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Can Polish cities shape space better?

24 of August '23
w skrócie
  1. The report, "Strengthening the Social and Substantive Factor in the Shaping of Urban Space," analyzes the issues of shaping cities in Poland.
  2. It discusses the role of city architects, urban planning and architectural commissions and architectural competitions.
  3. It focuses on the need for democratization of the participation process and greater transparency of activities.
  4. Draws attention to the role of education and the media in disseminating knowledge about architecture and planning.
  5. Available on the Center for Public Policy's website, the report encourages discussion about creating better urban spaces.

  6. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the A&B portal

In many fields of discussion about Polish urban spaces, we have fallen into a clinch from which it is incredibly difficult to get out. The problems of suburbanization, „concreteosis”, or excessive power pressure from several interest groups seem impossible to overcome. Some of the solutions, however, are already on the table today .

As part of our #ReportThursday series, we present documents, reports and guides on architecture, cities and local government that are certainly worth publicizing and promoting. This week we look at the report "Strengthening the Social and Substantive Factor in the Formation of Urban Space." The report was compiled by a team consisting of activist and geographer Pawel Halat, MPOIA president Marek Kaszynski, architect Bartlomiej Kisielewski, political scientist Rafal Matyja and A&B editor-in-chief Malgorzata Tomczak. The document was published by the Center for Public Policy.

When discussing how to shape cities, we most often point to the problems of a weak planning culture in Poland, resulting from excessive deregulation of urban planning processes. This wedge results in thinking about change for the better through the prism of „change at the top” — relying only on changes at the central level. Shaping urban space can be done in a more substantive and democratic way — and all the tools for its creation depend not on the decision-makers at Wiejska Street in Warsaw, but on the political will of local authorities and its residents.

What tools can allow for the development of better urban spaces, democratization of the participation process and inclusion of new actors in the "game of the city"?

The report is available on the website of the Center for Public Policy.

raport „Wzmocnienie czynnika społecznego i merytorycznego w kształtowaniu przestrzeni miejskiej”

The report „Strengthening the social and substantive factor in shaping urban spaces”.

© Center for Public Policy

guardian and creator

In many Polish cities, the urban architect is like the mythical Yeti — everyone has heard of him, but no one has seen him. The role of the city architect could carry a number of positive aspects — taking part in, as well as initiating, public discussions, gaining a broader understanding of local specifics, or including diverse voices in conversations about the city.

The city architect could become a professional subject co-shaping discussions about city creation — the problem is the proper embedding of the architect in the city structures (as the authors and the author of the report point out — it is not required that such a person heads an office unit), as well as tenure. Ultimately, local governments should strive to shape the function of the city architect in their structures along the lines of the treasurer — a person of trust for the president or mayor, as well as the municipal council. Such a role must not boil down to a mere administrator, but first and foremost a person who is responsible and ready to discuss issues with various stakeholders.

outspoken professionals

Another „tool” for improving the level of discussion and solutions in the city is the institution of municipal urban planning and architectural commissions. This is professional support for officials and decision-makers who give opinions on planning solutions in the city. In the report, we find information about payment and access to information worked out by the commissions.

As the authors and the author of the report point out — it is necessary to conduct more transparent activities by such institutions as the aforementioned commissions. It would also be good to diversify the members of the commissions, including by introducing other experts on urban issues. These could be naturalists, sociologists or transport specialists. A transparent and paid urban commission could become an important element in shaping the space and discussion of the city.

W raporcie znajdziemy dane dotyczące stanowiska architektów miasta, miejskich komisji urbanistyczno-architektonicznych czy konkursów organizowanych przez SARP

The report includes data on the position of the city's architects, the city's urban-architectural commissions or competitions organized by SARP

© Center for Public Policy

contests not only for icons

In thinking about architectural and urban planning competitions, the optics are very often adopted that they are primarily used to try to produce architectural icons. This view is completely wrong. Competitions help to professionalize and democratize spatial solutions. The biggest problem remains their low popularity in the search for urban solutions. There is a backstage saying that "competitions for public spaces have not caught on in Krakow."

In the report we will find solutions to the organization of competitions, including taking into account the results of study and planning competitions when working on MPZP, betting on transparency and substantive support for private competitions.

consultation and education

The report cites two more scopes within which to seek solutions for working toward a better space — consultation and education. Consultation, the report's drafting team points out, should go beyond hermetic language, seeking a new model of civil dialogue that will not lead to public fatigue. As in other cases, creating such conditions is primarily a problem not of lack of solutions, but of political will.

"The quality of space determines the quality of our lives. We shape our cities, and they shape us." — we can read in the report. That's why proper architectural education is important — moving away from excessive specialization, looking for sources of transferring knowledge at a level understandable to people not involved in architecture and urban planning on a daily basis. An equally important element, the report reads, is the popularization of architecture and planning by local and national media — so that these topics become as popular as politics or lifestyle.

let's talk about space

The outline of the report presented above only touches on some of the solutions and risks discussed within the document. It's worth digging into its full version to learn how we can make our surroundings better from the bottom up, on a local scale.

The report is available on the website of the Center for Public Policy.

We also invite you to participate in a discussion organized by A&B and the association Lepszy Kraków under the title „Summer Forum of Ideas — A Difficult Game for a Better Space”. The meeting will take place on August 24 at 7 pm at the Botanical Garden in Krakow. The event will be hosted by A&B editor-in-chief Małgorzata Tomczak.

compiled by Wiktor Bochenek

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