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Smooth transition

16 of February '21

A lot of water passed before the Warta began to serve Poznanians again. Today it is a different river than a decade ago. Last year, restoration of its banks began. And in late January, city planners presented the latest, coherent master plan for the river within the city limits.

A city turned away from the river

Until a decade ago, Poznań and the Warta River flowing through it were strangers to each other. As in many other cities in the country, Poznań turned its back on the river, or even worse - literally pushed it away. In the 1960s, engineers filled in the picturesque, if troublesome for navigation, bend of the Warta separating the strict city from the historic and small Chwaliszewo district. Since then, the Warta has been flowing through the center along its former relief trough, narrow, straight and disciplined. In a long stretch it is framed by concrete bands. More of an industrial canal than a river.

After 1990, there were several strategies for returning the city to the river and modifying its course and riverbed, but until the early part of the previous decade, most of the ideas and results of urban planning competitions remained on paper. Only the 2012 Strategy for the Warta River was partially reflected in reality.

Before that, the river was not walked on, there was almost no construction near it, except for the postmodern residential enclave on Serafitek Street (1990s, designed by Klimaszewska & Biedak) and Poznan's first apartment building aptly transforming the forms of modernism (2003, designed by Jerzy Gurawski and Przemyslaw Cieślak). The first decade of this century also saw the construction of residential buildings and an office building on the shore of the former river port at Szyperska Street (proj. Archikwadrat). Both developments curiously fenced off and cut off access to the waterfront, although the interpretation of the water law would rather dictate that a one-and-a-half-meter strip be left accessible to everyone.

Zabudowa of Szyperska StreetZabudowa of Szyperska StreetZabudowa of Szyperska Street.

The development of Szyperska Street, which (on the left) has fatally cut off the old port area from the river.

Photo: Jakub Głaz

Poznanians from other neighborhoods began to return to the Warta River area at the end of the first decade of this century - thanks to the cultural and gastronomic seasonal initiative KontenerART, which first located itself in the then still unmanaged old riverbed of the Warta, and then on its bank by the former gasworks. The old riverbed, on the other hand, was transformed into a park only in 2016 (proj. 1050 Pracownia Architektury)!

Wartostrada

Nearly a decade ago, however, construction began on Wartostrada , a pedestrian and bicycle route on both sides of the Warta River and the Cybina River flowing into it. It began with a section near Szelągowski Park north of the Old Town. Subsequent sections on both sides of the river were opened in the following years. Today they form a fairly coherent whole, which still needs a much-needed addition at the level of the Old Town. On this most representative section, the boulevards would also benefit from a more refined and thoughtful appearance linked to creative use of the riverside escarpment. The asphalt path and stairs with a ramp that the city built here in 2019 is an architectural sub-standard, especially if one compares it with recent projects in Wroclaw (Dunikowski Boulevards) or the development of the boulevards in the capital. Wartostrada is being systematically supplemented with small architecture and lighting, also quite cheap. In addition, the lamps raise objections from some community activists and environmentalists, who point out the disruption of nocturnal animal life in the river's ecological corridor.

The Wartostrada between the river and the slope of Szelągowska Street. The recently installed lanterns raise objections from environmentalists.Wartostrada between the river and the slope of Szelągowska Street. The recently installed lanterns raise objections from environmentalists.Wartostrada between the river and the slope of Szelągowska Street. The recently installed lanterns raise objections from environmentalists..

Wartostrada between the river and the slope of Szelągowska street. Recently installed lanterns raise objections from environmentalists.

Photo: Jakub Głaz

Changes on the Warta River

The new infrastructure is very helpful, but the crowds appeared in the downtown floodplains along the Warta independently of the city's investments: in the spring of 2015. This is because a new interpretation of the law allowed drinking alcohol in these areas, which students took advantage of. In the following years, several city beaches were also built along the river. At one of them, on the Szeląg, the Szeląg Garden has also been in operation for three years, with a simple pavilion (proj. wiercinski-studio), which was even nominated in the 2020 ArchDaily Building of the Year competition in the Small Scale & Installations category.

Park Szelągowski with Szeląg Garden. In depth a day care centerPark Szelągowski with Szeląg Garden. In depth a day care centerPark Szelągowski with Szeląg Garden. In depth a day care center.

Szelągowski Park with Szeląg Garden. In depth the day care center, on the right the catering and office container (proj. wiercinski-studio)

photo: Jakub Glaz

Ewa and Zbigniew Łowżylow, responsible for the success of the Old Town's KontenerART, also continue and will develop their activities here in the increasingly interestingly adapted containers. The city also erected a small pavilion with facilities for watermen last year in the old port, where it is laboriously preparing a marina.

