Article from A&B issue 11|2022
Let's draw a new map of Poland. Not a new administrative division abolishing or creating communes and districts, moving the borders of provinces. Let's sketch - if only in our imagination - a map that will help us see the country's settlement network as it exists at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. With big cities and their agglomerations, with the main directions of daily traffic. A map showing the creeping urbanization encroaching on formerly rural municipalities, the changes in identity and sense of connectedness that the legislature intended to define the basis of local government communities.
The most important local government entities were established thirty-two and twenty-four years ago. The former in a world without the Internet, the former and the latter without smartphones, news television, social media, online banking, e-government. In a world where we learned about politics from newspapers, and even medium-sized cities had their own daily newspapers or multi-page inserts in regional newspapers. Poland was not a member of the European Union, was not part of the Schengen zone, and had a negligible number of immigrants living on its territory. There was no talk of a climate crisis, neoliberal dogmas were in force in economics, and in the world of values we saw the return of moral traditionalism.
It was a world of different politics and different social ties. We have changed so much that several important assumptions of self-government must be revised. We are not a society that lives in one town or village for generations. Many of us live and work elsewhere. Large metropolitan areas are populated in huge numbers by people who became involved with them only in college or even later. During the day, they are filled with thousands of newcomers who, before nightfall, will leave them and return to their localities. The ties are complex. Neighborhood groups covering less than one neighborhood are developing in social media - this is the case in Warsaw, Krakow, other large cities.
Meanwhile, the largest municipalities are subject to strong differentiation. Commuting problems are quite different in Krakow's Bielany district and the Blonia area, which is part of the same 7th district. In many respects, single-family housing estates on the outskirts of the city are more similar to those in neighboring boroughs. This is no longer a peculiarity of metropolises, but of almost all major cities. While in their centers one can talk about a fifteen-minute city, in peripheral areas the idea can be perceived as a bitter joke.
Large metropolises during the day are filled with thousands of visitors, who will leave them at night and return to their localities
Photo: Adam Borkowski © Pexels
What's more - the quality of life of agglomeration residents depends to a great extent on the policies of the central city, whose authorities are not influenced at all by people living in neighboring municipalities. The introduction of ring districts has made them second-class citizens, who often have important institutions outside the boundaries of a given unit and beyond the reach of their elected authorities. Despite the passage of a quarter of a century, some meaningful rules of cooperation between cities with county rights and their surrounding counties have not been invented.
And yet it is from the ring counties that thousands of high school and college students, employees of companies and offices, patients of clinics and hospitals, customers of service outlets and stores commute to the city every day. All of them will spend a significant part of the day in the city. But citizens will stay where they return for the night, where they spend the weekend. And that won't change quickly. Because with our feet we are stuck in the 19th century.
Large metropolises during the day are filled with thousands of visitors, who at night will leave them and return to their localities
Photo: Adam Borkowski © Pexels
revolution in heads
The revolution must first occur in the imagination and be described there by understanding the diversity of settlement units, their characteristics and the dynamics of change. Computer animation has taught us to think with maps that are in motion. On which we observe not so much boundaries, but primarily movement and change. It's easy for us to imagine the effects of laying out a new highway. Subsequent - close to cities - exits will delineate the logic of urban sprawl. They will shorten - at least in the first phase - the time it takes to get from work and school to home. But they will also be an incentive to build new homes near such a road junction.
If we see and imagine the effects of population migration, see the importance of the creation of new jobs and education, the impact of the airport, rail traffic, changes in the behavior of new adults who react and act differently than their parents' generation - we will create for ourselves a whole new spatial picture of the country. We will see the centers that attract this movement and those whose magnetism is waning. Often because twentieth-century workplaces cannot be sustained in the current model of the global economy. And often because the way local elites operate even pushes the younger generation out of the area they control.
Large metropolises are filled by day with thousands of visitors who will leave by night and return to their localities
photo: Adam Borkowski © Pexels
Andrzej Andrysiak's excellent book "Locals. The Unofficial History of a Local Government," reveals one of the key local games going on around local government, or rather around the entire local sector. This game of hiring in exchange for endorsements creates out of local politics an elaborate job swap between cliques that control the city. It's closed off from the influx of young people not affiliated with those in power. With no hope for a meaningful career. More - raising fears about whether any jobs can be found in them.
This movement is not just migration. It's a state in which graduates of the best high school in the city almost never return to it. They easily get into universities, usually graduate with a good grade, and look for a job as early as their senior years. Just to get hooked, to find perspective.
Large metropolises fill up with thousands of visitors during the day, who leave them at night and return to their localities
photo: Ammy Singh © Pexels
Reading the results of the latest census, one will quickly notice the course of the processes described here. Of course, in a simplified version, one can say that "all cities are depopulating." One can even tell a tale of koshkas about the stoppage of urbanization processes. But when we forget about the administrative boundaries of cities and consider the entire agglomeration areas, we see a reverse process. While the population of Poznań fell by 7% compared to the census of the last year of the People's Republic of Poland (1988), the entire agglomeration increased by 20%. The same is true for smaller cities. There are 11% fewer residents in Tarnow than three decades earlier, but 5% more in the agglomeration. We see a clear negative trend only in the Lodz, Silesia-Zagłębi, Częstochowa and Walbrzych agglomerations.
