Creating a city for all
The new mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, shares his plans for Poland’s capital and what he hopes to achieve during his term.
What is your vision for the city of Warsaw?
I set out my vision for Warsaw last year, at the very beginning of the electoral campaign. ‘Warsaw for all’ – that was the title of my political manifesto. It is three words long, but it reflects what I aim to do. I want to transform Warsaw into a city that helps and protects all its citizens, regardless of their age, occupation and origin. I want to make sure that Warsaw becomes a city that provides a better quality of life for everyone. For many years, Warsaw was focused on building and improving city infrastructure, and rightly so: we desperately needed new metro lines, trams, new streets and water-treatment plants. Now, with so many crucial investments completed – thanks to my predecessor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s remarkable achievements – it is time to add a new accent. We need to focus on better schools, free access to nurseries and kindergartens, air quality, tailored assistance to the elderly and better health services. I’m not saying I’ll stop infrastructural investments – there will be many new projects, including very substantial ones like the new metro and tram lines. But the quality of everyday life will be my top priority.
When foreigners talk about Warsaw, what do you want them to think and say?
I want them to say: ‘Wow, it’s such a vibrant, dynamic and welcoming city’. I hope they can see how Warsaw has changed over the last decade. I’ll be satisfied when they notice, bit by bit, that Warsaw is becoming a smart city, digitalised and data-driven, endeavouring to be a regional innovation leader.
What makes Warsaw unique – how is it different from other capital cities around the world?
First, it is the people who make Warsaw unique. They have always been the essence of the city. Second, it is the city’s painful history. Few other European capitals went through similar experiences. It is easy to forget about the past when looking at the gleaming skyscrapers in the centre of Warsaw, state-of-the-art metro stations, revitalised parks or the picturesque Old Town. Yet our past is there, invisibly shaping the city. It was almost entirely razed to the ground during World War II. The Old Town was nothing but a sea of rubble. Then, the dark decades of communism came, imposing monolithic structures of social realism architecture. The Palace of Science and Culture – now considered to be one of the most recognised symbols of Warsaw – is one of them. It was Stalin’s gift to communist Poland and now it is home to the democratically elected Council of Warsaw. I appreciate the symbolism.
Rafał Trzaskowski, who is a member of PO (Platforma Obywatelska – Civic Platform party), was elected Mayor of Warsaw on 21 October 2018, receiving a total of 505,187 votes to beat the PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Law & Justice party) candidate Patryk Jaki in the first round with a total share of 56.67% of the vote. He assumed office on 22 November. Trzaskowski was previously a member of the European Parliament from 2009 – 2014. He also served in Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government as Minister of Administration and Digitisation (2013 – 2014) and as Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2014 – 2015).
What are your priorities as Mayor of Warsaw?
I will focus on making everyday life in Warsaw better, for all citizens, in each and every district of the city. I want public education in Warsaw to be on par with the education offered by Stockholm; public transportation as good as in Paris, quality of housing comparable to Vienna, cultural life as abundant as in London. I will make every effort possible to improve the quality of air and to make Warsaw a sustainable city, as much as a smart city.
What are the major challenges facing you as Mayor, and facing Warsaw as a city?
The list is long. Like all big cities in Europe, Warsaw faces a similar challenge, from adapting to climate change to the problem of ageing and the efficient inclusion of immigrants. Warsaw is home to thousands of Ukrainians. They are now a part of the social picture, they work hard and pay their dues, so I will do everything I can to make them feel at home. Every district has its own problems which we need to solve urgently. For Ursynów, where I live, the lack of schools and public kindergartens is the most important; for Białołęka and Wilanów, the fastest-growing districts of Warsaw, struggle with inadequate transportation systems. Praga Południe and Północ, the two districts on the right bank of the Vistula River, need further revitalisation and incentives for business creation.
Warsaw is a city-magnet attracting the best and the brightest.
What are the major opportunities?
We should build on people’s dynamism. The citizens of Warsaw are well-educated, relatively young – compared to many other Polish cities – hardworking and ambitious. Warsaw is a city-magnet attracting the best and the brightest. And it will continue to be, as our universities are the best in the country. The opportunity we should seize is this: the future of Warsaw must be built upon the foundation of the knowledge-based economy. There are many initiatives in this particular field that I plan to kick-start.
Do you see other Polish cities as competitors in terms of attracting investment, business and skilled talent to Warsaw, or as your partners in attracting all that to Poland?
I do (see other Polish cities as competitors). The competition is fierce, other mayors strive to attract investment too. As much as I like them, we do compete. Having said that, Warsaw has some obvious advantages. Simply said, we are not only the economic engine of the country, generating 10% of Poland’s GDP, but also a comfortable place to live too. 40% of Warsaw’s area is covered with parks and gardens. We are said to be the safest city in Poland, the seventh safest capital in Europe. It is not by a stroke of luck that Warsaw has become the regional centre of the business services sector: there are, in total, 215 shared services centres in Warsaw, employing over 50,000 people.
Sustainability, eco-friendliness and energy-saving must be taken into consideration.
What would you like to see from commercial real estate developers building office buildings in Warsaw? What kind of contribution to city life do you want to see from them?
I believe that commercial real estate developers should devote more attention to the idea of integration of their development into the local context. I made it clear in my electoral manifesto, endorsed by the majority of citizens: new commercial property should not lead to the creation of isolated islands, fenced-off quarters which are inaccessible to their neighbours. We will impose this philosophy from the planning stage. Sustainability, eco-friendliness and energy-saving must be taken into consideration, too. So should transportation needs. Warsaw invests a lot in improving its public transportation system. New metro and tram lines, electric buses – we should make sure their potential is fully exploited, location-wise. Private underground parking should be more integrated with the city network of car parks. This is a win-win situation.
The murder of Mayor Adamowicz was a terrible tragedy, of course overwhelmingly for his family, but also for the country. As a fellow mayor, what conclusions do you draw about the nature of politics and public service in Poland?
Paweł Adamowicz was not only my fellow mayor, the president of the city of Gdańsk. He was also a symbol of modern, liberal and democratic local government. He profoundly transformed his city, modernising it, enriching its cultural and public life. He was stabbed to death while addressing the citizens of Gdańsk at a national charity event, the famous ‘Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy’ (Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity). We all know that Paweł Adamowicz suffered from an orchestrated campaign of intimidation led by the government-controlled public media. I can only hope that his death will lead to the taming of hate language, to the toning down of the aggression that characterises the Polish political scene. Politically speaking, Polish society is deeply divided. Maybe too deeply. Let us hope that Mayor Adamowicz’s example and his ultimate sacrifice will help us all – politicians and citizens together – to embark on the path of conciliation.
Rafał Trzaskowski is speaking at the MIPIM international real estate fair in Cannes on 13 March as a guest of Poland Today.