Let’s throw the cars out of downtown


Aneta Gieroń: It is very accurate to start the discussion about the architecture and urban space in Rzeszow with introducing a vision of what can be changed rather than with helplessness or criticism of our city.

Maciej Łobos: As for me, a broad discussion about the urban space of Rzeszow should start with a conversation about a downtown. I believe that the problem is an uncontrolled spill of suburban areas with intensive construction works at the boundaries, while the downtown is left alone.

What do we mean by a downtown?

Marcin Smoczeński: Areas which are confined to so-called Rzeszow’s Ring, that is an inner-city ring road running through Warsaw Insurgents Avenue, Avenue of National Army, Rejtana St. and so on. And if we do not turn existing architecture into reasonable development of Downtown and its utilization, we are going to generate further spatial problems: giant traffic jams, infrastructure difficulties, etc. People need to be made to live and work here, and once we develop and organize the entire Downtown, then any conscious decisions concerning how and where to build in the suburbs may be undertaken.

It seems that residents of Rzeszow probably not fully agree with this conception, especially as they experience a traffic tailspin in the area of the newly built complex at the intersection of Hetmańska St. and Warsaw Insurgents Avenue. And any time now there are going to be another high-rice blocks at Olszynki, in the area of the Castle Bridge. Further random development of a Downtown seems to be a worst-case scenario.

M.Ł: The problem is not connected to buildings, but cars. Cars are the ones, that cause space problems, traffic jams and other inconveniences. Without deviating from the paradigm that everyone is using their own cars and each family has at least two cars- in the near future we are going to simply ‘’suffocate’’. For 40 years, new urban design has been flourishing around the world, and its most important premise is to throw the cars out of downtown, in a large cities.

How to convince the inhabitants of Rzeszow to do so?

M.S: It is not necessarily the matter of convincing or forcing people to such a solutions, but rather facing a broadly understood traffic problem and at the same time offering and efficient and safe public transport.

M.Ł: Everyone should be aware that in the near future, moving away from car culture will be a priority. Global and European examples of how to deal with it already exist. In Paris,  several percent of parking spots are currently being eliminated annually. And it does not include taking away parking spots, they just become unnecessary. An alternative in the form of public transport was created for people and Parisians are increasingly giving up owning and moving around the city by car.

In Rzeszow, however, the trend is opposite. When three years ago the paid parking zone was introduced, it was possible to park a car in the very center for an hour or two without an effort. Currently, even a paid zone does not help and throughout the day there is a lack of free parking spaces around the Town Hall.

M.S: This is a consequence of Rzeszow having bad conditions for moving by anything other than a car. In Lausanne, Switzerland, which is about a size of Rzeszow, in 20 minutes you can get to any desired spot in a city, using the public transportation.

M.Ł: That is why a downtown should be densified. People are willing to live in a city and it is needed, otherwise the slums are going to appear. The more people live in a city center, the more of them walk or cycle, because everything is nearby.

What is the most necessary today in Rzeszow in order to start solving traffic problems? 

M.Ł: A broad debate with specialists from many fields and especially with brilliant public transport specialists. We should benefit from the experience of those cities, which have been facing a similar problem for a long time and already have particular successes on their account. In general, car traffic needs increasing impediments- this is what all modern cities in a world do.

Does Rzeszow make life difficult for cars?

M.S: On the contrary, and a great example of this are three lanes at Cieplińskiego Avenue in the very center of Rzeszow.

M.Ł: Further development of roads is a one-way ticket to nowhere. The more roads we build in the city, the more cars, the greater traffic jams and difficulties.

Maybe we are one step away from building blocks of flats in the center of Rzeszow, where instead of two parking places for one apartment, there will be none of them. And someone while choosing such an apartment either decides to use public transport or gives up completely. Maybe it is worth for the authorities to rethink this idea while issuing building permits for the construction of new high-rice blocks.

M.Ł: In large cities in Poland such a scenarios have already been implemented. Those emerging local development plans, no longer specify the minimum number of cars but the maximum allowable and that’s it. You have an exclusive address, but without space for a car.  There are taxis, car rentals, public transport. You can live without a car. In New York, only fourty percent of population has a car and the city is very heavily built-up.

Where and how to build in the very center of Rzeszow?

