Rzeszow Development Vision

Andrzej Skotnicki, director of the Department of Architecture of the Rzeszow City Hall; Robert Kultys, architect and councilor of Rzeszow, chairman of the Spatial Management Committee and Maciej Łobos, architect, CEO of MWM Architects, were guests of the debate as part of the series of meetings called Business and Style ‘’Live’’ which took place on Tuesday in the “Jazz Room” in The Grand Hotel in Rzeszow and was devoted to the spatial policy of Rzeszow. As the urban space in the capital of Podkarpacie region has recently caused very emotional and lively discussions, it is even more worth exploring the topic of whether we have a coherent architectural and urban vision in Rzeszow, or maybe a deepening chaos ?! The impulsive development of the Wisłok Valley, the lack of a Local Spatial Development Plan for a large part of the city center is on the one hand an opportunity for investors  to build quickly, and that is what makes the city development dynamic. On the other hand, however, the scale of the protests organized by inhabitants of Rzeszow over what is happening in the public space is slowly exceeding the critical mass. And it looks as we need a greater social debate on the architectural future of Rzeszow.

According to Andrzej Skotnicki, director of the Architecture Department of the Rzeszow City Hall, the city is developing dynamically and in the right direction. Urban planning, construction, architecture, space shaping that is the elements that make up this development are well managed and organized.

– We should also remember that the authority shaping the spatial policy of the city through a number of documents resulting from the generally applicable legal provisions is the Rzeszow City Council, which is freely elected by all residents of Rzeszow. And those provisions  are the basis for further legal regulations in the form of the Study of Development Directions and Local Spatial Development Plans, which say exactly what, where and how to build in Rzeszow. Currently, there are 194 binding local plans in Rzeszow and they are  law established by the inhabitants through city councilors elected by them – said Andrzej Skotnicki.

Yes, we have 194 local development plans, but they cover only 13 percent of Rzeszow’s area, and they do not include the most sensitive areas. They minimally cover a downtown which is one of the greatest urban achievements of our city. Hence for example commotion around Kotowicz’s villa on Dekerta Street – responded Robert Kultys. Local plans do not protect the Wisłok valley, which is one of the most sensitive elements of the city that influences the landscape and inhabitants’ perception of the city. Therefore, there is almost no spatial planning in the spaces of downtown and the Wisłok valley. If it appears, it is something like “planning islands” that “put out fires” on ad hoc basis.

According to Kultys, we have many years of negligence. Because instead of planning large areas of the city and making spatial planning a strategy, it is limited to only thirteen percent area of Rzeszow – said the chairman of the Spatial Management Committee- I realize that this is more convenient for investors in Rzeszow, because it is easier to ask the Faculty of Architecture for the development conditions, which does not require long-term spatial planning and a long procedure. Of course, this is important for investors and for the city’s development, but nevertheless in the most important and sensitive places of Rzeszow, spatial planning should be absolutely carried out.

Robert Kultys also confirmed that it is true that the Rzeszow City Council adopts resolutions on commencing the preparation of the Local Spatial Development Plan and on establishing it, but the most important stage that is the preparation of the Local Spatial Development Plan and sending it for approval, depends only on one person, the president of Rzeszow. And there are Local Spatial Development Plans, which are being enacted within a year or a half and are usually connected with important investors in downtown, and there are plans that have been on the shelf for 8 or 12 years and it is irrelevant that the Council has long ago passed a resolution to draw up the Local Spatial Development Plan.

Thus, for instance, since 2008 the Rzeszow City Development Office has been working on a plan for 235 ha of land on the Wisłok river, covering the areas of Lisia Góra and until today the Local Plan has not been sent for approval to councilors.

– I believe that the scale of protests in Rzeszów exceeded the critical mass and this is due to the fact that people are dissatisfied with the effects of spatial planning – claimed Robert Kultys.

What Andrzej Skotnicki did not agree with. – Talking about social dissatisfaction resulting from the lack of local development plan is a simplification – explained the director of the Faculty of Architecture. – In the years 1992 – 2003, the general Local Spatial Development Plan was in force in the whole Rzeszow city and was implemented as local law in absolute terms. And I must say that the scale of investments back then and today was incomparable. Now, each year we issue about 1000-1300 building permits, back then there were 300-400 permits, which is several times less. At the same time, in the years 1993–2003, the number of protests by residents was much greater than today. There was no investment that would not be objected to.

Maciej Łobos also spoke critically about the spatial planning of Rzeszow. – It is like the law in Poland, which means ridiculous – said the CEO of MWM Architects. – For me, the problem is not the fact that investors prefer to act on the basis of the Development Conditions, because it is faster. Investors themselves are most in need of clarity of regulations, and the fact is that the existing local development plans are stupid whereas they should be good. And this is not only the specificity of Rzeszow, because such things happen everywhere in Poland. Although such bad local plans as in Rzeszow are difficult to find, given that we work all over Poland.

