CUPA Workshop Krakow
The Krakow Implementation Lab focused on the Krakow channel area and on the possible needs and spatial development scenarios of the district. The area is characterized by a large number of green areas and bodies of water, but also by two important and vibrant roads that function as the central axes of the city’s urban traffic system. There are extensive natural green areas alongside the Wilga River with more rivers and lakes within the Krakow channel area, all used for recreation.
The channel area is split into two parts by the Vistula River – a more urban area that is connected to the historical centre, while the other offers large open spaces and lakesides but lacks coordinated development. The lakesides and riverbanks in the north are neglected despite their proximity to the housing areas, the university campus and the city centre. This mixed-use area offers functions like recreation, nature, living and education, but it is not promoted as a dynamic part of the city.
The green area is currently used for recreational purposes like jogging and walking; yet, sports facilities like biking trails are not available. The area also houses special public spaces, like open-air theatres. Safety must be improved in order to open certain areas for public access. The neighbourhoods are scattered, combining both high quality living and slightly deteriorated areas. The lack of social cohesion is also an issue.
The density in the residential areas alongside the Krakow channel is low and the central and regional level has no functions. The height of the buildings in the area is relatively low, which means that the human scale level is good. However, safety is an issue and gated communities, which provide safety for those inside, create an unsafe and anonymous environment for visitors and other inhabitants that are left outside the fences. The lack of paved paths and lighting add to this picture. On the other hand, well cared-for allotment gardens and children’s play gardens are a positive counterpoint.
The area is well connected with the suburban areas in the south and west, including the campus. Yet, as the river is a barrier, the connection to the city centre for bicycles and pedestrians needs improvement. The residential areas and the riverbanks are blocked by the main street and by the gates communities. Connection between the different neighbourhoods is limited and there is no connection to the lake.
The following questions were prioritized in the assessment of the area as a leading thread through the CUPA Implementation Lab in Krakow:
- What potentials does the CUPA team see in the area concerning its embedment into the neighbourhood and connecting to the nearby Krakow old town? Which development opportunities are considered for the area for the two possible scenarios – whether the channel will or will not be realized?
- How to improve the connectivity of the area in preparation for the intensification of use in the future?
Single projects and activities in the Kraków channel area have altered and added to the quality and variety of the space ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain. What was lacking was a comprehensive and holistic development plan.
The more than 100-year-old plan for protecting Kraków from severe flood damages, with the help of a discharge channel, which should have improved navigability on the Vistula River, was abandoned in 2015 and is now history. Polders will be created on the Vistula River upstream of Kraków to provide adequate flood protection. This procedure will ensure a reduction of the water level and will guarantee that the design of the embankments of the Vistula River will be sufficient to cope with future floods. The estimated capacity of the polders is about 150 million cubic meters. This meets the requirements of the floods directive of the European Union (2007/60/EC).
The decision to finally abandon the plans of a retention channel is based on economic calculations. It is cheaper to purchase agricultural land on the polders near Kraków than to acquire land in the city centre.
The city of Krakow has lobbied for several years against national and regional plans in order to put down plans for investing into a flood retention project of this size. However, in 2006 even mayor Jacek ajchrowski argued that a relief channel is needed and would offer great chances for green and attractive urban development (Skowron 2015).
The new situation offers great development opportunities for the Debniki district and its surroundings, which need to be carefully deployed and controlled by regional and municipal plans. Concerns and risks regarding real estate interest in purchasing land and quickly developing profitable housing and offices need to be taken into account. Despite the desire to start the rezoning process of the area as quickly as possible (governor Jerzy Miller votes for mid-2015), the next concrete steps will need several more years before the provincial plan can be revised and the urban (district) development plans can be adopted to this revision.
The CUPA Implementation Lab, as well as design and planning related input from students, universities etc. provided a huge variety of ideas on how to efficiently develop the former channel area in Kraków. Therefore, the official provincial and municipal government and their planning units are invited to take these recommendations into consideration during the planning process and also with regard to concrete functional ideas. The Kraków channel area has been thoroughly analysed and an abundance of concepts for the future are available. The challenge will be to balance the investors’ wishes with a sustainable and comprehensive plan for the multiuse land.