While Warsaw’s right bank desperately needs a makeover, authorities must be careful not to ruin the area’s specific atmosphere
Warsaw City Hall plans an extensive revitalisation programme for the neglected neighbourhoods of eastern Warsaw. The changes are highly anticipated and will go a long way toward attracting more real estate investment to the right bank – but at the same time they must be made prudently and with forethought, so as to ensure Praga’s particular character is not lost, said guests at the Primetime Warsaw III conference held by Poland Today at the National Stadium in April.
The process will involve a number of major challenges and will require Warsaw authorities to be shrewd in combining old with new. Praga has long had its own specific atmosphere, characterised by the presence of historic architecture and a distinctive local folklore. In recent years, it has taken on a more bohemian personality, as artists move in and work there. A City Hall official pointed out that Warsaw, which was almost completely destroyed during World War II , suffers from the lack of a proper urban tissue. For that reason Praga, with its preserved prewar buildings and natural authenticity, has become increasingly appealing to Varsovians.
With the revitalisation scheme about to get underway and a new subway line providing easy travel between Praga and the centre of Warsaw, middle-class Varsovians are increasingly interested in moving to the east side of the Vistula. The revitalisation process planned by Warsaw City Hall will impact approximately 1,500 hectares of land located in the Praga Północ, Praga Południe and Targówek districts. The area is inhabited by around 7.5% of the total population of the city.
‘The process will involve a number of major challenges and will require Warsaw authorities to be shrewd in combining old with new’
Finding the right balance
Participants agreed that Praga has long deserved such a programme. Patryk Zaremba, from Forum Rozwoju Warszawy (The Warsaw Development Forum), an NGO, joked that he wished Warsaw City Hall could be moved to Praga, if only so that officials would pay more attention to the area. However, he also raised concerns over the extent of Praga’s planned transformation. The area could be “over-revitalised”, he said, resulting in the loss of its unique character.
The potential demographic shifts also raise questions: If apartment prices in Praga continue to rise and more affluent inhabitants begin moving there in large numbers, will part of the local, low-income population of that area of Warsaw be displaced? How can the city ensure that the old and new inhabitants become integrated? Participants pointed out that the education system could be a source of conflict – new upper- and middle-class residents in the area may not want to send their children to schools there.
Participants also voiced concern about retail space that is expected to go in on the ground floors of Praga’s revitalised tenement houses. Maciej Mąka, an architect from the Mąka Sojka Architekci architectural studio, expressed disappointment at how Plac Wilsona – one of the most highly trafficked portions of the capital’s prestigious Żoliborz district – saw traditional cafes and grocery stores gradually replaced by bank outlets. He argued that Warsaw City Hall should be wiser about leasing policies in Praga so that it avoids the same fate.
Organisational changes could help officials tackle the challenges lying ahead. City Hall should establish a dedicated unit to better coordinate Praga’s revitalisation process, participants said.
HOUSING, CULTURE AND SPORT
According to Warsaw City Hall plans, Praga’s revitalisation will involve the delivery of around 1,700 apartments, and the renovation of more than 3,000 existing housing units. The process will also include investments in culture (including the construction of a new concert hall for the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra) and sports infrastructure, such as the construction of a new swimming pool.