TheMalta Festival inPoznań, which is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, had to reorganize its activities and program due to the pandemic. As a result, this year's festival can be attended not only in the city space, but also remotely. The organizers are making recordings of the events available online, including one that took place in early July, which is particularly interesting in the context of cities and their post-pandemic challenges. The debate, titled "Smart Cities," featured columnist Edwin Bendyk, cultural studies scholar and urban researcher Piotr Juskowiak and architect Jola Starzak, and the discussion was moderated by journalist Michał Nogaś.
condition of polish cities in the context of the pandemic
According to Edwin Bendyk, cities have fared exceedingly well during the pandemic. Thanks to local governments that act locally and are close - resilience to problems was properly developed, and basic urban functions were carried out. The pandemic also showed the problems of education and its accessibility, not only in Poland, but around the world. The utopian belief that technology works in this area did not work. Instead, it has succeeded in combining local government resources with volunteerism to bring help to the elderly. The strike by cross-border workers at the Czech border, among others, who were forgotten by both the Polish and Czech states, was also an example of the positive energy that was unleashed during the pandemic. This energy, ability to organize and act, however, is repressed because we treat it in terms of trauma. And these are innovations with which we could enrich our cities.
According to Jola Starzak, what is important is what we learned during the pandemic not about cities, but about people. We began to help each other - neighborly relations were revived, kindness and localism were awakened. This is something we should not waste - actions that happened naturally and without top-down animation. The undisputed king among architectural elements - the balcony - also emerged, which shows our awakening and the need for a relationship with nature. This is because it turned out that greenery and "urban emptiness", which were treated as wasted space that cannot be earned, are the most important elements of our lives, without which we are unable to function.
Participating in the debate were: Edwin Bendyk, Piotr Juskowiak and Jola Starzak, the discussion was moderated by journalist Michał Nogaś
photo: Maciej Zakrzewski
Unfortunately, the other side of the coin of pandemic social life, as Michal Nogas noted, was the fear and stigmatization of those who came into contact with the virus. A negative picture was also painted by Piotr Juskowiak, who drew attention to social inequality in the context of work. It turned out that a sizable portion of the middle class is able to do their work remotely, while those working in industries such as trade, industry and health care are unable to switch to such a mode of operation. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we still had no knowledge of how big the threat was, these people had to overcome their fears all the time while at work. The positive aspect of this situation is the realization that if it were not for these occupations, our cities would have come to a standstill and would not have been able to function. We could repeat, for example, the scenario of Naples. So the work of people whose professions do not necessarily enjoy the term "good career path" should be appreciated. Juskowiak also notes the problem of privatizing the asylum. Those who could afford it bought allotments and vacation homes to seek peace and "see the good in the situation."
The need to escape or trust in the city?
With the change in our daily rituals, hindered access to services and commerce, police on the streets - we could feel the fear of city life. As Jola Starzak says - so we wanted to build the world from scratch. And since the easiest way to do this was around ourselves, there was a flight to the proverbial bunkers to wait out the situation safely. According to Edwin Bendyk, out of this uncertainty flows the desire to return to one's own making, and the saying "my home is my castle" is most relevant here.
As Michal Nogas noted, with the pandemic our relationship with the city has loosened - some still haven't returned to the cities they left in March. So maybe we don't trust cities after all? According to Juskowiak, there is a paradox going on here, on the one hand there is a fear of density and crowds in us, because potentially in them the virus could hide, and on the other hand we are already tired of isolation and confinement within four walls. Hence this very escape to the countryside. In the UK, there is already a discussion directed at taking advantage of the resources, albeit housing, of smaller cities, which, while they have much to offer, are not such a magnet as London or Liverpool. Perhaps with the remote work model, the largest cities will be diluted in favor of the smaller ones, and the flight will no longer be considered questionable, but a responsible good scenario.