Towarzystwo Urbanistów Polskich

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Po wizycie w naszym regionie...

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RTPI Yorkshire Region Newsletter Summer 09

Yorkshire Region Study Visit to Poland 2009

Urbaniści brytyjscyIn the 1960's Leeds Planning School employed two charismatic Poles, Konrad Smigielski, (Head) and Jan Cybulski, (Design Lecturer). They constantly extolled the virtues of Krakow and the opportunity to visit their home City was too good to miss for members of the Study Party who had studied under the pair.

On 5 May 2009 the 16 members of the group flew from Leeds/ Bradford Airport for a week's visit, including the 3 main locations of Krakow, Gliwice, (3 days) and Szczyrk, (4 days). Flying over Poland a major feature of the landscape was immediately clear. Villages expanding alongside roads, (the record is a village 12 miles long) and each home has a long thin strip of farm land behind.

Landing in Krakow in the afternoon we were given a whistle-stop tour of the centre by Architect, Tomasz Bradecki. Particularly impressive sights were the arcaded courtyard of the Wawel Royal Castle, the Cathedral, (imagine York Minster but with every internal surface covered with rich materials and patterns) and the Church of St Mary.

We were fortunate enough to be in the main square when a trumpeter played a fanfare from the top of the tower. This is broadcast every day at 12 noon on Polish radio. Our visit to Krakow concluded in a traditional Polish restaurant where we sampled various local delicacies and Tomasz showed us how to drink soup from a hollowed out cottage loaf.

As darkness descended we were taken by coach 100 kilometres along motorways, (under various stages of construction), to the University's Hotel at Gliwice.

Urbaniści brytyjscy 1The following morning a short walk brought us to the Faculty of Architecture. We were welcomed by the Vice Dean, Professor Z Kaminski and given a seminar on the Polish Planning System, (which revealed that Planning was mentioned in the first Polish Constitution in 1 791), and shown some excellent work by students.

In the afternoon we visited a museum housed in the Royal Prussian Cast Iron Foundry. We were surprised to find a statue of John Baildon, a Scottish Engineer who designed the original furnace. To our surprise the displays showed cast iron wall decorations, statues, delicate household ornaments and fine jewellery, (such as a rather heavy looking tiara for a Duchess). These products vere sold throughout the world as "Berlin Iron". They also produced the famous military Iron Cross.

From a tower in the centre of Gliwice we saw working Silesian coal mines, (some are onekilometre deep)" and tile-­tower of the radio station. (It looks like the Eiffel Tower but is actually made of larch wood). In 1939 Hitler justified the outbreak of war by alleging that Poles had attacked the facility (the insurgents were actually SS soldiers in civilian clothes).

Next day we were whisked off to the "Municipal Association of Upper Silesia", in Katowice. A traffic expert told us that trams, trains and buses were becoming less popular. There is terrible congestion on the roads but we were assured that it would be solved by building more and more motorways. This sounded very familiar. The "Upper Silesian Metropolis" is well sited at the junction of the A4 (east­-west) and A1 (north-south) motorways which should be completed, (thanks largely to EU funding), by 2013.

A pleasant afternoon was spent at the Regional Forestry Office. Green uniformed foresters, (why can't our Planning Officers have uniforms?), told us how the forests had been exploited and damaged by fire, mining and (particularly from 1970 to 1990), by industrial air pollution. Following the Rio Summit, (1992), emission limitation was imposed and ecological management accepted. A "Shelter Belt Project", (wholly for public use), was planted around Katowice. Forty five "Recreation and Relaxation Centres", comprising beaches, tennis courts, playing fields, footpaths and cycleways, were built in the woods on reclaimed mining and industrial sites.

The dense forests are now home to diverse wildlife, lncluding lynx, bear, capercaillie, otters, beavers, storks, cranes, wild boar and even, (in a Reserve), bison. A most interesting day was rounded off magnificently by a bar-b-que. The fare included a delicious whole roast wild boar and for dessert, sweet honey, (still in it's honeycomb), from the Director's hives.

