This was the fourth online meeting organised by the Association of Polish Cities as part of the Local Development Forum (LDF) series to prepare Polish cities and towns for participating in the 11th Edition of the World Urban Forum (WUF11). Notably, for the first time in the WUF history, the event will be held in Poland (in Katowice), from 26 June until 30 June 2022.
The series of LDF seminars preparing Polish cities and towns for the WUF11 has been designed to expose municipal representatives to essential themes of this year’s World Urban Forum deliberations. These meetings will let us identify and discuss essential matters which might be presented by representatives of Polish municipalities, and pinpoint individuals who can be coached and potentially notified by the Association as attendants of assorted themed events at the World Urban Forum proper in June this year.
The seminar was held on 9 June, and broadcast from the Old Mine studio in Wałbrzych. This time, the Association of Polish Cities invited attendants to discuss URBAN RESOURCES – post-industrial housing and heritage. Meeting organisers believe both areas – housing resources in particular – to be a major component to urban development in Poland.
The seminar was hosted by Wałbrzych, a model example of urban reconstruction (revitalisation included) targeting the use of local resources in times of need for restructuring. The history of Wałbrzych is about great change: over 500 years, the city had been gradually shedding its industrial, mining and contaminated image, ultimately turning green and reinventing its identity from scratch. For Wałbrzych, the starting point was considerably more strenuous than for most Polish cities or towns.
“’History of great change’ is more than a slogan or icon of local transformation. ‘Great change’ carries the sense of a huge project beyond its tangible aspects, forming part of an enormous social, economic and environmental endeavour. The ‘City of Great Change’ moniker means we are rewriting our town from scratch. It has also set the course for the direction we intend to follow in our development,” said mayor of Wałbrzych Roman Szełemej at the seminar.
“Wałbrzych is a city of successful revitalisation interpreted as an array of integrated activities focusing on all urban resources rather than individual objects or even districts. This is a place where people approach specific areas with intent to revive, modernise or even transform them, with entirely new functions added. Revitalisation is by no means a form of crisis intervention – it is a recipe for development,” said Andrzej Porawski, Executive Director of the Office of the Association of Polish Cities.
Representatives of other municipalities discussed their experience at the meeting as well. Deputy mayor of Rybnik Piotr Masłowski shared Rybnik’s methods for handling matters of city centre depopulation, growing number of vacant buildings, and the resulting safety-related issues. Rybnik took its lead from the town of Kemnitz, Germany, where depopulation had reached numbers thus far unimaginable in Poland, 300,000 dwindling to 200,000. Germans had set up a programme allowing degraded housing resources to be reclaimed as development equity. Rybnik has chosen the same path.
President of the Social Housing Association in Szczecin Grażyna Szotkowska described the active housing policy implemented by the authorities of Szczecin, targeted housing projects and historical resource governance.
Mayor of Leszno Łukasz Borowiak shared the story of issues associated with the use of degraded post-railway sites. While multiple cities and towns had been successful in reclaiming railway station buildings – or even nearby areas – from the Polish State Railways, many municipalities, such as Leszno, though holders of drafted and fine-tuned concepts of developing such areas – decomposed, bringing no income, or even contaminated – are unable to reach the required consensus with Polish State Railways companies, often as not represented by successive directors in swift rotation. As a result, areas frequently located in strategic urban areas have become more than a deterrent for arriving travellers – they are hindering local community development.
It is noteworthy that the series of seminars is delivered as part of the “Local Development” Programme implemented by the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy within the framework of the 3rd edition of Norway and European Economic Area Grants.