M.S: There are places that are definitely worth changing. First of all, I wish Market Hall area would transform its image.

 Despite the ugliness of shabby ‘’jaws’’ adjacent to the Market Hall, in recent years thousands of Rzeszow’s citizens have visited this most popular marketplace in the city.

M.Ł: From my point of view, the Market Hall area merge with Liberty Square and exemplify incredibly neglected and completely wasted space of Rzeszow. In that area, I would suggest two or three underground levels for garages in order to eliminate cars standing on the streets and driving people out of it. On the ground floor, I would leave a market square, but it should have to be civilized, modernized so that a human-friendly area is created. When the bargaining ends, then the public urban space still exists and it is full of greenery and small architecture in which we willingly move and live. Therefore, residential buildings, entertainment, offices should be located above. Keeping the current state of this place, with a smelly marketplace and shabby shacks is an unbelievable spatial waste. Especially as we know exactly how modern and beautiful marketplaces look like in most European cities which we admire so often.

M.S: Unfortunately, there is no public discourse to deal with this problem.

Why the city does not want to civilize these areas?

M.S: There are many reasons for that. Money, vision and determination are needed but it is easier to make a piece of sidewalk.

M.Ł: Everything always starts from an idea. If the city has been doing architectural competition for which honest money would be allocated and it might be worth participating, then valuable things would have arisen. As well as they could be a basis for a broad public discussion and then implementation. We are all complaining that it is bad, but we do nothing to change it.

M.S: At the same time, you can’t ignore the problem forever. I am sure that in the next decade we will have to face it, because it certainly is not going to last another 30 years, as it happened after 1989.

There are more such neglected spots in downtown….

M.S: Balcerowicza Square, for example, should be built-up.

M.Ł: Areas of the railway station, from River Wisłok to the Tarnobrzeski Overpass – several dozen hectares with very compelling areas for developers, where nothing happens for years. Siemińskiego Street and left bank of Wisłok- a place to adapt as soon as possible so that people could live and work there. Hoffmanowa Street and the grounds of the former Zelmer. Chmaja Street and areas around CEFARM. Warehouses should be moved from Boya-Żeleńskiego Street to the actual suburbs as soon as possible and a new district should be built there.

In recent years, the city has grown. And the outskirts of Rzeszow from a few dozen years ago are now today’s center. The land value is also completely different and warehouses in such a great locations seems to be a misuse of this land. In addition- there are other problems- trucks, which have to deliver goods to industrial localizations, unnecessarily causing some traffic jams and polluting the center of Rzeszow.

M.S: We are dealing with legal chaos in Poland. We do not have good Local Spatial Development Plans that would deliberately set directions for the city’s development and affect all aspects of its functioning.

Farny Square – another beautiful, completely wasted place in Rzeszow…

M.Ł: Which really could be used quite quickly. It is necessary to immediately throw the cars out of it, make a city square in front of a parish church and a two-level car park underground.

M.S: How to circumscribe it with buildings, that is another topic. Because it can be set to the square, where statue of Lis-Kula stands, but it can be also extended to the building below the escarpment on Kopernika Street.

M.Ł: I would also be very much in favour of building 3 or 4 storeys high tenement house with cafes on Kopernika Street and due to this, Farny Square without cars would become a vibrant place.

M.S:  In the very center there are several other streets where traffic could be reduced for the sake of pedestrians, for example Jagielońska Street. Because wherever people appear, trading and gastronomy flourish immediately.

Do people more frequently dream about living in the city center again?

M.Ł: Yes, and for many it is very convenient. Within 5 minutes they can get to the Market Square, drink coffee or wine, go to the cinema or meet with friends. I’m talking in terms of our clients, who are increasingly asking us about comfortable apartments in the center of Rzeszow, for which they are ready to pay large sums. They are usually middle-aged people who have already raised children, made money and do not necessarily want to mow the grass in front of the house for the rest of their lives.

Why do people want to go back to the city center?

M.Ł: An apartment in the city center is attractive in itself. The vast majority of us adores places full of people. To live in a downtown is to benefit from two basically contradictory advantages. On the one hand, larger cities guarantee alienation when we want it, but we can also be constantly surrounded by people if we so desire. We can decide individually how much we want to interact with other people.