More visible buildings have also been built along the Warta River. The most spectacular structure is the Gate of Poznań heritage interpretation center at the junction of Ostrów Tumski and the historic Śródka district - a massive concrete cube suspended gracefully over the Cybina riverbed and connected by a built-up footbridge to the remains of the former Cybina Lock (designed by Ad Artis Emerla Wojda, 2013).

The Poznan University of Technology has also been expanding along the river since the early years of this century, freely interpreting the master plan for the campus prepared in a 1999 competition by Professor Marian Fikus. His authorship also includes the first riverside facility: a lecture center with a library. Subsequent departments and the sports hall were designed by other architects, often without competition. The form of these facilities, their functionality and the relationship between them are highly debatable and deserve a separate analysis. On the other hand, a great failure is the development of the area between the campus and the river. The boulevard overlooking the Old Town designed by Professor Fikus has not been built.

Nadrzeczna panorama of the Poznan University of Technology campus. Nadrzeczna panorama of the Poznan University of Technology campus. Nadrzeczna panorama of the Poznan University of Technology campus.

A riverside panorama of the Poznan University of Technology campus.

photo: Jakub Głaz

To the south of the Old Town, meanwhile, residential developments in Bielniki are approaching the river, in a place that was ripped out of a green wedge 15 years ago that was not intended for this type of development. In their neighborhood, the city restored last year the former River Baths and the so-called Childhood under the Sun with the Municipal House of Culture, built in the late 1920s. Today, the Baths do not serve the former function of a bathhouse. For the time being, the renovated building has been used rather awkwardly for offices. A catering service is also planned.

Finally, last year the so-called riverbank restoration began. Concrete banding from the 1960s will give way to baskets and gabion mattresses filled with humus and stones. Wody Polskie, which is responsible for the project, declares that the riverbank arranged in this way will enable better water retention and plant growth. Renovated terraces, stairs and slips will also be part of the project, the first stage of which is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Naturalists and environmentalists appreciate the changes, although they have reservations about, among other things, the cleaning of gabion baskets and the cutting of wild greenery accompanying the redevelopment.

Betonowe buntings of the 1960s riverbed are now being replaced with gabions.Betonowe buntings of the 1960s riverbed are now being replaced with gabions.Betonowe buntings of the 1960s riverbed are now being replaced with gabions..

The concrete bands of the riverbed of the Warta River from the 1960s are now being replaced with gabions.

photo: Jakub Głaz

vision of changes

The changes along the Warta River are taking place smoothly, and more are to come. In January, designers from the City Urban Planning Studio, in cooperation with several city departments, presented a coherent vision of what might change on the river in the next dozen years, broken down into temporal stages: up to 2025, 2025-2035 and after 2035. This synthetic overview takes into account both city documents and investment plans, as well as the intentions of developers and institutions.

The river within the city limits has been divided into five sections. The least interference is planned for the two outermost areas: the northern and southern. Here nature is to rule above all, although a continuation of Wartostrada is planned, among other things, but no longer in asphalt, but in a more natural form. In the Starołęka district, residential developments will also be built on riverside post-factory grounds.

The Przyrodniczo valuable northern section of the Warta River valleyPrzyrodniczo valuable northern section of the Warta River valleyPrzyrodniczo valuable northern section of the Warta River valley

A naturally valuable northern section of the Warta River valley that will hardly be transformed.

Photo: Jakub Głaz

Most of the transformation is planned for the downtown section in the coming years. From the continuation of less spectacular projects, such as the completion of Wartostrada, more recreation areas, through the construction of two marinas, including a marina in the old port, to the much-awaited Berdychowska footbridge: a pedestrian and bicycle crossing that will connect the Old Town with the Technical University and further to Lake Malta. The construction project based on the concept selected in the competition is already ready (designed by ARPA Architektoniczna Pracownia Autorska Jerzy Gurawskiego, SKI Studio Błażej Szurkowski, MS86A Maciej Sokolnicki Architekt and Adam Turczyn), although the media have just reported on budget problems and the need to "slim down" the investment. The intermediate zones between the downtown part and the natural areas, on the other hand, are - in the south - the "sports zone" and in the north - the "recreation zone." Here, investments are planned primarily in sports fields, beaches, a new footbridge connecting Rataje and Wilda, and revaluations of park areas adjacent to the Warta River, including the creation of an "ecological park" with teaching paths at the level of the Główna district.

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Concrete plant in the northern part of Ostrów Tumski.

photo: Jakub Głaz

However, the most controversial development of the northern areas of O strów Tumski, between the Warta and Cybina rivers, is currently causing too much controversy due to overly dense development. Developer Robyg is trying to invest in the heavily greened area of the former power plant. Also next door, on the site of a concrete plant, dense residential development is to be built. Meanwhile, construction of the bridge needed to serve the area is not planned until the 1930s. Fortunately, the plans may be subject to modification, as the concept presented in January will still be consulted, including by the Warta Development Team, which was unfrozen earlier this year.


Jakub Głaz

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