Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!
Become an A&B portal user and receive giveaways!

Is it possible to like Vistula?

23 of April '24
w skrócie
  1. Marcin Brataniec moderated a discussion on discovering rivers at the International Architecture Biennale 2023 in Krakow.
  2. They discussed the importance of rivers, especially the Vistula River, as a key public space in Krakow and opportunities to improve their accessibility and use.
  3. The need to realize the potential of smaller rivers and streams as social and recreational spaces, often overlooked in urban planning, was emphasized.
  4. The interviewees identified the challenges of protecting and revitalizing rivers and the need to take action in the long term.

  5. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the A&B portal

The conversation comes from A&B issue 12|23

A conversation with Marcin Brataniec, curator and moderator of the panel "Discovering Rivers" at last year's International Architecture Biennale in Krakow.

Marta Kulawik:To begin with, I should ask, why didn't we meet at the river?

Marcin Brataniec:Because it had just started raining [laughs]. We are in a city by the river, in a district by the river [Old Podgórze - editor's note].

: Is it possible to like the Vistula

Marcin: It is wonderful, it is impossible not to like the Vistula. It is she, among other things, who makes it good to live in this city. Krakow doesn't have such a problem with severing its relationship with the river as other Polish cities do. Or at least with the main river, because we'll probably talk about the other, smaller ones later. During the panel on uncovering rivers, we mentioned, among other things, Lodz, whose water was needed for industry, and today this connection with the river is completely severed and the rivers flow in pipes underground. In Cracow, we still have the Vistula on the surface, the state of its water is better than it used to be, and it has boulevards that Cracovians enjoy using. On almost the entire length of its flow through the city, it is accessible and the infrastructure along it is getting better and better, paths, for example, are being expanded.

fragment prezentacji Marcina Bratańca

excerpt from a presentation by Marcin Brataniec

© illustrations from the archives of Marcin Brataniec

Marta: Is the potential of the river fully utilized?

Marcin: Along the Vistula itself, to a large extent yes, but it could also work transversely, on adjacent neighborhoods and settlements, which could get an even better connection with the Vistula by organizing parks leading towards it or building more pedestrian and bicycle connections.

Marta: The positive impact of such transverse connections was brilliantly demonstrated by the construction of the Father Bernatek footbridge, which connected Kazimierz with Podgórze and contributed to the revitalization of all the streets leading to it and the nearby boulevards on both sides of the river. Let's hope that the new pedestrian and bicycle footbridge connecting Grzegórzki and Zabłocie will have a similar effect.

Marcin: That's exactly right. Because car connections, especially in the center, would no longer be a good idea. We should create these connections to the river, but in moderation, because somewhere there is a threshold above which we start littering, abusing and adversely affecting the river. For me, such an example is the number of barges on the Vistula. Up to some point these restaurants on the water are lovely, but when there are too many of them, they start to get in the way.

Marta: I have this observation that those barges, which are already part of the image of the boulevards, are the least disturbing and do not obstruct the view. Aesthetically, however, they are terrible: dirty, covered with a layer of pigeon droppings, have an inconsistent appearance and carelessly posted menus. The newest ones look better, but they obstruct pedestrians' view from across the Vistula to the Rock. Besides, only one of them is a public restaurant, and the others are so-called motels, or hotels on the water, which can be used by a very limited number of people, and not residents.

Marcin: That's why we should deepen this topic and talk not only about the use of the Vistula, but also the other rivers we have or don't have. This is also what the conversation on the Biennale stage was about, besides the Vistula there is the Białucha or the Rudawa. The discussion was also about lost rivers, such as the Rudawa, whose former riverbed disappeared somewhere underground. We also talked about the Royal Młynówka, where today we have green areas used better or worse, but we do not have the watercourse itself, that is, direct contact with water.

Jak bulwary wiślane są postrzegane przez mieszkańców Krakowa?

How are the Vistula boulevards perceived by the residents of Krakow?

© presentation by Piotr Kempf, former director of the Board of Urban Greenery in Krakow

Marta: I have the impression that among many people living in Krakow, it is the less popular rivers that are more liked. If only because the Vistula boulevards (especially near Wawel Castle) are crowded and noisy during the warm summer months or bright days off work. Besides, we look for a place in close proximity where we can go for a daily walk with the dog or be outside with the child. So, maybe instead of dealing with how to improve the Vistula boulevards, which are working, we should be concerned with discovering those more forgotten and neglected rivers?

Marcin: You mean the boulevards project presented by Piotr Kempf? [Director of the Board of Urban Greenery in Krakow - editor's note]. Here I would like to point out that river boulevards can be developed in many ways. In a more or less natural way, they can be strengthened, hardened. And this should be the subject of very deep thought. I am not convinced by the vision that ZZM presents. It contains good ideas, but, for example, the segregation of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and with the help of a green belt, is not the best idea, because it disturbs the continuity of the space of the Vistula riverbed. Please note how many people on the lower boulevard are sitting by the wall in the meadow or lying on a blanket in the grass. A green belt with tall grasses or shrubs separating pedestrians from cyclists will result in a person sitting on the grass no longer seeing the river, and these collisions at the intersections of the tracts will happen anyway.

Marta: What's more, by creating such a bicycle highway, the cyclist, feeling more secure, will ride faster, less cautiously, more dangerously. Now at least he stays alert, knowing that he has to share this lane in half with walkers, and also there are no conditions for him to speed up very much. This is how a woonerf works with the rest - combining the functions of a street and a pedestrian zone by calming traffic and abandoning the division of space between vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Marcin: That's why we, as an architectural community, believe that all such serious decisions and ideas should be the subject of very deep thought and the result of many points of view, in short, an architectural competition. One then gathers guidelines, conducts public consultations, diagnoses needs and threats, but then presents all this to professionals to express themselves in the form of a competition work. Then you can confront: this one thinks this, that one proposes that, and an interdisciplinary committee can choose the best of many proposals. Here we are dealing with one proposal. It is known that if anything is done, there is some effect.

I would see the future of rivers not only in the context of a top-down imposed design of one type, but primarily as the result of an open forum of designers, obviously in response to specific needs. Green always looks good in pictures, but even here you need to proceed very carefully, you need to look at individual solutions and see many proposals, and from the perspective of both residents and architects and urban planners.

projekt bulwarów wiślanych prezentowany przez Piotra Kempfa, byłego Dyrektora Zarządu Zieleni Miejskiej w Krakowie

The design of the Vistula boulevards presented by Piotr Kempf, former Director of the Board of Urban Greenery in Krakow.

© Excerpt from a presentation by the former Director of the Board of Urban Greenery in Krakow

Marta: Coming back to the presented idea for the Vistula boulevards: I think the idea is a bit over-invested. You have to reckon with the fact that Krakow is haunted by floods from time to time, to which this expensive infrastructure will be exposed, and any damage will have to be repaired or reconstructed. Maybe leaving the grass where you can sit by the Vistula and even touch the water isn't such a bad thing, and playgrounds or other non-essential elements could be located a little higher up, for example.

Marcin: Yes, excessive addition of swings or hedges there at some point becomes excessive. And that also affects the cost of course. This was recounted by Professor Rybicki, who emphasized that river-related activities, even those that seem appropriate and obvious from the point of view of ecology or space composition, also give rise to risks. He summed it up brilliantly with the maxim that "we must take responsibility for the river."

The vote has already been cast