Can major architectural and urban planning projects only be led by metropolises? Tychy wants to build a new center to show that the impasse of medium-sized cities can be broken. Michal Lorbiecki, urban planner and the mayor's plenipotentiary for the new Tychy city center, talks about the whole project .
Wiktor Bochenek: How did the idea for a new center for Tychy, which essentially never had anything resembling a center, come about?
Michal Lorbiecki: This is not a new idea. Tychy was supposed to have a center from the very beginning, when it was designed as a new city on the basis of the village that was here before. The center was supposed to be located in the place we are debating today.
The team of Hanna Adamczewska-Wejchert and Kazimierz Wejchert envisioned the city center at the intersection of two axes: the Green Line (north-south) - connecting the North Park with the South Park, and the Railway Line (west-east) - in a trench. This intersection was to be the center point of a quadrilateral of streets with a side of one kilometer marking the most intensively built-up area in the city - the downtown. Unfortunately, the city was not completed in this aspect. This was primarily due to political system changes.
Today, investment issues are handled quite differently. It is not only the local government and the state that builds buildings, but primarily the private investor. This also affected the previous approach to the subject of the new center. The city relied mainly on the appearance of a private investor who would initiate certain activities on the basis of the investment opportunities provided in the area by the existing local zoning plans. This approach has not worked in the long run, as the 2017 plan has not been implemented to any extent so far. It is worth mentioning that until recently the leading idea for the center was to build a large shopping mall. Today we know that such buildings are not capable of performing all the functions of city centers.
Wiktor: You mentioned the concept of Mr. and Mrs. Wejchert. How does this project relate to earlier plans?
Michal: The plans for Tychy have changed over time. The first master plan for the entire city was created in the 1950s. It was modified many times. The city center itself in the Wejchert projects also took different forms at different times.
It is worth returning here to the Green Axis. In one of the concepts for the center, it was to be enclosed by buildings, forming the frontage of the future square. The Wejcherts' idea to call it Slavic Square is interesting. However, this is nowhere near how the axis was perceived over the years - as an undeveloped linear park.
Themaster plan alludes both to the Wejchert idea and to maintaining the open character of the Green Axis, which is supposed to lead to the main square - the city forum.
The fundamental difference in thinking about the future center, however, relates primarily to its function. The key is to move away from today's outdated assumptions of modernist urbanism segregating the city into zones. The new city center must be multifunctional.
In modernist thinking, streets and squares were not seen as multifunctional public spaces, but were replaced by wide roads and parking lots for cars. Today's thinking confirms that it is necessary to restore public spaces for people.
© Michal Lorbiecki
Wiktor: You mentioned referring to the Wejchert concept, as well as what is to be found in this part of Tychy. What is most important from the city's perspective in this new concept?
Michal: The most important word that defines the new premise is the multifunctionality I already mentioned. The city center must be a melting pot of different functions that will mix with each other, interact and drive each other. Only then will we be able to create a space that is alive at different times of the day. It has to be a place for different social groups, so that everyone can find something for themselves. Both in terms of leisure activities, places to work and live.
The second element is diversity - not only in terms of functions, but also in the development of public spaces. We need to return to the idea of a city for people, not for the car. We've turned a corner in city design in thinking that everyone moves around in a car, and we've forgotten that it's not the cars that live in the city, that do the shopping, that do the meeting. Ultimately, it's the people who do it.
Wiktor: How would public spaces, including blue-green infrastructure issues, be resolved?
Michael: As I mentioned, the diversity of public spaces is important. We cannot introduce the same solutions everywhere. We need spaces that are both more open and more intimate. Each of us can feel good in a different space. First of all, it is worth emphasizing the importance of the city forum - a large square in the middle of the Green Axis. It will have the character of a city-wide space for integration, events, festivals. At the same time, the Green Axis itself will not be a mere park, which is what has been established in the public consciousness, but a true integrator of the northern and southern parts of the city, leading them towards the future center.
John Paul II Avenue will go from being an overgrown transit thoroughfare cutting through the area and dividing it into two parts to becoming an urban street serving more than just car traffic. There will also be a city square, the size of half of Gliwice' s market square, which, together with pedestrian areas connecting it with the City Forum and the new John Paul II Avenue, will diversify the system of public spaces. With these solutions, we are returning to typical European thinking about space.
