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Wroclaw Part 3: An urban planning perspective?

In mainstream urban planning there’s still too strong a focus on the US and Western Europe.

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter - African proverb

A friend and colleague told me about the professional visit to the city of Wroclaw organised by the International Federation for Housing and Planning. I had never even heard of Wroclaw before I had a look at the programme. The programme looked really interesting. When I read that the city was known in German as Breslau I started to get an idea of where the city should be. It looked like a perfect opportunity to broaden my view on urban governance, planning and housing once again in one of Eastern Europe’s most fascinating and multi-layered cities, while meeting Wroclaw’s leading professionals in the field of housing and planning at the same time.

The IFHP visit to Poland reminded me of a discussion I once had at the University of Amsterdam. While organizing a study visit to Krakow, Poland, I asked a member of the faculty which professor could give an interesting lecture about this city. His answer struck me: there was no staff member with particular knowledge about cities in that area of the world. During my bachelors in Economic Geography this was such a gap to me that I arranged to do a minor in Eastern European studies before I was accepted to the more academically intriguing Research Masters in Metropolitan Studies.

In mainstream urban planning there’s still a strong focus on the US and Western Europe. Being a practitioner myself, I can tell you that while working on the vision for Amsterdam in 2040 we were, amongst others, inspired by PlanNYC and plans of cities like Vancouver and Portland. These were the cities we had heard about. And, more practically, we could read the full plans ourselves because the original plans were written in English.

Could this academic and professional focus on American and Western European cities be a reason that this wonderful and inspiring visit of the IFHP to Wroclaw was not fully booked?

This thought ran through my mind several times while our group were rushing to all the wonderful site visits and meetings with influential thinkers and urbanists from the Wroclaw region. I heard stories about the amazing economic growth in the region; I saw a city coping with an increase in car use and the arrival of uncountable hypermarkets. I was struck by the beauty of the city; astounded by the optimism of the plan (and/or fallacies of capitalism?) in housing (A planners’ joke we heard goes:  “If Turkey still wants to join the EU, all 70 million Turks could live in Poland if all planned houses would actually be built”) and amazed by the run down housing areas. The latter foremost because in some acclaimed American or Western European cities I would not call such neighbourhoods rundown.

 

Dutch far right opens anti-Polish hotline (...) The "massive arrival of Poles in particular", it says, "is the cause of many problems, such as nuisance, pollution, [and] a squeeze on the labour market." (Further reading )

 

The mainstream image of Poland in the Netherlands is strongly influenced by both unfamiliarity and media fallacies. I feel privileged that I’ve had the chance to learn and be inspired by such a wonderful city. I do hope that IFHP, professor Izabela Mironowicz and her PhD students Kasia Piskorek and Janek Barski will be able to organise more visits to Wroclaw, because there is a great deal to learn from both an academic and a professional perspective.

Finally, I hope that we as urbanists can cooperate with planners from all over the world to get a better and more encompassing perspective on planning and housing in cities. Even though there are still a lot of fallacies, technological innovations such as google translate are helping us to understand original plans more than ever before so we’d better take advantage of that.

Planning and housing is too interesting and too important to only take into account the American or West European perspective.

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