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Decline And Revitalization In Post-communist Urban Context: A Case Of The Polish City—gdansk

Decline and revitalization in post-communist urban context: A case of the Polish city—Gdansk




  Decline and revitalization in post-communisturban context: A case of the Polishcity d Gdansk Dominika Polanska Department of Sociology, Baltic and East European Graduate School (BEEGS),So ¨ derto ¨ rn University College, 141 89 Huddinge, Sweden Available online 23 July 2008 Abstract This paper examines how different social, economic, historical and physical conditionscoincide in the formation of space and processes of decline in the period of transformationin Poland. The focus lies on a specific residential area in the centre of the Polish city of Gdanskand the question why no improvements have been done in this particular area to stop its suc-cessive decline. It is among other things argued that clear urban policy together with improvedurban planning and clear legislation on ownership are needed in order to improve conditionsin this and other deprived areas of the city. Ó 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the University of California. Keywords: Post-communist cities; Decline; Revitalization; Urban planning; Urban policy; Civil society Introduction Many of the urban regions in Central and Eastern Europe have gone throughconsiderable changes since the 1990s. The new economic order has opened up forprivate investments as well as for a concentration of capital in the cities of Centraland East European countries. Post-communist cities have become mirrors of thechanges going on or using Lefebvre’s vocabulary spatial projections of societies Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 359 e 374  Available online at$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of The Regents of the Universityof California.doi:10.1016/j.postcomstud.2008.06.002  (Lefebvre, 1968: 64). Although changes have taken place differently in differentcountries some visible marks such as the rise of new and modern buildings, theestablishment of foreign companies on the market, privatized housing market andthe creation of new residential areas, the improvement of infrastructure and theopening of cities’ gates to streams of tourists coming from all over the world, canbe observed in the post-communist cities. But the systemic change has not beenentirely painless. The fall of communism has resulted in an amplified insecurityon the labour market, housing market and other spheres of the social and economiclife of the cities. Great contrasts in prosperity concentrated in the space are observ-able to the visitor in post-communist cities (Szelenyi, 1996; Kovacs, 1998; Weclawo-wicz, 1998; Sykora, 1999). While parts of the city, most often the commercial parts,where the tourists and companies settled and shopping centres popped up, lookas any city in Western Europe, there are parts of or even whole residential areasthat are on the edge to decay (Dingsdale, 1999; Kok and Kovacs, 1999; Ladanyi,1997).The aim of this paper is to examine how different social, economic, historicaland physical conditions coincide in the formation of spatial disparities and pro-cesses of decline in the period of transformation from state socialism to a marketeconomy. The focus lies on a specific residential area in the centre of the Polishcity of Gdansk and the main interest lies in answering the question why noimprovements have been done in this particular area to stop its successive decline.Furthermore, questions of urban planning, ownership, organizational activity andconfidence are brought up in the analysis of the lack of revitalization in the area.This paper starts with a short review of literature concerning the topic of thestudy. Research questions and methodological standpoints are presented next. Thecase of the city of Gdansk is discussed as an interesting object of study. Papercontinues with a description and an analysis of the case of Dolne Miasto, a deprivedresidential area in the heart of the city. The specific case of Dolne Miasto is used inthis paper to draw upon different processes interplaying in the increase of spatialdisparities and degradation in a post-communist context. Literature review Researchers studying social change in post-communist countries often refer tothat change as either ‘‘transition’’ or ‘‘transformation’’. The concept of ‘‘transition’’presupposes that one condition is replaced by another and ‘‘that by imitating West-ern institutions the post-communist societies will quickly reshape themselves in thelikeness of leading societies of the West (US, Western Europe, Japan and so forth)’’(Sztompka, 2006: 456). The other alternative label, ‘‘transformation,’’ will be used inthis paper, since it implies a more open-ended consideration of social change. Theconcept of transformation gives way to a more complex interpretation, with