Concrete landscapes

I’ve always been fascinated by the problems of urban areas. Damaged buildings, squatting people in empty corners where even police are afraid to check. Additionally, loads of socio-economic issues the municipality cannot handle alone. My former field of study is recreating these spaces and making them more livable. I feel like it is engrained in me. I want places to be functional, sustainable, and beautiful. But what can I do if developers and authorities have other plans?

Jonny James | Unsplash

Re-vita

Let’s start with the definition of revitalization. It’s a very complex process and demands a lot of money, speaking of which – they are often wasted. But I am not going to whine from the beginning. Re-vita means bringing back to life. But first, the thing has to be dead or almost dead. Many cities or neighborhoods were created in the surrounding big factories during the Industrial Revolution. People started to migrate from villages to the cities because there was easier to get a job and make a living. But we are no more in the nineteen-century, the economy wholly changed, and factories went bankrupt or human work was replaced by automated mass-production. There were left white spots in the cities–after not used railway and military areas or old factories. Together with that, many socio-economic issues like unemployment, the ghettoization of the inhabitants, suburbanization, social pathologies, and many more. 

Revitalization is a multidimensional process that responds to the problems of the urban area. It’s not only about renovating buildings, road repairs, or cleaning. It has to heal both – the city and its inhabitants. We need to add new functions to the urban tissue and hear people’s voices. How?

Utopia

With all the necessary renovations, repairs, and urban planning, has to go a social plan. Old inhabitants have to be taken care of to minimize the negative social impact of future changes. There are many ways to create social initiatives and new workplaces and organize courses or events to bring the people together. Also, the task is to pull new inhabitants to the environment and integrate them with autochthons. But as far as I saw, even though they are trying to do something – it’s not always possible or not that easy.

Daniel Newman | Unsplash

Fabrika Tbilisi (Georgia) is my favorite utopian example of successfully changing the function of a damaged place. Once there was located a soviet sewing factory. After years of abandonment, people decide to save this building but in a different form. It became a hostel with an evident post-industrial vibe – some of the walls or ceilings became untouched. You can feel the history with a modern, fancy twist there, from wasteland to a meeting point and favorite place for backpackers in Tbilisi. Locals and people from all over the world can connect and rest in the restaurant or courtyard. Thanks to Fabrika, the neighborhood is alive.  

Revitalization – Polish edition

Why don’t we cover all the places with concrete and leave no flora? Let’s fry people like on a hot pan. They will be grateful for sure. Sometimes architects and planners want to do something good, but in reality, many post-revitalization monsters come to life. Remember writing my master thesis; I wanted to check how one city spent almost half a million euros. I almost got a heart attack because they created a vast concrete square with no place to sit and one non-functioning fountain. Additionally, one small place was made of fake (!) grass with one slide in the middle. Half. A. Million. Euros. That was the time when I stopped believing in rational space planning. 

Even in my hometown, authorities started a revitalization process full of concrete nonsense. They built a “park” – an outdoor gym, a new public toilet, and a metal arbor with no trees. But first, they cut all the old trees, which could be a source of the shadow. There is a sett on the ground—all of that surrounded by a metal fence. Wonderful prison yard!

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

A lot. In Poland, revitalization is mistaken for covering everything with concrete, but first, you have to cut all the trees in the area. Not everywhere, but it’s visible, especially in small towns. Local authorities are renovating spaces and organizing significant events like the festive opening of the new central square in the city! Smiling faces, eulogies in the local press underline how much money they spent on making refreshments for the town. But then you can see the unhappy faces of inhabitants, who don’t want to spend even a second in this area because:

  1. There is no place to sit.
  2. There is a place to sit, but there is no shadow.
  3. You can boil yourself alive in the summer by even spending a few minutes in this area.
  4. In winter, you can die because it is so slippery.

Choose your hero! We need more plants, especially trees, in our environment. What will you do with your fountains in the middle of a plant-free square when there is no more water?

Hold your concrete mixer, construction worker!

You can ask – hey, but what’s the deal? Do you know the term “heat islands”? The temperature is approximately higher than in rural areas because of concrete, asphalt, and other building materials in the cities. Roads, pavements, buildings, and other infrastructural objects absorb and re-heat the sun’s energy, which means that summer is even hotter than it should be. Last year one guy in Poland made scrambled eggs in the middle of the square. Try it in the summer on the pavement, and probably you’d be successful too. The next problem is that these materials do not absorb the water, so it doesn’t take much time for flood or inundation in times of excessive rain. Soil cannot keep up with the water because everywhere is concrete. So it’s a pervasive picture to see cars on the street flooded to the rooftop after storms.

But what can we do? We are just tiny ants and have no impact. We have to be mindful and take care of at least our close neighborhood. We also have the right to protest and demand that authorities be rational again and respond to our needs.

Aleksandra Kanasiuk

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