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A democratic form of disposing of city money or a tool in the hands of public relations specialists?

22 of September '20

A child is running after a ball, a man with disproportionately large feet is heading towards him from the opposite direction. Above them floats an angular car with round headlights. The whole scene is watched from the side by a strange, disproportionately tall house with one pair of doors on the first floor, one window on the first floor and a gabled roof with shallow eaves. The house stands on the corner of a narrow street, or it doesn't stand anywhere because it is a portable house, pulled by its owner on a sled. Perhaps the designer of the D-40 sign left room for interpretation here, or he didn't suspect that anyone would think twice about it.

znak D-40

D-40 sign

© Wikimedia Commons

The D-40 traffic sign, according to a ministerial decree, is used to mark residential zones, i.e. places where pedestrian priority, vehicle speed limits and the order to park only in designated areas apply. In residential zones, the legislature has even recommended the use of solutions that enforce slow driving, such as slowing thresholds, diversions and local narrowing of the roadway. The Traffic Signs Act inadvertently formulates a concept twinned with the Dutch woonerf, an urban street that reconciles the needs of all traffic participants as well as safety issues and aesthetic value.

przebudowany odcinek
ulicy 6 sierpnia

reconstructed section of August 6 street

Photo: Wojciech Stępień

Poland's first woonerf (the first at least since the word "woonerf" gained popularity on the Vistula River) was financed with funds from the civic budget, i.e. a pool of funds from the municipality's annual budget, the allocation of which is decided by popular vote on proposals brought in advance by residents. With the star of the first civic budget in Lodz, the reconstruction of a section of August 6 Street, this form of deciding on municipal investment goals can be considered particularly relevant to the needs of urban public spaces.

As a legacy of 19th century speculative land management, downtown Lodz has inherited a deficit of public spaces - a small number of city squares and a sparse grid of streets over which there is an ongoing battle - should they be for vehicular or bicycle transportation? For commerce or for green space? Are they to be used every day, or only on holidays? The second half of the twentieth century, on the other hand, has surrounded old Lodz with a ring of residential neighborhoods, where excess and little development of public spaces is a curse.

In such conditions, accompanied (at least initially) by political restraint in making controversial decisions, creativity and grassroots initiative of residents come to the fore on the occasion of annual editions of the civic budget.

park kieszonkowy na
rogu ulic S. Więckowskiego i 28 Pułku Strzelców Kaniowskich

The pocket park at the corner of S. Więckowskiego and 28 Pułku Strzelców Kaniowskich pocket park
On the corner of S. Więckowskiego and 28 Pułku Strzelców Kaniowskich streets

Photo: Wojciech Stępień

Since 2013, i.e. since the first public vote on city spending, more than a dozen city streets have been transformed into woonerfs - the source of the idea and funding for the first conversions was the LBO, and at the moment the city, in the course of modernizing the transportation system, is implementing the experience of woonerfs on the occasion of an increasing number of road investments. Several undeveloped plots of land have been turned into pocket parks and playgrounds in anticipation of buyers and investors - including a plot of land on the corner of Traugutta and Sienkiewicz streets, which was unsuccessfully put up for sale in the past, and on which the only large playground in this part of the city has been arranged.

plac zabaw na rogu
ulic R. Traugutta i H. Sienkiewicza

The playground on the corner of R. Traugutta and H. Sienkiewicza

photo: Wojciech Stępień

Some of the recreational areas located on housing estates are experiencing a second youth thanks to renovations and equipping with sports infrastructure and small architecture - such as "Park na Mlynku," a green area surrounding a small pond, which was arranged from scratch, and its successive retrofitting has become an integral part of each edition of LBO. A turnaround in thinking about transportation within the city was the urban bicycle system and bicycle infrastructure projects - from bicycle paths to changing the organization of traffic within unreconstructed streets by changing signage.

ul. 28 Pułku
Strzelców Kaniowskich, kontrapas oraz śluza rowerowa

28 Pułku Strzelców Kaniowskich Street, a contra lane and a bicycle lock

Photo: Wojciech Stępień

Both the essence and the actual role of the Lodz civic budget can be assessed as a de facto democratic form of disposing of city money, but also as a clever way to avoid political accountability for decisions, or simply a tool in the hands of public relations specialists. Regardless of this assessment, some of the funds allocated to the Lodz civic budget to some extent influenced the image of the city's public space, perhaps even the public vote was the only chance to effectively implement some ideas.

przedstawiająca jednorożca – zlokalizowany w sąsiedztwie przystanku tramwajowego ochrzczonego szyderczym mianem „stajni jednorożców”

A sculpture depicting a unicorn - located in the vicinity of a streetcar stop derisively baptized as a "stable of unicorns"

photo: Wojciech Stępień

Public spaces, however, account for a small percentage of all tasks carried out under the Łódź civic budget, accompanied by the fear that grassroots initiatives are forced to compete with attempts to satisfy other spheres that have not received adequate funding such as equipping libraries or modernizing schools - despite the fact that these areas are part of the municipality's own tasks.

Thecivic budget in Lodz has been in place since 2013. Since then, the city's residents have voted to spend around PLN 280 million on more than 1,200 district and city-wide tasks. In the last local elections, Mayor Hanna Zdanowska, the godmother of the LBO, who is seeking re-election, won in the first round, having received 70.2 percent of the vote.

ul. S. Pogonowskiego
– projekt przebudowy z wykorzystaniem doświadczeń w realizacji pierwszych woonerfów, finansowanie przebudowy niezwiązane
z budżetem obywatelskim

S. Pogonowskiego Street - reconstruction project using the experience of implementing the first woonerfs,
Financing of reconstruction not related to the civic budget

Photo: Wojciech Stępień

Wojciech Stępień

The vote has already been cast