the dissemination of various participatory tools. For example, such as Charette workshops, in which various parties interested in the development of an area, including residents and ordinary users, together with urban planners and other professionals work out solutions together.

At the same time, in places of supra-local importance, solutions that open the process to incidental users are important. In places such as train stations, bazaars, squares in front of cultural facilities or swimming pools, it is worth setting up attractive consultation stalls with mock-ups.

It is important for the quality of space and life how we plan not only cities, but also areas outside them. They should be given equal importance. Hence, the activities of the Municipal Urban Planning and Architectural Commissions are as important as those of the Municipal Urban Planning and Architectural Commissions. In the case of the latter, and in the case of the MKUA in many of the medium and small cities, and even some of the large cities, the role of the commissions in shaping the debate may be more significant than in the case of the large cities, or many of the large cities, where there are more extensive and diverse communities interested in developing such a debate.

At the same time, I believe that the participation of the Municipal or Urban Planning and Architectural Commission in the public debate should still not be one of its primary tasks. The operation of the Urban Planning and Architectural Commission as an advisory body to the mayor, village head or mayor has significant advantages. Subjecting a draft plan or study to the opinion of a body composed mostly of people from outside the office, independent of the author's team, provides a valuable opportunity for substantive revision. In Warsaw, the majority of local plans, as well as applications under the lex-developer law, are presented before the City Planning and Architectural Commission at least twice - at the concept stage and then at the final draft stage. In increasing the degree of socialization of the planning process, it would be valuable that, in addition to adopting the principle of starting work on the plan with participatory activities, along with the presentation of the plan before the Urban Planning and Architectural Commission, their results should also be presented.

I agree with the authors of the study "Strengthening the social and substantive factor in the shaping of urban space" that the publication of the opinions of the Urban Planning and Architectural Commissions together with dissenting opinions should be a standard and is worth ordering in the regulations. In Warsaw, opinions with dissenting opinions are published, although this is done collectively, once in a while, so in some cases several months pass between the commission's adoption of an opinion and its publication. This is the right thing to do in favor of openness, but I am not convinced that it can be considered a solution that exhausts the characteristics of socialization of the spatial planning process. Undoubtedly, on the other hand, such publication makes it easier for those who want to prepare themselves substantively to participate in the discussion or to submit comments to become acquainted with the opinions. Since between the time the plan or study is presented to the comments of the Municipal or Urban Planning and Urban Development Commission and the time it is subjected to public discussion, the authors may introduce changes to take into account these comments, it would be beneficial to present a method of addressing these comments. Perhaps, along with the comments, it should be part of the material accompanying the consultation of the project.

In Warsaw, the simultaneous strengthening of social and substantive factors in the shaping of urban space was achieved by making good use of the opportunities provided by the law known as lex deweloper. The non-mandatory recommendation to submit proposals to public consultations, juxtaposed with the occurrence of several cases of rejection of applications for development approval under this law by the City Council, under pressure from protesting activists, led to the spread of the custom of organizing public consultations among investors. Warsaw's experience with the practice of lex developer shows that the possibility of public discussion of projects much more concrete than more or less open planning assumptions yields very good results. One would have to look for opportunities to spread such practices. At the same time, of course, this would mean expanding the clerical team serving them, and in the case of the largest cities, perhaps establishing separate Urban Planning and Architectural Commissions for different parts of the cities.

It is worth noting that the practice of consulting every proposed building or even redevelopment is widely accepted in Switzerland. Part of this is the custom of marking out the dimensions of planned buildings in the field with poles or other elements. It is also customary in Switzerland to appoint Urban Planning and Architectural Commissions by popular election. Perhaps among the ways to strengthen the substantive and social factors at the same time could be the inclusion of popularly elected representation on the City and Municipal Architectural and Urban Planning Commissions.

An interesting solution operating for many years in Lublin was the Council for the Culture of Space appointed by the mayor of the city Krzysztof Żuk, which consisted of activists from various organizations, as well as individuals gathered in the Forum for the Culture of Space with an additional invitation to join it from people who are members of the Municipal Urban Planning and Architectural Commission. The Council, in consultation with the Forum, prepared positions on various issues and met with the mayor from time to time. Those on the MKUA who accepted the invitation to participate had a substantive input. This arrangement could be a model, although unlike the MKUA, the work in the Council and Forum was social. It is a fundamental question to what extent the socialization of the process must mean the use of social labor. As a result of political polarization in Poland, which has resulted in the consolidation of opposition forces and their constituents in many cities, the Krzysztof Żuk Electoral Committee, which brings together a wide range of opposition parties, won 19 out of 31 seats in the City Council. With strong support, the mayor appears to have lost interest in broad public dialogue, which was his forte at the beginning of his tenure. The result, among other things, was the abandonment of cooperation with the Space Culture Council.

Hubert Trammer

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