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Why are smaller cities so hard to deconstruct? Concept of Walnut Street in Tarnow by JAZ+ Architects

21 of April '22

When, in metropolises like Warsaw or Krakow, a magistrate announces the "re-detonation" of a street and its greening, it is received coolly because of the reality, but with joy because of noticing the problem. When the same thing happens to medium- and small-sized cities, commentators scare even more emptiness in the streets and economic collapse. To what extent is this true? The concept for Tarnów by JAZ+ Architects has become an interesting example.

A brief history of a degraded space

Tarnów's Walnut Street is important because of its unique location - like Krakow's Planty or Vienna's Ring, it was created by the site of a former city fortification, decommissioned in the 19th century. After this reform, it became an urban street full of stores and craftsmen's workshops, with typical Galician multicultural urban buildings sprouting up along it. After 1945, it served as a roadway and vital transportation link. For more than twenty years, Walowa has served as a promenade, with no access for non-privileged cars.

ulica nie zachęca dziś do spacerów

The street does not encourage walking today

Photo: Dachshund of Tarnów, © CC BY-SA 4.0

The street has been put up for years as an example of runaway potential - outside of school hours, it lacks people, function and ideas. The street's existing infrastructure - gray and red concrete paving stones that heat up to hellish temperatures in the summer - does not encourage its use. How to organize this space anew to make it attractive? Tarnów City Hall decided to put out a tender for the creation of a concept, which was won by the JAZ+ Architects studio.

A concept with a focus on greenery

As the authors of the concept point out, the most important thing was to prepare a design that would improve the accessibility of the space, highlight the character of the local heritage, improve the functionality of the space and last but not least, ensure adaptation to climate change. What changes will Walowa Street and its adjacent streets undergo?

The main change is the introduction of greenery along the entire course of Walowa Street, as well as at the beginning of Lwowska Street and a section on Bernardinska Street. The plantings have been composed of high and low greenery. The biggest changes concern Walowa Street, where rows of maples and plane trees would appear alongside flower and shrub beds. In many places it was decided to gently introduce a small green accent - as in the case of the cherry tree, which was located near the difficult area of the Grand Staircase. The designers also recommend the introduction of tall trees with an elaborate canopy to the Tree Square and the surrounding area - the space that is most asking for revitalization.

rzut pokazujący, gdzie zostanie wprowadzona zieleń

A projection showing where greenery will be introduced

© JAZ+ Architects

The design by Jaz+ Architects also indicates the need to expand the green and blue infrastructure. Trees and shrubs in this part of the city are not only to be an aesthetic and pleasant addition, but also a tool for water retention. Such solutions allow water to be retained locally, reducing the cost of managing the water and sewage system. Rain gardens will help improve the microclimate around streets.

rzut z informacjami dotyczącymi retencji wodnej na planowanym obszarze

A projection with information on water retention in the planned area

© JAZ+ Architects

paying attention to people with disabilities

The designers paid attention to the need to improve the functioning of the space in the context of how people with disabilities move through it. This idea is most evident in the changes recommended for the Ofiar Katynia Square. The designers proposed a gentle slope of five percent, which would allow people with disabilities to move around safely and quietly.

przestrzeń Placu Ofiar Katynia ma być nie tylko bardziej zielona, ale i łatwiej dostępna dla osób z niepełnosprawnościami

The Ofiar Katynia Square space is to be not only greener, but also more accessible to people with disabilities

© JAZ+ Architects

a storm in a teacup

The concept designed by JAZ+ Architects responds to the most pressing problems cities are beginning to face today. Progressive climate change, lack of adequate water retention or senseless concreting. It also answers another, much more difficult problem - the lack of an idea for the central part of the city and changes in its character.

After the visualization and design were made available, a veritable battle began in the local media and comments. The main panacea for the problems of the street, on which commenters' stories did not see walkers, has been the restoration of vehicular traffic for years. Why does this solution reign supreme in the statements?

wizualizacja prezentująca proponowane zmiany

A visualization showing the proposed changes

© JAZ+ Architects

The genesis of this approach is different than in Warsaw or Krakow, where one hears the ever-living conspiracy theory about "poisoning the lives of motorists." The dire situation of former provincial cities, their depopulation process, suburbanization and lack of prospects for young people is being talked about more and more loudly. Walbrzych, Slupsk or just Tarnow does not have the tools and opportunities to attract large companies and corporations, recreate industry or ensure sustainable development. Here comes the depopulation process, the main problem of emptiness on Walnut Street.

The belief that there will be people on Walnut Street once traffic is restored may be related to Bauman's retrotopia, a memory associated with what the street was like in the 1980s and 1990s. Walnut Street full of stores, small pubs and cafes and people was alive. However, a nostalgic look must take into account that in the meantime we have gone through the revolutions of "big shopping malls" in Poland, which efficiently minimized this downtown commerce. Now the problem is the revolution of "online shopping." Our consumer habits have changed twice in three decades, and there is no telling what the future will look like - returning to the 19th century model in the age of e-commerce seems incorrect.

Limitations to nostalgia do not fully reflect the problem. What further causes locals' fear of de-concentrating and greening the centers of former provincial cities? Fear of losing a financial opportunity, rebound and development. When another skyscraper filled with corpo-people is being built in Warsaw, and a whole new business and residential district is being planned in Krakow, in cities like Tarnow, residents are looking for any impulse of development that will no longer stop the outflow of people, but effectively slow it down. This is the reason for the fear of de-concentration and the implementation of much-needed solutions such as, for example, greenery on Walowa Street. Such concepts will always be overshadowed by problems with the lack of appropriate development impulses.

obszar planowanych zmian był szerszy niż Wałowa, choć to właśnie ta ulica wzbudza najwięcej obaw

The area of planned changes was wider than Walowa, although it is this street that raises the most concerns

© JAZ+ Architects

Is the concept for Walowa a good idea?

The introduction of low and high greenery can also be a stimulating element for gastronomy, cafes and stores on Walowa, as the concept by JAZ+ Architects highlights. It is more pleasant to stay surrounded by greenery, which will improve the microclimate, provide adequate shade and make the area more attractive. Putting aside the issues, the appearance of automobile traffic, one should remember to provide an adequate number of parking spaces in the surroundings of Walowa and adjacent streets. And let's not forget the fact that city centers are also their important business cards - useful in the search for investors and investments.

On 22.04.2022 the portal will feature a conversation with architects from the JAZ+ studio about the concept.

zazielenienie wałowej to dobry impuls, jednak miasta takie jak Tarnów wymagają szerszego wsparcia

The greening of the embankment is a good impulse, but cities like Tarnow need broader, central support

© JAZ+ Architects

Compiled by Wiktor Bochenek

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