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Wroclaw Part 2: The Meeting Place

Wroclaw presents itself as a meeting place; a multicultural environment where innovation happens and people respect and strengthen each other.

‘Prepare for the worst!’ Those words of advice (or perhaps caution) were shared with me by my colleagues and friends in Geneva before I left to join the IFHP visit to Wroclaw. My social circle in Geneva mainly consists of people that are involved in international cooperation, diplomacy or other related fields. People – and the interaction between those unpredictable individuals – are considered to be their core business.

Then what to think of urban planners? These people have been trained to carry out a technical and political process concerned with the control of the use of land and design of the urban environment to guide and ensure the orderly development of settlements and communities. Settlements and communities…not people! At first sight, this may appear to be a small difference. However, settlements and communities, in the mind of non-planners, are abstract entities that are easily overseen as collections of people, human beings.  Thus, thou shall not trust urban planners!

The IFHP Professional Visit to Wroclaw presented itself as the perfect opportunity for me to test the assumption that the human dimension too often gets lost in noble intentions in the world of urban planning. What better way to prove them wrong than to infiltrate a group of unsuspecting urban planning fanatics and bring down the system from within?

Wroclaw is a highly dynamic and young city, forced to reinvent itself throughout history and now given a chance to accelerate their development through, amongst others, EU funds and the economic and social impact of UEFA’s EURO 2012. Wroclaw presents itself as a meeting place; a multicultural environment where innovation happens and people respect and strengthen each other. There is evidence all around the city to support this statement. A brand new state-of-the-art stadium, a new student campus, a vivid city centre and nightlife and loads of young, smart people getting ready to contribute.

The Krasnoludeks (Gnomes or little people) are a loveable eccentricity of Wroclaw's cityscape. Read more about them

The highly professional, committed and engaging urban planning professionals that I met in Wroclaw seem to understand this context. They are trying, struggling, succeeding and failing in building alliances with other disciplines to ensure that there is indeed a link between theoretical innovation and practical relevance for the people that it concerns. The local authorities reach out to academia, the private sector and civil society to create partnerships and make change happen. Much of their work is focused on the use of technology, which can be a huge catalyst in providing the right circumstances for people to fully enjoy their right to live in the city.

As much as I love to be right in general, I am truly delighted that after the Wroclaw visit I am no longer able to stick to my somewhat narrow minded view of urban planners. Yes, some of them do have a different approach to development. Yes, some of them do have an (unhealthy?) obsession with maps and grids. Yes, some of them do love to think that people will dutifully act according to the physical concept of the plan. But, first and foremost, they really want to make a difference in the lives of people and they are willing to break down the silos.

In February 2013 the city of Dublin, Ireland will host the 8th Forum of the World Alliance of Cities Against Poverty (WACAP) on the theme ‘Make Cities Safer, Smarter and More Sustainable’. This programme is supported and coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and as UNDP’s Focal Point for WACAP I would like to invite the city of Wroclaw and IFHP to participate in that event to showcase their successes, share their struggles and teach and learn from other cities all over the world how to deal with these urban challenges from different perspectives. Bring Wroc-Love to the world!