But the aforementioned 2021 census data had already become historical by the time they were published in September of this year. This is because they do not take into account the influx of the Ukrainian population. Moreover, they did not fully see it even before the Russian aggression against our eastern neighbor. The problem of the civic rights of this group of residents can be regulated, if only in the way that applies to citizens of EU member states, who can vote in local elections on an equal footing with citizens of the Republic of Poland.
On the website of the Central Statistical Office, in addition to the data collected and compiled in the old way, there are many "experimental" studies, done on a trial basis, but also with a much greater understanding of the changes that are taking place before our eyes. One of these was a map of the true demarcations between urban and rural areas, prepared under the direction of Zofia Kozlowska. It could be called a map of errors. Areas that are formally considered rural municipalities, or rural parts of urban-rural municipalities, where urban life takes place. And vice versa - those parts of cities that are villages. About which sociologist Professor Jaroslaw Flis says they are easily recognized by the headquarters of the Volunteer Fire Departments located in their areas.
In extreme cases, the report says, we have a situation in which rural functions prevail in urban municipalities (16 cities). The opposite situation, i.e. the predominance of urban functions within a rural municipality, occurs in only 6 cases. The scale of incompatibility covers as much as 32% of the municipalities, with the highest in the case of cities, occurring in 75%. At the opposite pole are rural municipalities - only in 20% of them we observe the presence of typically urban features.
Increasing traffic arteries allow migration not only within the city itself, but the entire agglomeration
Photo: Marcin Jóźwiak © Pexels
local government evolutions
Thus, we live in a world whose administrative boundaries no longer explain anything. We are users of large metropolitan agglomerations, which is not described by any tool of political influence. Placed twenty years ago in the Law on Planning and Spatial Development, the provisions on metropolitan areas have not gained adequate political-administrative instrumentation in twenty years, moreover, the law passed in2015 - still under the PO-PSL government - the law on metropolitan associations was abolished just two years later, on the occasion of the passing of the law on the metropolitan association in the Silesian province.
We also don't have sufficient tools for political representation at the level of small areas: the towns or neighborhoods where we live and, in many cases, mainly stay overnight. But which constitute a tiny homeland for us. We are not interested in the neighboring bungalow estate, or the apartment block two kilometers away. We are interested in access to the center, local lighting, parking spaces, future development of the nearby wasteland. In most cities, we don't have a way to express this interest, especially when significant changes, a lot of money or business are at stake.
Increasingly large thoroughfares allow migration not only within the city itself, but the entire agglomeration
Photo: Marcin Jóźwiak © Pexels
Again, the biggest centers have the biggest problems. Warsaw and Krakow benefit from two different solutions. The capital has been divided into separate units, with its own mayor. Krakow has huge districts, but without significant subjectivity. The most numerous of them have more than 60,000 residents, as many as many former provincial cities. Half the population of Opole. Those with the largest area, such as Nowa Huta or Dębniki, can be compared in area to Suwałki or Przemyśl. This is not insignificant. Especially since the appetite for being taken into account - that is, the specific face of 21st century citizenship - will not diminish.
The world of the Internet has made us His Lordship's Users. Valuing our "passes on" and "likes." It counts "clickbytes" and tracks the time we spend on the site. It subjects our activity to careful analysis. The administrative world often still sees us as "registered" people, differentiating our rights according to a rather artificial declaration. It tries not to see a student who commutes to study, a person who works outside the place of residence, let alone immigrants from outside the European Union. These two parallel worlds will eventually force - they are already slowly doing so - administrative and local government evolutions.
Ever-increasing thoroughfares allow migration not only within the city itself, but the entire agglomeration
Photo: Marcin Jóźwiak © Pexels
It started with things we can do remotely. From the facilities that developed during the pandemic and that will stay with us for a long time. This is such a small anti-pandemic evolution of Polish municipalities. But it is followed by another one, which should realize the closing of the era of registration, announced since the beginning of the Third Republic. Already most forms relativize this formal procedure, but the seriousness with which it is being approached nonetheless is puzzling, to say the least. Breaking away from registration will open up the question of deciding where to vote.
Greater freedom to decide where one votes in local elections will in turn lead us inevitably to the question of how to adapt structures and forms of representation to greater social mobility and to changing ties and identities. This will affect larger cities in particular, where a discussion of the formal rationale and limits of electoral participation is becoming an increasingly urgent need.
Recognizing the effects of population migration, or rail traffic, we will create for ourselves a new spatial picture of the country
photo: Mati Szulc © Pexels
Finally, we can wait patiently for the moment when the fear of online voting mechanisms collapses. This will open the gates of participation in consultations, referendums and building various types of representation much more widely, along with a reduction in costs. The new map of the country will be introduced not with successive big divisive reforms, but with thousands of small changes. From time to time supported by some nationwide regulation.
Of course, the state's statutory software, especially that regulating land use, mass transportation, cost accounting for public policies - will somehow have to adapt to this change in an evolutionary way. But the key revolution - the one in the heads - will happen much sooner, and its outlines are well on the horizon.