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Planty, promenades, rings. A review of Lukasz Bugalski's book on downtown ring assumptions of four Polish cities

10 of September '21

Review from issue 06|2021 of A&B

Lukasz Bugalski's book "Planty, Promenades, Rings" deals with history, but it can also be considered an interesting contribution to the debate on public spaces in the city. It turns out that long ago they were not treated as an addition or a work of chance, but an integral part of urban planning.

Planty, promenady, ringi

Lukasz Bugalski
"Planty, Promenades, Rings. Downtown ring assumptions of Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw and Cracow",
Book Territories Foundation, Gdansk 2020

Published by the Book Territories Foundation, the publication "Planty, Promenades, Rings. Downtown ring assumptions of Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw and Cracow" is an edition of Lukasz Bugalski's doctoral dissertation, defended at the Faculty of Architecture, Gdansk University of Technology. Thus, it has all the features of a scientific work - a methodological introduction, a description of terminology, the state of research, an analysis of the historical and theoretical context or a reference to contemporary works on these issues. The subject of the book is the creation of ring assumptions in cities, very characteristic of European urbanism, present in many countries of our continent. Ring assumptions were created mainly in the 19th century and were most often associated with the dismantling of fortifications, thus with the development of cities, their expansion at a time particularly important for Europe. This was an important manifestation of the change in the nature of cities, which ceased to perform defensive functions and turned into modern centers of industry or trade - they became modern cities. "The process of transition from the "closed city" to the "open city" - associated with widespread defortification and the emergence of ring assumptions - should undoubtedly be considered the basic context for the formation of modern urbanism," - argues Lukasz Bugalski. Interpreting the issue in this way, the author sees ring assumptions not only as urban planning solutions, but also as an important element of cultural heritage, common, by the way, to very many European cities.

projekt poznańskiego ringu autorstwa Hermanna Josepha Stübbena z 1903 roku

The design of the Poznań ring by Hermann Joseph Stübben in 1903.

The title planty, promenade and ring - traces of former fortifications embedded in the urban fabric - are easy to spot on the plans of thousands of European cities. The author presents some of them in his book, but first of all focuses on a comparative analysis of the ring assumptions of four Polish cities: Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw and Krakow. As he writes, he selected the examples to represent cities of similar size, in which, however, the ring assumptions had a slightly different origin or character. Gdansk's main-city planty, for example, has two important caesuras in its history: 1888, when the process of leveling the city's fortifications began, and the years just after World War II, when the main-city planty returned to the map in a slightly altered form due to the city's reconstruction from wartime destruction. The youngest of the ring assumptions described here - the Poznań ring - began to take shape only at the beginning of the 20th century, with a change in the policy of the German Empire, which until then had treated Poznań as an important fortress protecting the eastern borders of the Empire. Of the four assumptions selected by the author, Poznañ was also dominated to the greatest extent by transportation functions after World War II: "Although the Poznań ring area managed to at least partially preserve the original park-like character of parts of it, overall it unfortunately still functions primarily as a peripheral traffic artery for the downtown complex," - Bugalski writes. Because it's worth noting that ring assumptions include not only plantations created after the demolition of the outer city fortifications, but also all kinds of "ring roads," as in Wrocław, where one strand of the ring is a promenade running along the line of the former city walls, while the other is a transportation route laid out in the 1970s. The author of the book also takes a look at what is arguably Poland's best-known ring establishment - that is, Krakow's Planty Park, along with that city's second ring, the Aleje Trzech Wieszczów. Although shaped as a result of similar processes as in other cities, Krakow's ring assumptions seem to be the most recognizable and the most firmly rooted both in the city's urban structure and in the consciousness of users, not only the residents of Krakow.

plan kolońskiej Ringstrasse według Hermanna Josepha Stübbena

A plan of Cologne's Ringstrasse according to Hermann Joseph Stübben

Lukasz Bugalski also looks at the contemporary fate of ring assumptions - how they function, what transformations they undergo. For example, he uses the term "Copenhagenization," which he uses to describe the transformation of urban spaces to pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, maintaining a human scale, safe, attractive to residents of all ages. Here Poland's ring assumptions fare poorly, because although some of them are still green areas, modernization in a direction close to "kopanhagization" was seen by the book's author only in Krakow. "The gradual - albeit very slow - departure from the mobility model inherent in the theories of functionalism and late modernism of the 1960s and 1970s can also be seen in the cities of modern Poland, and may eventually include their ring assumptions. Copenhagenization of these urban complexes could restore their value as important public spaces, while expanding the attractive areas of old town and downtown complexes of many cities in contemporary Poland," - Bugalski writes.

Architecture has come up frequently in the public debate in recent years, but it seems that thinking not with the scale of a building, but with urban design is still not very popular. For this reason alone, one should appreciate a publication that tells the story that a city is an evolving and changing space over time that should be treated as a whole, not a collection of cubic objects; an area where buildings are as important as what is in between. Ring foundations, which have not been transformed into transportation tracts, stretched over a large area, look most impressive from above; for pedestrian users of the city, they are also of great value. They are a comfortable and safe area, "cut out" from the urban bustle, which is as good for communication as for rest.

Lukasz Bugalski's book may seem tedious - with exhaustive academic analyses of theory and the state of research, citation of successive typologies, conscientious presentation of historical background. However, it hides powerful knowledge not only about the plantations and ring roads themselves, but about how European cities developed, how their urbanization progressed over the centuries, and which of these elements can still be seen and used today. Understanding and appreciating these processes provides an opportunity to look with greater respect at the city as a multi-layered structure, which should, of course, be functional, is also a valuable cultural heritage. This is especially important today, when we are talking anew about the presence of greenery in the city, about giving space back to pedestrians, and about the experience of the "Copenhagenization" pandemic, which is still reinforced.

Anna Cymer

Illustrations provided courtesy of the Book Territories Foundation.

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