Life in the city centre does not have to fade away after working hours

Originally Published in December 2019

The city life may go round the clock. The key is to combine in one place a residential, commercial, business and production function.

Sea City in Gdynia will be a new district located in a close neighbourhood of the sea port. The city’s authorities have very ambitious plans. Previous industrial sites will be replaced by apartments, service facilities, high class office buildings, a marina. There will also be a lot of open public space, e.g. promenades, green areas. None of the planned housing estates will be fenced. There will also be no place for mediocrity. All of the buildings will be designed by architects chosen in competitions.

– This is how cities developed in the past. People concentrated their life, trade and production in one place – says Prof. Igor Zachariasz from Cracow University of Economics, a member of the Society of Polish Town Planners.

– Such an urban space engineering is nothing new, it is like coming right back to where it all started. In Western Europe, such processes have been very common for years. In Poland, however, these are only the beginnings – admits the expert.

In his opinion, it is local and regional government authorities who must be responsible for developing the space with mixed functions.

– Definitely it should not be done by private investors who are focused on maximizing individual objectives, and not on shaping the space for common interests. Indeed, there must be someone who will ensure that e.g. office buildings or production facilities are not burdensome for permanent residents – indicates Prof. Zachariasz.

A new district

– Gdynia is one of few cities in the world where the city centre is located very close to the sea. This is our trump card – we want to use it and we know how to do it – says confidently Katarzyna Gruszecka-Spychała, the Vice-President of Gdynia.

However, it turns out that the government also has plans to some of the area where Sea City is to be located. They do not coincide with the plans developed by the local and regional government authorities.

The Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation requested us to issue an opinion on the expansion of the sea port covering the sites where today the Dalmorowskie Pier and part of the Kościuszko Square are located. Our opinion is negative, as we would have lost urban planning authority over these sites. The new sea port borders would run directly through the middle of already existing buildings. This would lead to chaos – explains Katarzyna Gruszecka-Spychała.

Most of all, however, Gdynia’s authorities do not support the Ministry’s idea for strategic reasons.

– This is the very heart of our city. The Pier is a pre-war construction running parallel to the Kościuszko Square. It takes 10 minutes to reach Świętojańska Street from here, namely the very centre of Gdynia. This is why we would really like to come up with a well-thought-out development plan for these sites. At first glance, the Ministry’s plans appear to be very attractive. They assume the construction of new office buildings and large cruise ships moored along the wharf. But in order for this part of the city to be teeming with life, we need permanent residents and tenants who can afford high class offices. I do not think we will find them among companies functioning in the sea port. And the cruise ships are also welcomed very warmly in Gdynia, but the tourists who arrive on them take the bus and go sightseeing elsewhere. They do not leave their money here and do not contribute to our city’s development – claims the Vice-President of Gdynia.

This is where I want to live

To some extent, Gdynia’s Sea City is modelled after HafenCity, a new district of Hamburg which was also constructed on previous harbour sites. Today, it is a pride of the city. The sites of the old, closed harbour and warehouses located in the vicinity of the city centre underwent urban regeneration.

HafenCity was divided into 10 parts, each of them of specified functions and specificity. For example Elbtorquartier is devoted to science, with Maritime Museum, two universities, a concert hall, Greenpeace headquarters. HafenCity is also a modern waterway transport centre.

However, Gdynia and Hamburg are not the only seaside cities which are trying to include the sea in their development.

Another good example is Lisbon South Bay. It is a project implemented by local government authorities of Almanda , Barreiro and Seixal regions near Lisbon, with apartments, marina, hotels and offices under construction. The authorities of Copenhagen and Belfast have come up with a similar idea. In both of these cities, the seaside is teeming with life round the clock, not only during working hours or after permanent residents come back from work.

Cities are trying to combine multifunctionality not only on the seaside areas. In Wroclaw, the sites for large office buildings are projected spot-wise, so that they are surrounded by objects of different purpose.

– Such localizations are highly-valued both by investors and employees who are content with working in the vibrant city centre. Shopping malls, on the other hand, have been located in such distances from each other that pedestrians streams can flow between them and between other important pedestrians traffic generators, e.g. historical buildings complex surrounding the city market square, railway stations, Wroclaw’s large universities. Along such vibrant streets, shops and restaurants are situated, drawing even more people – explains Tomasz Myszko-Wolski from Wroclaw City Hall.

For several decades, also Western Gdynia has been developing in this multifunctional way.

– There used to be hundreds of small plots belonging to Kashubians in this region. In time, they sold them to developers and this is how Western Gdynia started to evolve – reminds Katarzyna Gruszecka- Spychała.

It is difficult to recognize these sites nowadays. It is not a typical suburb for Gdynia. There is everything here – services, shops, schools and nurseries.

In Poznań, on the other hand, the number of apartments near the old market square has been decreasing for several years, with simultaneous upward trend when it comes to tourism and entertainment function.

– The city’s authorities have implemented an integrated renewal programme for Poznań’s city centre. We are introducing solutions which have an impact on the quality of public space, with the renewal process highly supported and accepted by the majority of the residents. Cooperation with the residents is a matter of key importance for this renewal to be successful – says Iwona Matuszczak-Szulc, director of the Department for Urban Development and International Cooperation at Poznań City Hall.

Renata Krupa-Dąbrowska