Competitions are worth pursuing, even at the cost of delays, revitalization works, and energy self-sufficiency is important in the climate crisis. Marek Materek, the youngest of the mayors, answers questions about architecture and the development of medium-sized cities. What can we learn from Starachowice?
Kacper Kepinski: The reconstruction of the City Park has been completed, and the modernization of the Lubianka Reservoir is underway. Both projects were selected in architectural competitions. What are the conclusions from their implementation? Did the competitions produce better results visible to people using these places?
City Park in Starachowice project eM4 . Pracowania Architektury . Brataniec
Photo: UM Starachowice
Marek Materek, Mayor of Starachowice: The conclusion is one - it is always worth organizing architectural competitions for key projects happening in public space. Although in this way the implementation of projects is significantly prolonged, the end result is satisfactory for everyone. It is also important to organize very extensive public consultations before announcing the competition, in order to gather practically all expectations that are raised by residents. Only in this way can we gain knowledge of what the expectations of residents are. The demands they make later must be reflected in the regulations and guidelines of the competition, and only at the very end do we organize a procedure in which we choose not the cheapest design supplier, but the best concept. In the case of the City Park, the whole process took a really long time. First we organized public consultations, then we announced a competition, after which the development of documentation and the acquisition of external funds continued. At the construction stage, we faced a lot of criticism, because residents did not understand why we were building a catering facility in the park, what the cost of this investment was... In the end, thanks to the fact that all the elements of the competition design were preserved, the Park won first prize in the country's largest architectural competition Polish Cement in Architecture, which confirmed the high quality of the project eM4 . PracowniaArchitektury . Brataniec. We have achieved success that is also visible to residents. After the completion of the investment, I meet with very favorable evaluations from their side. Thanks to the concert shell, which was located in the City Park, I can say that this was the best cultural season in our city in the last several years. This was possible thanks to the infrastructure that allowed events to be held despite pandemic restrictions. The Concert Shell and the City Park were alive practically throughout the summer, spring and still part of the fall season. This is also a great credit to the Culture Park team, who put a lot of energy into making the space live. I wanted the park to be more than just a place for strolling, but also to provide opportunities for various cultural activities, and for food outlets to appear.
KK: So all the ideas that came up at the competition stage - that is, the modernization of "Baba Yaga's hut" and the food pavilion - worked?
MM: Yes, although in the beginning it was not without criticism. We were accused that the municipality is not in the business of building catering establishments or renting such space as Baba Yaga's Hut. I, on the other hand, believed the opposite, that if we want to have control over making these catering facilities blend in with the rest of the revitalized spaces, we have to undertake this task ourselves. Many entrepreneurs would not risk spending a million zlotys to build this type of catering facility.
KK: This also gives the city control over what will be there in the future....
MM: Yes, and I was keen that it should be just a catering facility, because it is always an important traffic generator.
KK: Did you use the conclusion from the implementation of the City Park in the preparation of the Lubianka modernization?
MM: No, because we prepared the competitions in parallel. But I can already see that by entrusting the project to the architect who won the competition, the investment will be very successful, and this too will be a space that will be popular and that Starachowice residents will be happy with.
The competition for the development of the area around the Lubianka lagoon in Starachowice was won by the Format Architectural Studio from Kielce.
KK: Have the projects to modernize public spaces in the city, which you are implementing, influenced the decrease in acts of vandalism, care for urban space?
MM: Of course, acts of vandalism do happen, but less frequently than they used to. That is, if we have a space that the local government takes care of, there is less risk of it being damaged. A nod should also be given here to the Starachowice police, because after the request I made to the District Police Headquarters, police patrols began to go there more often, and I think that thanks to this there are also fewer daredevils to vandalize the common space.
KK: Do residents participate in building the cultural program? Are social issues taken into account in the leasing of dining establishments?
MM: When we completed the revitalization of the City Park,I invited there, among others, members of the revitalization committee, which includes representatives of NGOs and the city's youth council, just to talk about what else should be changed in this space, how to fill it with content and how it should function in the years to come.
KK: Do you think such post-implementation consultations are also useful? Or would it be possible at the stage of the competition itself to increase the involvement of the city or residents in the process of selecting the project? We could envision a system in which the works advancing to the competition finals would be consulted publicly, and only later would the jury make a decision, taking into account residents' opinions as well.
MM: I buy this idea. We will take it into account when organizing future competitions.
adaptation of a modernist hospital
KK: What next competitions are you planning to organize?
MM: The next one will be a competition for the development of the property currently developed with the buildings of the old hospital. It will be an architectural competition for the creation of a modern residential area in this place. We plan to announce it this year.
