The column is from issue 10|22 A&B
What does a healthy city even mean? And how to lead them to that health? For now, we have insisted on dietary supplement therapy in Poland. Why not reach for real medicines?
Dietary supplements will stand separately in pharmacies so that they don't mix with medicines, and their advertising will be restricted. These unbelievable announcements by those in power slipped through the media just before the festival of death arranged around the elderly Windsor woman. But since even this seemingly imperishable senior citizen has stopped clinging to her stool, virtually anything is possible. Also that the radio and television will not deliver screeching dialogues about outstanding pills for gas, stale breath and a soft penis.
The very news of the hit on supplements—that staple of the dietary pyramid for Poles—could have the power of shock therapy. However, dietary supplements will not disappear from menus. More: they will not evaporate from other areas of life either. After all, many official, corporate or municipal mechanisms work similarly to supplements and with comparable effect, which is to say—as the Chief Sanitary Inspector shyly reminds us from time to time—they are ineffective in curing (read: fixing) anything. Worse: as the NIK showed in January, control over the quality and content of supplements is often illusory.
Meanwhile, cities also have their own dietary supplements: they make them themselves and ingest them themselves. With pills of various kinds of "strategies," "programs" or "actions," they want to heal areas that qualify for intensive therapy. Some localities, the more ambitious ones and probably unglued from reality, even want to be a "healthy city" altogether.
What does a healthy city even mean? A sack as capacious as a city that is "happy," "benevolent" "fifteen-minute" or "smart" (or, unbeknownst to us, "smart," since that's how the word smart was translated into Polish). Not that these slogans are empty. On the contrary, they are full of great things. And that's why, having assimilated the books describing them (or just the blurb on the covers), officials use these slogans as fashionable components of updated development strategies, programs of various activation or top-down social actions.
For years, however, it has been the same. Programs and strategies their own, and reality hassles as it will. In the document: "garden city," and in reality—"fenced city." The strategy says "friendly neighborhoods," and the office issues permits to the pat-developer. And so this twisted practice undermines the sense of strategic thinking, just as the idea of urban planning was ridiculed decades ago. On top of this, no one seriously monitors whether the provisions of forward-looking documents are put into practice, hold water and produce tangible results. And many officials—who formally act within the framework of this or that strategy—are not particularly familiar with its content or at least its general spirit.
Astonishing, then, is the unremitting faith in the causality of such strangely implemented documents-supplements that equals trust in the efficacy of vitamins for malignant cancer. It's as if someone has permanently bewildered official heads with advertising:
- Oh, I see you have sick public housing!
- It's barely hanging on. I've tried everything.
- Everything? And have you used the Max Forte Plus Strategy?
- Max Forte Plus strategy?
Here follows probably at least three times a repetition of puzzlement, questions and answers to forever hammer home the need for a strategy. Finally, the recipient is hit with specifics:
- Remember, the Max Forte Plus Strategy supports the prevention of shortage of meters of public housing and contains an exceptionally high concentration of letters and a beneficial extract of the Law Journal.
There is another special category of official dietary supplement applied together with spectral strategies: image and promotional actions, or so-called city branding. Here, too, it can be fun. In addition to the unique slogans of larger cities, a single slogan can handle and with a dozen smaller towns. Hence the rash of "open cities," "it's worth living here," "cities of opportunity" and "friendly cities," which most often means everything and nothing. But that's half a misery. Worse is when the slogan goes head-to-head with reality. Poznan's "city of know-how" once crashed with a series of investment and architectural failures. Today, Szczecin promoting itself as a "Floating Garden" has allowed Kępa Parnicka—an island on the Oder River—to be built up with a concrete residential moloch.
Therefore, it is time to ask in Leninist terms "what to do"? If not with supplements, then what to repair and cure cities with? The answer is trivial: with carefully directed therapies, after first making a factual diagnosis and outlining the goals and methods of achieving them. Then—boring as hell, but very important—you have to continuously monitor measurable progress, deviations from the course, or slippage from the dynamically changing reality. Real medicine, however, costs money, and it must be prepared by professionals. Those in office, however, are becoming scarce, vacancies are multiplying, as salaries have not kept pace not only with inflation, but also with decency.
And, after all, the creation of a healthy city must be the responsibility of a healthy official body: efficient, substantive and reorganized, because the shabby structures of the magistrates' offices continue without change as stubbornly as Elizabeth Number Two. Therefore, it's time to dig a grave for the old structures as well, and then move more effectively than before towards healthy, happy, smart, kind, witty and who the hell knows what else cities. But for now—no madness. This winter's success will be a "heated city."