Did Marshal Pilsudski’s Monument interact with Plac Wolności in Rzeszow?

M.Ł: Rather the ‘’ we have a piece of free lawn, let’s put something here’’ conception have won there. Meanwhile, Liberty Square requires really good development.

M.S: If I would locate a monument in this area, I would prefer to remove a well-designed Monument of Gratitude to the Red Army, located in the Victims of the Ghetto Square and put up the Piłsudski’s Monument there.

And surrounded by well-designed greenery, which is not so common in Rzeszow.

M.S: When I observe Cieplińskiego Avenue , I respect the aspirations of the city authorities to improve the aesthetics of Rzeszow, but unfortunately I do not understand the sense of planting several dozen varieties of plants from one millimeter to a meter, because a caricature of greenery is what emerges from this as a final result. And it would be enough to just leave a well-kept lawn with a few beautiful trees. It does looks really good and it is economical to maintain.

Residents of Rzeszow increasingly do not plant lindens, apple trees, firs and elder trees, because everything is replaced by paving stones and rickety planting covered with decorative stone.

M.S: One of our clients has recently returned from the Netherlands. He is fascinated about what he saw and constantly repeats that all those who are engaged in design in Poland should necessarily go there and see how cheap, nice and functional space might be, while being designed for people, bicycles and cars. Beauty does not lie in occasional splendor, but rather in universal simplicity and functionality.

M.Ł: I remember my late professor Bohdan Lisowski saying: ‘’A rich man, if he has a piece of garden, he sows grass and plants two trees. A poor man, if he has a piece of land, he has to plant many various different things there, so that it goes sideways’’. And maybe this is the best comment.

Speaking of greenery, one can’t help but notice that we still do not have a coherent concept for Wisłok Valley in Rzeszow.

M.Ł: The Local Area Development Plan has been being created for over ten years and it is still not implemented, although I believe that consistent assumptions for this area could be created in a year. First of all, we need to take notice of a fact that there was and will be ‘’pressure’’ on constructing buildings next to the river, because that’s the nature of a man who has always wanted to live close to water and greenery. This is happening everywhere in the world: in London, Paris, Vienna, but also in Poland- Warsaw, Bydgoszcz or Wroclaw where an apartment complex on the island was created and which functions as a bridge connecting two riversides. That is why for today the most important thing is to determine the building line for buildings located on the River Wisłok. The remaining part must be left inviolable and destined for recreation serving all residents.

What should be inviolable on the Wisłok River?

M.Ł: The entire lower walking route of Wisłok should be preserved as our ‘’Central Park’’- it is an inundation area and natural anti-flood buffer. On the other hand, the areas from Podwisłocze Street, that is from the dam to the Castle Bridge, should be planned for development, obviously, up to a certain line, where below are going to be paths for pedestrians and cyclist. Buildings should also be created at Siemińskiego Street.

What about the areas from Podpromie Hall to the water intake in Zwięczyca District?

M.S: It should remain a city park, because we need to think about green areas in Rzeszow in the perspective of 20-30 years. The fact that we are not pulling down the plattenbau buildings today does not mean that in 20 years it will not be just a memory, and new construction will be created in its place. The New Town in Rzeszow is a beautiful area where beautiful construction could arise. Today, it is a residential area consisting of block of flats, from where many people move out, and flats are rented with increasing frequency.

Also built-up areas on the Wisłok from Kwiatkowskiego Street look terrible, where in many places blocks of flats almost “hang” over pedestrian paths.

M.Ł: Indeed, it becomes tight, but these are consequences of the lack of a construction concept for the Wisłok Valley. Consecutive developers are buying any piece of free land that they are trying to build over and sell as soon as possible. We can only try to do our best. Very little will change in this area, until we civilize it.

M.S: Unfortunately, it is not only Rzeszow’s peculiarity, but many polish cities where spatial planning ‘’lies dormant’’.

M.Ł: Can anyone imagine that there would be no planning, e.g. in communication, and people would be free to choose which side of the road they want to drive? No! Therefore, the lack of spatial planning is main characteristic of Third-World countries. In no civilized country, impulsive or uncontrolled urban development is allowed, because it always leads to enormous traffic and social difficulties, the solution of which later requires million dollar outlays.