Photo by Kacper Kepinski
KK: What are its assumptions?
MM: Most likely it will be an offer of public housing, for rent, but also some will be for sale.
KK: Starachowice is one of several cities where projects are being implemented as part of the model revitalization program. What is your experience so far? Have we learned to talk on the line of residents - local government - entrepreneurs?
MM: Our experience has been most positive. From the very beginning, residents were eager to get involved in activities organized by the city. Later came a period of temporary material fatigue, probably due to the fact that they had not yet seen the results of the work done. We had to wait for this, as a lot of time passed between consultation and implementation. On the other hand, at the moment I see again more and more interest and involvement from these people, because they see that what they talked about a few years ago is being implemented today. This gives a sense of direct participation in deciding the shape of the projects being implemented. I think this is important both for the residents and for us.
Photo: UM Starachowice
the problem of a shrinking city
KK: How does the demographics of Starachowice look in the context of revitalization efforts?
MM: We are the fifth district city in Poland with the fastest population loss. This is due to the demographics and age structure of the local community, which is heavily advanced in age. We have a very large number of apartments that are empty because the owners have been living abroad for years, for example, but they don't sell them because they may be planning to return to Starachowice after they retire. On the other hand, we have very limited opportunities for the construction of new buildings because there are practically no free investment areas for housing.
Photo: UM Starachowice
KK: What challenges doyou see forcities of similar size in the coming years? What will be the biggest challenge and how do you deal with it?
MM: The biggest challenge will be demographic changes, a decrease in population will mean a decrease in local tax revenues paid to the city budget. The city will have to adjust to this financially as well, which we are already doing. For several years we have been aiming to reduce current expenditures, so that the city can prepare for this more difficult period so as to ensure continuity of access to public services - schools, kindergartens, offices. So far we have succeeded - in 2021 we generated a PLN 28 million operating surplus. In the best previous years, this operating surplus was about PLN 15 million, and as you know, the operating surplus is not dependent on the external funds we raise, but is the difference between current income and current expenses. And this is actually a huge success, because this, in turn, allows there for next year to plan much more funds for investment. In 2022, half of the funds in the budget are for investments, of which a huge sum of more than 80 million are European funds raised by the city.
KK: Aside from demographics, the biggest challenge for the coming years seems to be the climate. How is Starachowice going to prepare for climate change, the increasingly frequent extreme weather events?
A thermal waste processing plant will be built on the premises of the Thermal Power Plant
photo: UM Starachowice
MM: In the case of the reconstruction of public spaces that we are implementing now, we are trying to use materials that are permeable to water so that it does not have to be discharged into the sewage system. We have now prepared a huge project related to the construction of retention reservoirs to protect the South Estate, which is often flooded during heavy rains. We plan to carry out a similar retention tank project near the viaduct in lower Starachowice, which will be built in the coming years. We are trying to build energy self-sufficiency and diversify the supply of fuel we need to produce heat and electricity. We have two coal-fired boiler plants that have been modernized in such a way that this year we will get out of having to purchase carbon allowances. This will reduce heat prices for residents. Construction of an energy recovery plant that will produce heat and electricity from alternative fuels will start soon. This will further reduce coal consumption. We assume that energy from burning recycled waste will cover about 45 percent of our needs. Some of the fuel will come from our municipal companies.
KK: In addition to large infrastructure projects, are you planning smaller programs to support small-scale retention, photovoltaics?
MM: We have already implemented photovoltaic farms on school buildings. In the case of Elementary School No. 13, we observed that we are able to practically produce enough energy on our own for the entire year for this unit. We will implement such projects primarily in units belonging to the municipality so as to achieve self-sufficiency in electricity. Together with the district authorities, we are working to prepare to apply for funds for the construction of a photovoltaic farm on buildings belonging to the hospital, so that it, too, will become self-sufficient in this regard and immune to fluctuating energy prices.
KK: Thank you for the interview.
Marek Materek (30.07.1989, Starachowice), graduated from international studies at Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, real estate management at Boleslaw Markowski Higher School of Commerce in Kielce and political science at Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce. Between 2009 and 2014, director of the office of Rosa Thun, Member of the European Parliament, in the Świętokrzyskie region. From 2012-2014, a partner in Domator Zarządzanie i obrót Nieruchomościami Sp z o.o.. Since 2014, president of the board of directors of the Association Project: Starachowice. In 2014 he was elected mayor of Starachowice receiving 9583 votes (58.54%) in the second round. In 2018, he won re-election, receiving 17777 (84.42%) votes in the first round.