similar-ities and dissimilarities between post-communist societies and the West. Transitionscholars are often guided by the idea of modernization marking out phases in historydirected towards a specific goal and pointing out parallels between type of political 360 D. Polanska / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 359 e 374  system in a given society and socioeconomic development (Holmes, 1997: 38). In thecase of post-communist societies, these are looked upon by transition/modernizationtheorists in a normative way, often as incomplete in their development towards mod-ern societies (Blokker, 2005). In this paper changes taking place in post-communistsocieties since 1989 will be referred to as transformation noticing this concept’s open-ended disposition and turning the attention to the complexity of this process (Eyalet al., 1998; Stark and Bruszt, 1998).Researchers studying transformation processes in Central and Eastern Europehave emphasized the political and cultural aspects of the changes since thecollapse of communism (Sztompka, 1996, 2006; Lewis, 1997;Elster et al., 1998). Changes going on in Central and Eastern Europe have resulted in researchers look-ing upon the region as ‘‘social science laboratories’’ (Offe, 1991;Pickel, 2001: 460).As it was already mentioned, various researchers have studied the urban aspect of the changes going on; however, this field is still quite unexplored and needs moreattention. The central point of view in this paper is that cities are mirrors of changein societies and that the spatial aspects of any social change should be studied care-fully. The starting point is, therefore, the important role of the cities as concentrat-ing and clarifying consequences of changes going on in a society (Park and Burgess,1967; Simmel, 1971). What is even more emergent in the studies of the transforma-tions taking place since 1989 in post-communist cities is the lack of empirical andtheoretical perspective on non-capital cities. The most explored cities until todayhave been: Prague, Budapest, Warsaw and Tallinn (Ruoppila, 2004), while non-capital cities have stayed in the background. In the Polish context there havebeen some empirical analyses conducted, but the number of such studies is still lim-ited (Weclawowicz, 1992; Zborowski, 2005; Kotus, 2006). This paper will focus onthe middle-sized Polish city, Gdansk, and discuss the topic of decline andrevitalization. Research questions This study considers different conditions in the formation of space and howthey interplay in the creation of spatial disparities and degradation. The focusis on a residential area in central parts of the city called Dolne Miasto and itsgradual decline during the period of transformation. Research questions of thisstudy are:  What role played the urban planning in the development of the area?  How did economic resources in the area and in the city affect the situation in thearea?  How can ownership conditions explain decline in the case of Dolne Miasto?  What explanations can be given to the decline when studying organizationalbasis of the area?  How important is confidence in the area for its improvement?  What are the possible future scenarios for the area? 361 D. Polanska / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 359 e 374  Methods and data used It needs to be stressed that the following analysis is by no means complete. It hasmany shortcomings, but is still quite telling when following the process of decline of an inner-city area. For the analysis of the conditions prevalent in the city of Gdanskand especially in the residential area of Dolne Miasto different qualitative techniqueswere used. The analysis is based on 10 semi-structured in-depth interviews withpeople living in the examined neighbourhood and officials of the city, conductedin the spring and autumn of 2007. Interviewees living in Dolne Miasto wereapproached on the streets of the area, asked for a longer interview in their homes.City officials were contacted in advance and asked for interviews at their workplace.Moreover, official reports, records and local statistics have been used to enlightenquestions such as the urban planning issues, economic and organizational basis inDolne Miasto, ownership conditions, residents’ opinion on the development of thearea, and so on. Official records and statistics provide us with a wider picture of the problem at hand. They may interact with our previous information or differfrom what we know; anyway they complement other data sources by giving usanother type of information.Observational techniques have also been used to wider the angle of the study,above all to give the author information on the physical conditions in the specificarea, but also in the rest of the city. To spend time in the area of study can beinvaluable when writing on its development, physical degradation, reputationand future possibilities. It also gives another point of view