Where is it coming from? – Łobos wondered. Probably from the approach to lawmaking. In my opinion, a local development plan should define the general principles of shaping space in a city on the basis of an extended Study of Conditions, and this is an Anglo-Saxon variant, but then architects and investors are allowed to fill this space creatively. In Rzeszow’s City Development Office, we have a reverse tendency and this is the specificity of our city. Attempt to create architecture using the provisions of the Local Development Plan and this cannot be done. The more so because who is usually an urban planner in Rzeszow? He is a young architect who may not have gotten anywhere to work in an architectural office after graduation, but he found a job in the City Development Office and now he creates a law on the basis of which architects with twenty or thirty years of experience need to work. Therefore, according to Maciej Łobos, the problem is who creates the law, and that it is often responsibility of people without much experience.

Andrzej Skotnicki, retorting the words of the president of MWM Architects, recalled that every local development plan, i.e. the law that Maciej Łobos criticized that is poorly created, before it is passed as a law by the City Council- undergoes a cycle of public consultations and with the Municipal Urban Planning and Architecture Commission, consisting of professionals, in which also Maciej Łobos works.

– When assessing these plans, you can correct, criticize and so on. Therefore, saying that there is no discussion on the local development plan is not entirely true, because every local development plan – it is required by law – before it is assessed by experts and the City Council, must be obligatorily presented at a public debate, what the president of Rzeszow announces in the media prior to each local development plan and everyone is able to read it, express opinion, and even ask for it to be recorded – Skotnicki explained.

In the discussion about the local plan, Robert Kultys admitted that in the most important places in Rzeszow, it would be better to have local plans than not to have them- For a simple reason- he explained  – The investor who comes to the architect decides what is to be built, and the architect’s position towards the investor is not strong. The latter decides how tall the building will be, or how close it will be to the street. Therefore, only a local development plan can persuade the investor to make his investment fit well into the urban space. Certainly, neither an architect has no influence on it, nor the decision on the Development Conditions, which is not an element of spatial planning, but only specifies what is allowed and not allowed to be built on a given plot based on legal regulations.

Example? Right next to the Castle Bridge in Rzeszow, a decision on development conditions was issued for an 11-story high-rise block. This is an example of what can be done with development conditions and what most likely would not have happened if there had been a local spatial development plan – said Kultys. – Then, in such an important space for Rzeszów, the investor would have to adjust to the public space and not destroy the interest of the public space. Investors themselves say directly that the last thing they want to do is undertake their investments in accordance with local spatial development plan. Local development plan is being implemented for several years, while development conditions are being obtained in a few months.

– That is why I am not saying that local spatial development plan is not necessary – added Maciej Łobos. The point, however, is that they are made in a too thorough way and they are not a general guideline for city planning, but an attempt to solve the architecture for individual plots. That is why we have local development plan for 13 percent of Rzeszow and not for example 80 percent of a city.

According to Jarosław Łukasiewicz, an architect from Rzeszow, who was present at the debate, the provisions in the local plan are indeed so detailed that even the colors of benches or lighting lamps are planned, which is, actually, a design and should not have anything to do with urban planner’s work.

– In my opinion, the biggest problem in Rzeszow may not even be the lack of local spatial development plan, but the lack of main designer – said Jarosław Łukasiewicz – The most important things for the city should be decided either by the main designer – an excellent specialist, or by the commission consisting of professionals. Because what about the fact that we even have the 194 zoning plans, if still there is a chaos and we are not able to create a spatial shape of the city, into which further zoning plans would be inserted. Then we would also see how it all fits together coherently. And one of the reasons why as the Association of Polish Architects, Rzeszow Branch, we have recently “interrupted” the implementation of local spatial development plan on  Gancarski Square is that there is going to be a competition for this space in advance.  And the most important thing in Rzeszow, which already require action is the area of the train station, where is an absolute inertia and desire to create a vision for the development of Rzeszow, which could be a collective effort of the city authorities, local architects and the Rzeszow University of Technology.

Łukasiewicz also reminded that a few years ago in Rzeszow, before the Millenium Hall shopping center was built, first there was an architectural competition, and only then was the local development plan based on it.

Andrzej Dec, president of the Rzeszow City Council, agreed with the arguments that the local development plan should not be too detailed, but it also depends on the context. Sometimes very detailed provisions are justified, but this should not be the rule. – I also agree that competitions for the development of a specific space are announced too rarely – it has a good influence on the development of the urban space of Rzeszow – said Dec.

– Right now, in Rzeszow, the most important thing is to move the concept of creating a local development plan from the “ICU” department to the “Prevention” department, that is, let’s search for places in Rzeszow that we are able to save or not to allow them to a potential risks – suggestively said Andrzej Depa, an architect from Rzeszow

Unfortunately, we are moving recently from ‘’ICU’’ to the “Palliative Care Units”, that is, we are trying to save hopeless situation. Therefore, it is most important for the planning to be at the concept stage and to be more creative than reconstructive.