Urbaniści brytyjscy 2The following day we left Gliwice and were given a tour around Tychy entitled, "A New Town after 50 Years". The various phases were romantically named with the letters A to Z. The first scheme, "A", "from the Stalin Era", comprised fine 3 storey blocks along tree-lined boulevards leading to a compact square containing shops, a cafe and primary school, which was reminiscent of the "Neighbourhood Units" being planned in the UK at the time. This was accommodation for miners and as they could not read there was a symbol, (such as a rabbit), above the door to each block. A narrow gauge railway was provided to take them to the pit. In an age before people needed a car to visit out of town supermarkets or take the children to schools on the other side of town, this form of living must have been very agreeable.

As we went through the letters of the alphabet the blocks got higher and higher but always seemed to be similar in style to what was being built in the UK at the time. The Planners told us that since the collapse of Communism some of the flats and houses had been sold off which makes it difficult to organise the management of the communal areas. Our hosts forced us to visit the Brewery where the famous Tyskie beer is brewed, (then impressively speedily bottled and canned). The older parts of the Brewery, (still in use) and original buildings, such as the Manager's house were particularly attractive and interesting. At the end of the day we moved on to the University's "other hotel", at Szczyrk, a small Ski Resort in the Beskid Mountains. Following the evening meal, a lively seminar took place with our Polish hosts, covering topics relating to planning and planners' education.

As Saturday was a "Free Day" many of us took advantage of the ski lifts to go to the top of the Skrzyczne Mountain and strode down singing excerpts from the Sound of Music.

Urbaniści brytyjscy 3On Sunday we were given the opportunity to visit different places in the region with our Polish hosts. The majority decided to go to Auschwitz­Berkenau while others went over the mountains to the Czech Republic. The Auschwitz group went first to Pszczyna, "The Pearl of Upper Silesia", a small town with a beautiful market square at its heart, dominated by an "onion spired" Church and a neo­baroque "Castle", called the "Polish Versailles". The castle stands within a vast "English" landscaped park. In 1891 a Prince from Pszczyna married "Daisy" Cornwall is-West, an aristocratic English beauty.

The Hochberg family lived at the castle until the 1920s, when the couple divorced. The castle was adopted as the Headquarters of the Imperial German Army up to the Second World War. It has since been lavishly and accurately restored to its former glory.

As a complete contrast, the visit to the State Museum of Auschwitz-Berkenau which followed was a profoundly emotional experience. Reactions to Auschwitz­-Berkenau were very personal, but although we had all seen countless films and photographs, we were unprepared for the scale of the camps, responsible for the deaths of over one and a half million people.

Urbaniści brytyjscy 4On our last "working day" we visited Bielsko-Biala. Situated on the Polish-Czech-Slovak border, this city of 180,000, was originally two towns. We had a meeting with the Mayor, (who was very much aware of planning issues), and Planners, who described conservation projects in the Old Town. We ascended the mountain of Szyndzielnia, (which is within the City's boundary), by cable car. The Chief Planner discussed the dilemma of how to reconcile conflicting pressures for the use of the mountain by skiers, walkers and those who wish to preserve its virgin natural beauty. The day ended with a visit to the old town in Bielsko-Biala.

We flew back to Leeds/Bradford tired but stimulated by our visit to a fascinating and vibrant country which is still evolving twenty years after its release from communism. Thanks go to our Leader, Ken Burley and Eamonn Judge, (whose knowledge of the Polish language and culture was invaluable). We are very grateful to our Polish colleagues for providing such a diverse programme of events and look forward to the challenge of arranging a return visit in the near future.

P.S. Jan Cybulski, you were quite right, the charm of Krakow is not just its fine buildings but also the spaces between them. Narrow streets suddenly open up into enormous squares dominated by numerous elegant spires. Real town planning! Thank you.

Edward Wills

Vice Chair, Yorkshire Planning Aid Steering Group, May 2009



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