The first edition of MIASTOmovie:wro is behind us. This interdisciplinary project, aiming to activate the local city community, took place between 27th and 30th of March. Using tools such as film, debate and art, Wroclaw Film Foundation decided to raise the questions about the condition of Polish cities, using Wroclaw as an example, and together with the audience look for methods of influencing their development.  Each of the four days of MIASTOmovie:wro focused on a different urban problem: documentary film describing issues of modern metropolises were the starting point for discussions about the space around us. The debates involved urban activists, local officials, architects, sociologists, as well as regular citizens, who believe that “the city belongs to us” and that we can have a real impact on it.

Artistic interventions in the public space were an essential part of the project.

Day 1 #aesthetics

For opening film MIASTOmovie:wro chose This Space Available by Gwenaëlle Gobé. Gobe’s debut film asks questions about the possibility of organizing public space in modern cities, that are overwhelmed with billboards and large scale advertising. The documentary, based on interviews from 11 countries, on 5 continents, highlights initiatives of local politicians, activists and artists, who rebel against the omnipresent, visual junkyard.

The debate after the screening focused on two fundamental questions: who does the urban space belong to and should it be treated as a commodity? The discussion was run by Roland Zarzycki and the panelists: Beata Urbanowicz- urban artist, Kamila Kaminska – president of Centru, Zrownowazonego Rozwoju Spolecznosci (the Centre for Balanced Development of Societies) and Aleksandra Stepien- president of Moje Miasto A W Nim (My City and In It) society. The discussion quickly split into two topics. The first one dealt with a strictly personal sense of aesthetics- the fact whether we like how the city looks or not. Here the main focus was on the visual chaos, created not only as a result of presence of advertisements but more as a result of the vast amount of adverts and the lack of ideas of displaying them.

“Each of the poorly placed billboard creates chaos. Let’s not be totally against them, but rather let’s just organise them”- Aleksandra Stepnien argued.

On the other hand we encountered a much wider question: should the right to decided about the city space, and in consequence about the shape the city takes, belong to those who are willing the pay the most?

“The film did not focus of what is pretty and what it ugly. The real issue was the fact, that the urban space is being appropriated by advertising agencies”- noticed Kamila Kaminska. “Those agencies should not force us into becoming consumers of marketing campaigns. Why do shopping centres display billboards on the outside? That’s public space and the adverts should be displayed inside”- she argued.

The discussion also brought up the topic of the legal act concerning Park Kulturowy Stare Miasto (Old Town Culture Park), which raises as many hopes and it brings doubts. Kaminska shared her worries when she asked: “Who really is going to decide about what is aesthetically pleasing?”. Beata Urbanowicz tried to assure the participants that the changes in the city landscape will come in form of a collaboration between the government and the public, as she stated that “The discussions with corporations take place every day and we already see the results. Cracow is a good example of a city where the changes begun with conversations, talks and not punishments. Participation is the important”.

“It is the local community that should take care of the urban aesthetics. The city officials need to be open to a dialogue. We need to change the city in a fair way- together” concluded Aleksandra Stepnien.

Day 2 #trade

We devoted the second day of MIASTOmovie:wro to the topic of trade in the city. In Malls R Us, the documentary maker Helene Klodawsky follows the transformation of American shopping malls in the last sixty years. During her visits to some of the most famous malls in Europe, Asia and America, she shows the expansion and export of American ideas in the modern world. Klodawsky invited to her project mall owners as well as the elite of contemporary architects, who often were directly involved in designing the shops. Among those was Jon Jerde- a famous architect, the designer of Zlote Tarasy in Warsaw.

The panelists running the discussion after Malls R Us included: Michal Debek (urbanist and psychologist associated with Wroclaw University of Technology and School of Banking), Przemyslaw Filar (architect, curator of the European Capital of Culture Wroclaw 2016 in the field of architecture) and the moderator of the debate Michal Syska (president of Osrodek Mysli Spolecznej- Centre for Social Thought)

Straight from the beginning the panelists took a critical approach towards the popular idea that shopping centres are unambiguously negative phenomena. “If located correctly in city plans, shopping malls are not necessarily a bad idea”, argued Michal Debek. Zbigniew Mackow agreed with him when he stated: “I don’t with the opinions that shopping centres are inherently harmful. The problem lies in bad locations.” As a good example of shopping mall location he chose Galeria Dominikanska, which helped reviving Olawska street and its opposite- Bielany Wroclawskie that force potential customers to travel to the far outskirts of the city.

We also raised the issue of the degradation of shopping streets in Wroclaw. Was it the shopping centres that killed Swidnicka street? Mackow noticed the problem somewhere else, namely in the lack of overall plan of urban trade and service areas. “For a long time it was shopping malls that borrowed ideas from the shopping streets. Now they developed their own ways and solutions and it is the shopping streets that should learn from them. Shopping streets lack good management. It is the layout of shops, cafes and service points that will determine revitalisation”

Debek explained the success of large scale shopping malls by saying: “If you ask people about their consumer needs, it will soon be clear that they are mostly satisfied by shopping centres”. It kicked off a discussion with the audience from which one voice argued that “it is obvious that people have needs that they want to satisfy. However when people don’t talk about shopping malls and don’t want them, lets not force them upon the society”.

