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The visible ordeal of markets

26 of January '21

Squares with marketplaces in the downtown fabric of Poznań are a treasure almost as valuable as the iconic shopping halls in other Polish and European cities. However, the formula in which they have operated for three decades is close to exhaustion. Meanwhile, changes are taking place in only one market. Others are still waiting to realize their full potential.

The end of the stock market "on Bema"

Among the significant events of 2020 in Poznan is the end of the era of marketplaces from the time of the systemic breakthrough. After three decades, the once popular and largest trading place known as the "na Bema" market disappeared from the city . Today, on the border of downtown and the Wilda district, where in the 1990s numerous Poznan residents stocked up on shoes, clothing and many other accessories, the wind is blowing. Over the years, trade paid off here less and less, the tent structures became deserted. So they were dismantled, at the same time exposing the parking lot foreground of the former KS Warta stadium, which has fallen into disrepair over the past twenty years, overgrown with a sizable forest and, along with the area after the exchange, deserves a separate story.

Teren after the removed tent halls of the market on BemaTeren after the removed tent halls of the market on BemaTeren after the removed tent halls of the market on Bema

The area after the removed tent halls of the "na Bema" market, on the left - a fragment of the ruined stadium.

Photo: Jakub Głaz

The end of the "na Bema" market, on the other hand, is a reason to describe other Poznań marketplaces - occupying not stadium parking lots, but full-fledged city squares, and having a much longer history. These places, which until recently were very popular, have also been in decline for some time, and the pandemic, although it should be conducive to outdoor trade, seems to be accelerating the process.

However, contrary to the exchange tents that have just been demolished, the value of the historic markets is much greater for the city. Offering fresh (though by no means cheap) food and flowers on a daily basis, they are a practical yet picturesque showcase for Poznan. Their importance, both for local residents shopping here and for tourists, can be compared with the iconic market halls of other Polish and European cities. Six months ago, Councilman Pawel Sowa even threw out a proposal that Poznan's marketplaces be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

No other city in our part of Europe has such an extensive system of local market squares - this is one of the arguments of the imaginative and active councilman.

five poznan squares

There are five squares. Two of them are near the Old Market, which lost its market functions back in the early twentieth century. These are the squares in Bernardinska and Wielkopolska squares. Three neighborhoods adjacent to the center, incorporated into the city in 1900, also have their own extensive central market square: Jeżyce, Lazarus and Wilda. All of them are managed by the city's Marketplace Company.

Rynek Lazarski Market during reconstruction - view from the westRynek Lazarski Market during reconstruction - view from the westRynek Lazarski Market during reconstruction - view from the west.

Lazarski Market during reconstruction - view from the west.

photo: Jakub Głaz

Only one of these squares - Lazarski Market - is currently under reconstruction according to a 2016 competition design. The spatial intervention in this most degraded marketplace is very strong. Its most distinctive element is already visible: a tall circular roof structure common to all stalls, which will soon be supplemented with a transparent membrane. The sizable form is a complete novelty in the market space. However, it seems to be a good keystone for the spatially "sprawling" square with an irregular shape and two incomplete frontages.

Besides, a recreation and leisure zone is being created on Lazarski, new trees will be planted, a fountain will appear, asphalt and concrete will be replaced with stone pavement. Car transit in the middle of the square will disappear - cars will drive around its perimeter. We will be able to assess the final effect of the project by the Poznań studio APA Jacek Bułat in the second half of this year. For now, residents are concerned about the insufficient amount of greenery in the middle of the square - despite the planned rows of trees and a green zone in the western part.

projekt przebudowy Rynku
Łazarskiego zgodnie ze zwycięską pracą konkursową z 2016 roku (proj.: APA Jacek Bułat)

The design for the redevelopment of Łazarski Market according to the winning 2016 competition entry (design: APA Jacek Bułat)

© Autorska Pracownia Architektoniczna - Jacek Bułat

Other squares are less fortunate - there are no viable renewal concepts for them. Some are doing better and are unlikely to lose customers like Jeżycki and Wielkopolski. Others are doing worse - this is the case of Bernardyński Square. The common denominator, however, is the deteriorating appearance of the stalls from a dozen years ago - worn out and too densely packed, which is a relic of the commercial 1990s. Finally, they have been set up permanently, and this basically makes it impossible to use the square in any other way after trading hours.