that the residents andofficial reports may lack.Furthermore, throughout the whole study the ambition was to connect the find-ings to other researchers’ results. Studies on post-communist transformation andpost-communist urban issues in the Polish context were used to describe the Polishcivil society, state policies covering urban development issues, political atmosphereand so on. Studies on post-communist urban issues (not only located in the Polishcontext) were used for the understanding of some of the processes observed in DolneMiasto and Gdansk.For the analysis of the role of urban planning for the development in DolneMiasto official reports and information gathered during the interviews with cityofficials (at Gdansk’s Development Bureau and the City Hall) were used to explainthe development of the area. When analysing the organizational basis, a studyconducted under the guidance of Gdansk’s Development Bureau (Sulikowskiet al., 2007), where 268 interviews were conducted with people working and livingin Dolne Miasto, have been used. Internet sources as well as earlier mentioned inter-views were exploited to bring understanding to the issue.Furthermore, for the analysis of confidence in the area an analysis of 20 newspa-per articles (published between years 2000 and 2007) in a national (GazetaWyborcza) and a local/regional newspaper (Dziennik Baltycki) have been done tostudy the discourse on Dolne Miasto. Information gained in the analysis wascomplemented with questions taken up in the interviews with inhabitants concerningcommitment to the area and confidence in its future development. 362 D. Polanska / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 359 e 374  Poland’s success and its flipside In different studies of the post-communist countries and their transition todemocratic market economies researchers tend to classify Poland as very successfulin its shift to the new democratic order (Lewis, 1997). The country’s state of transi-tion from communist order to another provides a field of great importance for socialstudies. But the success story has its flipside. Poland is stricken today by increasingpoverty levels and processes of social exclusion (Weclawowicz, 2005: 67). In the yearof 2003, 25 per cent of Polish households subsisted below the ‘‘objective’’ povertyline, while as many as 57 per cent stated to be living below the ‘‘subjective’’ standard(Czapinski and Panek, 2003). Unemployment rate in the year of 2006 was as high as17.6 percent (Central Statistical Office, 2006). The high unemployment is one of themost important problems in the development of urban areas in Poland. Moreover,there is a severe housing shortage on the market in the country and difficulties infinding affordable accommodation are escalating. At the same time new housesand even neighbourhoods are build that form great contrasts to the old and oftenneglected housing stock. The case of Gdansk Gdansk is an old city located at Poland’s northern coast, adjacent to the BalticSea with its 460 thousands inhabitants (City Hall in Gdansk, 2005). Together withthe city of Gdynia and Sopot the city of Gdansk constitutes the so-called ‘‘Tri-city’’ with almost 800 thousand inhabitants. In history the city is described as theplace where the great movement of ‘‘Solidarity’’ under the command of Lech Walesawas born. The organization of Solidarity emerged in September 1980 after severalriots and dissatisfaction among the citizens. It played ‘‘a major role in highlightingthe weaknesses of the communist system’’ and lead to a ‘‘crisis of communism’’(Holmes, 1997: 50). Gdansk became the playground of one of the most importantforces behind the overthrow of communism.In official and unofficial contexts the city of Gdansk is described as a metropolis.It is a member of Polish Union of Metropolis together with 11 other cities. Gdansk isportrayed as a junction between adjacent cities and small towns and as a city withimportant economic, cultural and academic centres and attractions. Gdansk’s localeconomy is founded upon a long tradition of shipbuilding and oil refining along withquite a high number of chemical industries. A more service-oriented labour market isslowly moving into the city.The city’s role as a metropolis is not exclusively positive. A report from year 2006,written by the Political and Economic Department of the city, concludes that there isan ongoing social and spatial stratification in the city, which is based on the inhab-itants’ social status (Political and Economic Department, 2006: 3). Furthermore, ina Gdansk’s Development Plan until 2015 the authors pinpoint the urgent situationon the housing market and the need for improvement in order to draw more inhab-itants to the city and hold back wealthy households from moving away from the area(Czepczynski, 2005). Among the weak and threatening aspects pointed out in the 363 D. Polanska / Communist and Post-Communist Studies 41 (2008) 359 e 374