If not health, then what?

03 of March '23

The interview apoceeds from issue 10|22 A&B

Half of the world's population now lives in cities, and forecasts predict that this number will increase to two-thirds by 2050. This relentless trend means that planning cities that benefit health as well as the environment is more important than ever. In this material, we ask representatives of Polish city administrations how their approach to urban design has changed after the pandemic experience.

Health is affected by many interrelated factors that go well beyond access to health services. They include infrastructure issues such as housing, sanitation, transportation, energy systems and the availability of green spaces and parks, access to employment, education and healthy food. For nearly two hundred years, therefore, cities have been laboratories of sorts, affecting the lives of millions of people through projects, policies and internal programs. Their success (or failure) will directly affect the achievement of national and global sustainable development goals in the coming decades. Solving the climate crisis starts with informed decisions by healthy societies.

One example of an international initiative to improve the relationship between cities and the health of their residents is the WHO Healthy Cities Network. In 2016, more than 100 mayors from around the world signed the Shanghai Consensus on Healthy Cities to reaffirm their commitment to urban health, while arguing that the health of the planet starts in the city. The WHO European Healthy Cities Network, on the other hand, is an example of how the WHO Healthy Cities Network works in practice. It is an active movement of designated cities and accredited national networks (in Poland, it's the Association of Healthy Polish Cities, founded in 1993) working to prioritize the topic of health by urban authorities. WHO provides political, strategic and technical support. The most important goal is to provide opportunities for leadership at different levels of government to work together to achieve sustainable development and reduce health inequities. WHO's urban health initiatives focus on topics such as air quality, emissions and climate, with the goal of supporting cities to have the data, tools, capacity and processes to integrate health into their development policies.

The COVID-19 crisis revealed structural weaknesses not only in our economic systems, but also, more importantly, in our health systems. Two key variables stand out in this crisis: urbanization and inequality. Although urban centers are engines of economic growth, they are challenged by growing concerns about the physical and mental health of a large group of people. Addressing the topic of health in the context of an organism such as a city is being done through projects and initiatives in areas such as mental health, creative ways to reduce violence, promoting physical activity, modern modeling of intergenerational ties and access to fresh air. In the near future, uninterrupted access to energy, and in time, „clean” energy, will be permanently added to this list. Almost all of the above-mentioned issues are at the center of attention of representatives of the administration and mayors of Polish cities. These challenges are also directly entangled with the climate and energy crisis. In Europe, the latter, due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, has an additional political tinge.


How does the perspective on city planning and management change after a pandemic?

Krakow, like other cities, is undergoing constant change as a result of a variety of factors, both locally and globally. Certainly, one can speak of a noticeable impact of climate change, demographic change, economic change or technological progress on the conduct of urban policy. The solutions adopted as part of the ongoing work on the new Study—the document that defines the municipality's spatial policy—must follow these changes. For this reason, they will take into account the challenges and problems of climate change adaptation and suburbanization processes. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic were primarily related to the global public health crisis and the need to provide medical care to the population, while they did not contribute to a change in the approach to spatial planning.

The pandemic crisis and the associated restrictions on free movement affected the broader tourism sector, which primarily includes hotel and food services. The Krakow office market, a component of the modern business services sector, was also not without temporary impact. Nevertheless, in both of these areas, Kraków has continuously maintained its leading position among regional cities. We are also observing a gradual return to pre-2020 operating conditions, which is also reflected in current investments. The structure of Kraków's service sector has also not been observed to change significantly.

Kraków, plac Św. Ducha po rewitalizacji

Krakow, St. Spirit Square after revitalization

photo: Jan Graczyński ©

On the other hand, caused by successive waves of pandemic three lockdowns, the shift of workers to remote work, as well as pupils and students to remote learning have highlighted the changes in the existing behavior of the city's residents, which have been going on for many years, consisting in limiting the places of activity and ways of spending leisure time primarily to local spaces. This evolution, referred to as the „ulocalization” of urban life, confirms the legitimacy of such development planning, which aims to create public spaces that strengthen the connections between people and living spaces.
It should be emphasized that Krakow's planning policy since 2003, when the first Krakow municipal study was adopted, followed by its 2014 update, has been consistently aimed at building the polycentricity of the metropolitan spatial structure, in which an important role is played by the green system and the network of public spaces, which have an impact on raising living and residential standards. The goals and priorities of the spatial policy include the creation of conditions conducive to strengthening community ties.

The basic tool for implementing spatial policy is local spatial development plans. To a large extent, Krakow already has planning regulations enabling its orderly and sustainable development. The city is prepared in terms of spatial planning (almost 75 percent of Krakow's area is covered by local plans) and can flexibly adapt to changing conditions.

Is and how is the city prepared for the energy crisis?

The city is prepared for an energy crisis. In Krakow, the distributor of heat is Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Energetyki Cieplnej SA. The city's heat comes from three sources: PGE Energia Ciepła SA branch in Krakow, CEZ Skawina SA (both coal-fired) and the Thermal Waste Processing Plant (Krakowski Holding Komunalny). PGE and CEZ assure that they have coal reserves that will last for several months. The price of heat supplies in Krakow, distributed by MPEC, is largely dependent on suppliers. Two entities are supplied with coal, but suppliers assure that they have stocks. As a result, the estimated increase in the price of heat in Krakow will be 10-15 percent.