Meanwhile, for decades, until the late 1980s, the light wooden stalls were folded up for afternoons and weekends after trading. As is still the case today in many European cities, the slabs of plazas freed from the stands allowed for other activities, including occasional festivals or performances. The facades of townhouses or representative edifices could also be viewed without interference. For the past three decades, however, the tone has been set by merchants, who - as has come out in public discussions in past years - are not sometimes enthusiastic about change.

Plac Bernardyński Square - traders and stalls are declining here. Plac Bernardyński Square - traders and stalls are declining here. Plac Bernardyński Square - traders and stalls are declining here.

Bernardine Square - traders and stalls are decreasing here.

photo: Jakub Głaz

On the one hand, they complained about the increasingly degraded and dirty market spaces, and on the other - they didn't even want to hear about, for example, mobile folding stalls, even if they were light and easy to use. They also defended the tin, ugly pavilions with meat, dairy or baked goods restricting access to the plaza slab. Today, the existence of these booths makes no sense in the face of the increasing number of commercial vacancies in the first floors of tenements. Another unsolvable problem for merchants is sometimes delivering goods in such a way as not to block passageways and sidewalks with vans.

The attitude of the Market Company, which is mainly reactive, does not help much in improving the situation: it has recently civilized waste storage and eliminated rows of excess stalls on the outskirts of the squares. Instead, it has failed to present a comprehensive and forward-looking concept for the operation of the markets - both programmatic and architectural. Then again, maybe it's for the better. When two years ago the Market made public the concept for the modernization of Jeżycki Market, commissioned without competition, it took a rightful beating. Instead of a multifunctional and flexibly shaped space, the visualizations showed something like a half-open tin hall.

if and when will the renewal of the markets take place?

Fortunately, magistrate officials already know that changes in the approach to market squares are necessary. From debates, consultations and the work of official departments, a picture of the future is emerging as such. One thing is certain: the place for commerce will remain. However, it will be shaped more flexibly and will be balanced with other city and neighborhood functions.

The general direction of change can be seen in the new development plan for Bernardin Square, passed in autumn. The document limits the space for stalls and protects from them the viewing axis to the former Bernardian church. The market squares, by the way, are getting more and more interesting views that are worth exposing. Residential buildings are being built next to them, which are very attractive from the outside. At Bernardine Square, the chipped frontage is being supplemented by a realization by the Litoborski+Marciniak studio. The Wildecki Market has already been enriched by an original block designed by Ultra Architects.

The Rynek Wildecki Market - a church and an emerging attractive residential development (proj. Ultra Architects) deserve to be unveiledRynek Wildecki Market - a church and an emerging attractive residential development (proj. Ultra Architects) deserve to be unveiledRynek Wildecki Market - a church and an emerging attractive residential development (proj. Ultra Architects) deserve to be unveiled

Wildecki Market - a church and an emerging attractive residential development (proj. Ultra Architects) deserve unveiling.

photo: Jakub Glaz

Innovative tools were also used to plan the changes. The work on the concepts for Wielkopolski and Jeżycki squares made use of a geo-questionnaire - an interactive consultation form available for several weeks on the Internet. In it, each resident could answer in-depth questions, make comments or mark on the square plan the preferred locations of particular functions. The city intends to take the collected suggestions into account. However, it should more clearly define which entity will be entirely responsible for the changes, while the Markets will undergo a major reform.

Will the renewal of the markets take place and when? In the face of pandemic turbulence, no one dares to specify dates. Firstly, due to lack of money, and secondly, officials hope that a multi-level parking lot could be built under at least two squares with the participation of a private investor. Only since last year, after parking rates in the limited parking zone were raised, could such a venture prove competitive with surface parking lots.

The effect of the work on Lazarski Market will probably also determine the next steps. For it is not a foregone conclusion that residents and merchants will like the new, orderly space. Let the experiment conducted a few years ago serve as a warning. For a few days, students under the supervision of the Poznań architect Jola Starzak arranged one of the stalls in Jeżyce in a much more aesthetic and comfortable way. It was nice, but the turnover dropped. Seeing the better quality of the space, buyers avoided the stall, expecting higher prices, even though those prices didn't budge even a penny.

Jakub Głaz

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