Robert Kultys admitted that instead of 194 local development plans, which include 13 percent of Rzeszow, we should have 90 plans that cover 60 percent of a city. Plans should be made for the entire housing estate, for spaces that can be designed together in terms of urban planning. And urban planning is the scale of the entire district: heights, frontages, communication systems are being established, the interior of the city space is being shown. Because what is the point and how many plans have already been prepared for just one plot ?! This is not an urban planning at all.

 – But why is this happening? Because on some plots the law requires local development plan. Many shopping malls in Rzeszow could not be opened without enacting the local development plan. If not for this legal requirement, I am sure that most of these shopping malls would be opened on the basis of the decisions on development conditions – said Robert Kultys. – Even the president Tadeusz Ferenc publicly said that investments should be carried out quickly on the basis of development conditions. Of course, this also makes sense as the investment development of Rzeszow is fast, although it also has its consequences. At the same time, this logic of fast building seems to slowly dying in Rzeszow, or it has already died. The ideas about the main designer in the city are very good, but such a decision was needed 12 years ago, unfortunately, we consume the effects of neglects.

According to Maciej Łobos, there is no doubt that we need to protect downtown and the Wisłok valley, but if the creation of local spatial development plan drags on for years and the investment pressure on these areas is enormous, it is probably necessary to start making these plans faster. It is obvious. They need to be more general in order to do them faster. And I recently saw a plan of a housing estate in Staromieście district, where each block had a defined line of buildings, so we come back to the fact that an urban planner tries to create architecture, instead of defining a line of frontage, main streets, determining the height of buildings and accessibility of communication. For my office, creating the idea of Wisłok development, which could be the basis for a discussion and where the architectural cubature would appear, a model takes about 3 months of work but in the city it takes years. It is worth analyzing and drawing conclusions – said Łobos.

 – We need authoritarianism, or as the gentlemen in the discussion called it – the main designer of the plan, who is going to keep order and determine the essential points, it is important from the functional or spatial point of view. And I agree that it should be a professional, not a politician, but on the condition that all the other professionals would accept his decisions and not argue somewhere in the corner – commented Andrzej Skotnicki.

Władysław Boczkaj, an architect in the 1960s, deputy city architect in Rzeszow, wondered aloud how it is possible that the city could not afford to make a model of downtown with the dimensions of the buildings and then it would be easy to integrate new objects. – It would be seen what fits, what covers the Lubomirski Castle, what is too high or too low. From the experience of my friend, who worked in the municipal department in Copenhagen, I know how they developed a new district there for 160,000. residents, a project similar to Rzeszow. How the individual centers were planned- the equivalents of the districts in Rzeszow as well as the communication network, and how it all worked together perfectly. I have a board, I gladly share it, but few people want to use it – said Władysław Boczkaj.

Also Andrzej Depa, admitted that it is probably worth making the architects’ voice in the debate about the space of Rzeszow more audible. – Let us remember that the president and the city council represent the general public and probably a broader social dialogue is needed. Investors are very important, but still there must be freedom to some extent. Perhaps in a situation when the process of creating a local development plan is so long, we, as the professional environment of architects, will be able to present the stance of architects and town planners resulting from our knowledge and experience, and we will provide such a stance, also in a graphic form, to the Rzeszow City Development Office, councilors, and maybe it will prove to be very helpful.

The debate was also attended by representatives of the excellent Norwegian architectural office- Snohetta in Oslo, who shared their experiences in spatial planning.  In Oslo, international competitions are announced for large areas to be developed and projects are a combination of the work of architects, town planners, and communication specialists. And this is how a proposal for the use of specific areas is being created.  The competition plans are a guideline for creating urban space. City authorities and investors act on the basis of these plans. According to the Norwegians, it might be worth inviting someone from Poland or from the world, a person highly valued in the world of architecture- to Rzeszow, in order to look at the city holistically – it would be an excellent investment for the future.

The speakers who took part in our discussion, summarizing Rzeszow’s spatial policy and wondering whether there is a coherent vision or chaos, had divided opinions.

Maciej Łobos admitted that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. – I do not see any visions of the great Rzeszow, there are small local visions. We have decisional chaos, and this results in spatial chaos – he said.

Andrzej Skotnicki reminded about the only Polish building recently awarded at international competitions, the Szczecin Concert Hall. – And what does this building look like, on which everybody swoons over? Isn’t it just one huge chaos ?! – Skotnicki noticed

– A controlled one- responded Maciej Łobos

– But still a chaos. Inside and out. And awarded at international competitions – said the director of the Faculty of Architecture

According to Robert Kultys, a coherent vision of spatial policy consists in the fact that the president Tadeusz Ferenc strives for dynamic development of investments. For them to arise as soon as possible, for Rzeszow to pursue other cities in Poland. It all has its own logic, but the price, which the city and the public space is paying for is getting bigger, and so is the disharmony. – I believe that this price is too high at the moment. The scale of neglect and omission is too great and in a moment the city may be in total chaos, unless it decides to change the concept.,-architektow-i-politechnike-rzeszowska!