In the past few years, a number of upgrades have been carried out within MPEC and the network it operates, which will significantly reduce the sectorization of heat supply from individual sources. Thus, there is a possibility of flipping heat energy from different sources within our city. Today, looking at the contractors from whom MPEC buys heat, one can see that their situation is not bad. Analyses of forecasts by the Polish Chamber of Heating Industry show that in the future we can expect perturbations in the supply of the appropriate amount of coal that should feed the district heating system. The Polish district heating system, i.e. district heating plants and combined heat and power plants, uses about 5 million tons of coal annually, of which 2.1 million comes from Polish mines, the rest from imports. The coal increases will be passed on in sales prices, as they will go first to generators and then to MPEC. The Energy Regulatory Office's policy is such that it is, however, currently stopping the scale of price increases in production costs.

Independently, in view of the energy crisis, which may result in high energy costs and supply restrictions, the city's organizational units and subordinate units are reviewing options for reducing energy consumption that do not interfere with basic tasks and secure the basic needs of users. At this point, no decisions have been made on this issue.

It is worth reading the July appeal of Mayor Jacek Majchrowski to Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskva for subsidies for gas and electricity heating in households: Krakow appeals for gas and electricity heating subsidies—Magical Krakow (

Emilia Król, Department of Social Communication, Press Office


How does the perspective of city planning and management change after the pandemic?

The pandemic period had a huge impact on management not only in business, but also in administration. For the efficient management of the City, many measures had to be taken, new ways of working and communicating, which had been little used before, had to be implemented, but also existing organizational and management solutions had to be developed.

In the first months of the pandemic, these were actions taken under emergency conditions, and therefore ad hoc, based on residual data, with an unpredictable future. The challenge then was to plan and achieve the expected results both in the financial area, such as budget revenues, and in the operational dimension, such as ensuring continuity of service delivery and investment processes.

It must be strongly emphasized that in terms of the City's finances in the pandemic, in a period of deep lockdown, the budget was burdened with additional risks associated with a lower rate of growth in the revenue side of the finances than expected before the pandemic. This was largely due to disrupted supply chains for goods and services in business, with tax revenues contributing to part of the budget.
Unfortunately, the pandemic crisis from which we as a society seem to be recovering is steadily turning into another crisis—this time related to the idea of centralizing planning and management at the national level and therefore reducing local governments to the role of financial transfer institutions.

Poznań, odnowiony Rynek Łazarski;

Poznan, renovated Lazarski Market;—the increase in electricity and gas prices alone means additional expenses of about 50 million zlotys for the city budget this year

© Poznan City Hall

The City's current budget condition is a consequence of several tax reforms that have taken place in recent years: The Polish Ordinance and another amendment to it (the so-called Polish Ordinance 2.0), which came into force in July this year, which is in the legislative process. All of these reforms, resulting in losses in personal income tax (PIT) revenue, have significantly and permanently reduced the City's financial capacity. This mainly affects municipal and county governments, whose own revenues are mainly based on PIT.

Provincial governments are in a better situation, as the source of their own income is primarily a share of corporate income tax (CIT). At the same time, it should be emphasized that the compensations granted to municipal and county governments were only of a one-time nature or were partial in relation to the losses in PIT revenues. Such a situation occurred last year.

With respect to 2019, the City's PIT revenues in 2022 will be lower in nominal terms by 5 percent, and after taking inflation into account, this means their real decrease by as much as 22 percent. This indicator is of fundamental importance for assessing the health of the City's budget, since PIT funds, due to their size, are the main source of covering current expenses.

At the same time, the City is incurring increasing operating costs due to high inflation. The increase in electricity and gas prices alone means additional expenses of about PLN 50 million for the city budget this year. Rising interest rates mean higher expenses of PLN 70 million for interest on debt—projected for this year alone. This year's effects of last year's salary increases, in turn, amount to PLN 55 million.

A cautious assessment of the City's fiscal situation was confirmed on May 27 by Fitch Ratings, which kept Poznań on its watch list, with a negative indication, while pointing to the high uncertainty of external factors (such as changes in tax law) adversely affecting the City's revenues, mainly from PIT.

In view of the City's current financial situation, without ensuring the stability of its finances, it is difficult to rationally plan its development over the next few years.

Wojciech Kasprzak, director of the Organizational Department of the UMP

Is the City prepared for the energy crisis and how?

In terms of the energy crisis, the City is analyzing the topic in the context of securing the supply of electricity, heat and gas fuel. A Crisis Management Team has been established to develop mechanisms to prevent and mitigate possible energy crisis events. At the first meeting of this team, the most important managers of the electricity, heat and gas fuel transmission networks were invited to present information on the City's energy security and illustrate possible risks.

The various departments of the office and city units were also obliged to analyze possible measures to optimize energy consumption in the facilities they manage. In addition, the City is taking a number of measures to develop energy savings and optimize energy consumption. These include investments in the thermo-modernization of public facilities, intelligent management of heat substations that heat educational institutions. Such measures are aimed at increasing energy efficiency.

Łukasz Musieliński, deputy director of the Department of Municipal Economy of the UMP


Poznań;—in terms of the energy crisis, the City is analyzing the topic in the context of securing the supply of electricity, heat and gas fuel

© Poznań City Hall


The pandemic has made us realize the importance of shaping a compact yet green city. Periods of constriction also contributed to the strengthening or even restoration of traditional neighborhood ties—everyone helped someone with shopping or other daily activities. Also, the rise of remote work has brought about changes in the ways we get around the city and with regard to housing preferences. At the same time, the processes of city management have improved—thanks to the revolution in the ways of remote electronic communication: matters that previously took a long time to discuss are now handled remotely in a very short time. The pandemic has changed our lives, we probably don't yet realize how much.

Daniel Stenzel, Spokesman for the Mayor of Gdansk, Office of the Mayor


Gdansk;—the South Park project in Gdansk are presented by (from left): Edyta Damszel-Turek, Piotr Grzelak, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz

Photo: Grzegorz Mehring © UM in Gdańsk

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