Of course, nowadays we need to pay special attention to the greening of space. This is not just about lawns and trees, but treating nature systemically, as the so-called blue-green infrastructure. With climate change causing droughts and sudden torrential rains, among other things, we know that technical infrastructure often proves inefficient, and in the process, not only we, but all biodiversity suffers. We then lose a lot of resources that are scarce today, especially energy and water. We should resort to natural solutions to minimize these losses. Not only sealed pavements come to our aid, but also, for example, rain gardens and retention basins, which will retain water on site instead of taking it out through sewers.
I specifically included water assumptions in the visualizations to show that such solutions must obligatorily appear in the spaces. We also don't forget about trees, which are the best natural infrastructure that cannot be replaced by man. It is worth remembering all their functions, not just aesthetic ones: from oxygen production, air purification, temperature and humidity regulation, to increasing biodiversity and even improving safety and well-being.
Blue-green infrastructure must also be part of buildings. Greening them, especially roofs, must be a standard these days. We realize that for the investor the implementation of a green roof is an additional cost, but we are trying to build awareness about the fact that this solution brings savings in the maintenance of the building, especially in terms of its cooling and heating.
new foundation forum
© Michal Lorbiecki
Wiktor: Such projects are always created in the context of the problems that cities face. What problems is it supposed to respond to - depopulation, lack of large investments in jobs?
Michal: This project should respond to many problems, and only because of this complexity does it have a chance of success. It is worth starting with social issues, the most important for Tychy residents. The city is divided into two parts, and this area is not only a physical, but also a mental barrier. Uniting the city is an important element here.
A major problem is the depopulation of cities you mentioned. This is a problem that is known all over Poland, with small exceptions for the largest cities and the so-called ring towns, where suburbanization is deepening. This is an extremely important problem, which we must address not only with investment areas, but above all with quality, and thus attract new residents and companies. There are few examples in Poland of really good spaces for urban living, so the suburbs are still an attractive alternative.
Another problem is job creation. Tychy is an industrial city. It is necessary to prepare for crises that are not only climate-related, but also economic problems that are the effects of restructuring or migration, for example. Office spaces also need to be thought through. In addition, such solutions can be located in the city center. We are going back to thinking of a city where everything is close to where we live and work. Not all industries need to be located in industrial areas, so it is necessary to dedicate suitable spaces closer to residents, so that the area is alive at different times of the day, and does not become just a bedroom.
Culture and other social functions are also important in the project. We are also thinking about locating a new seat for the Tychy City Museum in the center, as the current one is becoming increasingly inadequate for such an important institution.
This is what the area to be adapted for the new Tychy city center looks like today
photo by Piotr Podsiadły
Wiktor: Have there been any negative comments about this project ?
Michal: In initiating the topic of realizing a new city center, we held consultations before the project was created. We wanted to ask whether residents in general expected such a center to be built. It turned out that this is an incredibly important topic for them. The first consultation with residents took place via a survey, which was filled out by more than one thousand six hundred people. This is an amazing result for surveys of this type in cities. Usually such surveys are filled out by a few dozen, at most a few hundred people. All the more so because at least fifteen minutes had to be spent filling it out, as it contained only open-ended questions. The purpose of such an arrangement was not only to avoid imposing answers, but above all to allow honest engagement. This involvement shows how important the topic of the center is to residents.
Residents' approach to the question of navigating the future center resonated clearly already at this stage of the consultation. Some 70 percent of respondents wrote that we should move around the center on foot or exclusively on foot. This shows that residents miss promenades and squares, places where we walk, meet and spend time away from cars.
The project was presented at WUF11
photo by Kamil Dybich
It's worth taking this opportunity to explain why we say NEW Tychy Center and not simply Tychy Center. Looking at the functioning of the city, currently the function of the center is Baczynski Square in the B estate. The history of this place should be mentioned. This square, according to Wejchert's concept, was about 1/3 a parking lot and was additionally cut by a road. Ten years ago it was rebuilt and closed to car traffic - today it is a space with benches and trees that attracts both residents, outside users and businesses. It is precisely this kind of space that is centrist.
Negative comments also appeared, but mostly on social media, where such comments are not hard to come by. There were also isolated voices during open meetings, but they are often the loudest, which is why it is so important to involve different social groups. The level of participation in Poland, unfortunately, is limping along, so most often we only hear the negative voices. Even the negative comments that the city will be jammed, there will be no places to park and no one will use the center, however, need to be addressed. People function in different ways, so the aspect of movement must also be rationally addressed. There are also buildings in the plan, called mobility hubs, which will create, among other things, the opportunity to leave the car and switch to another mode of transportation. The center must emphasize that all alternatives to the car will be more convenient.