“Shopping centres are attractive because they create a good atmosphere while covering all our consumer needs. When is necessary is to plan the city so that they it is not full of closed spaces but rather spaces for open actions” added Filar.

The debate was ended with one person from the audience concluding that “in order to get rid of shopping centres the city space needs to become more friendly for the people and their needs, it need to be more humane”.

Day 3 #river

At MIASTOmovie:wro we kicked off the weekend with a Polish premiere of a Canadian documentary Lost Rivers, directed by Caroline Bâcle.

Lost Rivers takes us on a quest for lost rivers, which due to pollution had disappeared from the surface and only exist under ground. Back in the day almost every industrial city had a river running through it, around which houses, roads and factories were built. Today many places try to retrieve the lost rivers and reintroduce the natural elements in the hearts of the big cities.

The discussion after the film focused on the role of the river Oder in Wroclaw and its creative potential as well as the dangers it brings, affecting many decisions about it.

The pannelists of the third debate during MIASTOmovie:wro, moderated by Monika Onyszkiewicz- the vice president of Eco Development Foundation, included: Rafał Eysymontt (historian from Wroclaw University), Radosław Gawlik (president of EKO-UNIA), Joanna Przybyszewska (representative of the department of the river Oder from Lower Silesian Marshall’s Office) oraz Kamil Zaremba (constructor and resident of the House on Water and Foundation).

“Nowadays the river in Wroclaw is ruled by concrete and business, which destroy it” started Radoslaw Gawlik, in a very strong tone. Joanna Przybyszewska only agreed with a part of that statement, critically evaluating the work of contractors: “The contractors, if they could,would take over the whole river channel, not paying attention to the surrounding at all.”

Gawlik continued the discussion, pointing out that “we need a lobby that will protect the river and fight the developers” but also brought back the issue of the “concrete river”. “I am really bothered by the technical approach towards the river. It’s outrageous that thousands of trees were chopped down in the city centre. We pointlessly spend millions of zloty. Rivers should not be reshaped, but rather more green should be introduced around them.”

The topic of  the revitalisation of the Wroclaw Floodway System turned out to be one of the most heated discussions of the evening. “The system will slightly improve the safety but will not solve the problem” argued the president of EKO-UNIA.

Przybyszewska on the other hand reminded that “we cannot completely criticise the flood control actions. Often, when weighing all different approaches, we have to chose safety as a priority”.

Both panelists and the public listed their ideas of how to better utilize the potential of the river. They pointed towards the advantages behind building marinas and beaches and called for the reintroduction of sailing on the river (both individual type sailing and more commercial one, as well as the introduction of a water tram) and advised the investors to aim at diversity- both tourism and trade. “We should remember that we have a voice and that we should use it  e.g. to get those beaches. There is 150 of us here, today. If tomorrow morning we all send emails to the Regional Department of Water Trade asking for a beach, they would have to listen”- concluded Kamil Zareba.

Day 4. #revitalisation

For the closing film of the first edition of MIASTOmovie:wro we chose Urbanised by Gary Hustwit. Here the director focuses on city planning and points out that nowadays it is one of the most difficult challenges of modern cities.

At the beginning of XIX century cities were occupied by 30 million people, which was only 2,5% of the whole world’s population. Throughout the next 100 years this number has grown up to 2 billion. According to the World Bank report, more than 50% of all the people are currently living in cities and by 2030 this number will rise to 60%. If this migration process is not handled correctly and approached with relevant development strategy, it might result in a formation of slums.

The film served as a background to a discussion about the revitalisation process in Wroclaw. The debate was run by the editor-in-chief of Miasta magazine- Marta Żakowska and her panelists included: Katarzyna Kajdanek (sociologist, author of Suburbanizacja Po Polsku, Wojchiech Kębłowski (graduate from international urban studies 4cities), Lech Mergler (My Polacy Society and Prawo do Miasta Society) and Sebastian Wolszczak (head of the City Hall revitalisation project in Wroclaw). The discussion begun with an attempt to define revitalisation. Żakowska pointed out that “quite often we confuse this term simply with refurbishing of old buildings. For me” she argued “revitalisation is about actions that aim to improve the quality of life of the residents of a city.” Mergler pointed towards a more social aspect of revitalisation and argued that “when trying to improve the quality of life of the residents, we need to make sure we don’t suffocate them.”

“Revitalisation enables a game of interests and tensions between different groups: some will gain something, some will be overshadowed” Kajdanek stated. She argued that “every process of revitalisation should be begin with detailed and extensive social examinations and it should involve the local community”. Kębłowski referred to one of the biggest problems of revitalisation i.e gentrification. “The problem is that we talk about bringing new life to a specific part of a city, as if that part did not have its own life already. By investing in one model, one social group, we forget about the other residents” he argued.

“Fragmentation is a big issue here: we don’t talk about revitalisation of the city as a whole, but only about a particular district, thus forgetting about everything else” continued Kębłowski. “We need to think in a more comprehensive way and systematically resolve issues” he added and with that statement partly answered the question we started with, which was “how should we go about a city development beyond the process of revitalisation?.”