Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Revitalization of Cities in the Absence of Legislative Support: The Case of Poznan

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Revitalization of Cities in the Absence of Legislative Support: The Case of Poznan

Article excerpt


This article describes the problem of revitalization in a central and eastern European context. The theoretical framework used here defines late or post-systems transformation as the period following radical social change. The main challenges relate to the overlapping factors or processes (from the past and from the present) of the legal and organizational "refolution"1 (both revolution and reform) of managing urban spaces.

The first challenge concerns the original construction of the socialist city, or more precisely, the real socialist urbanization processes, which were essential in the construction of the Soviet socialist society during the late post-war period. The main concept of that vision was the "socialist modernization" of social relations, in a class sense. It deconstructed as a result the "traditional" relations typical of the western urban public sphere (see: Habermas 1989), and made room for more equal participation of the working class in the urban landscape. The consolidation of the constructivist vision of the city (as a vehicle of mass production) was the outcome of that emancipation effort.2 One of the Polish sociologists who specialized in the urban subject has claimed that, "the urbanizing role played by industry" (Gorzelak 2009: 87). This was true not only in the Polish case, and particularly in the case of the "green field" industrialization which was relatively most common in the 1950s, 1960s, and even in the 1970s (the same was observable in the DDR). A different picture crystallized in the context of older medieval locations. The processes of changing the face of the city concerned at least two observable tendencies (which affected the problem of revitalization in the contemporary sense): first, designing and developing the Le Corbusierian idea which, from the 1930s onwards, connected the system's complexity of industry to separate areas of low-quality residential districts, now associated with their locations near city centres, from East Berlin to Ulaanbaatar3.

The second process was the marginalization of the old parts of cities. In the German experience for example it was the process of rebuilding infrastructure after the disaster of the Second World War which was spontaneous, and resulted in decreasing quality in the older tenant districts (which was simply damaged, see: Bryx, JodachSapiello 2009). In the more universal context, this was called a "filtering process"4, which is an element of the market regulation mechanism (see: Skaburskis 2006). It could be explained as a concentration of investment practices in the less demanding new areas, which reduced interest in older residential districts (Billert 2006B). This tendency might have activated a destructive feedback between (de)valorization, outflow of capital, and outflow of inhabitants. In the Polish example, the impact of this feedback was used (because of ideological reasons), and even catalysed by the administrative practice of relocating poorly educated migrants from the countryside, and the underclass to "council flats" in the old town. The practice of displacing inhabitants was particularly easy and effective because of the absence of the original owners (often of Jewish or German descent in the aftermath of the Second World War). Both processes changed the social and cultural status of the centres.

In the case study, a similar "social experiment" (and here I mean the often intentional marginalization of the old town by the real socialist authorities) was aimed against the institutional position of the Catholic Church as present in the landscape of the old city from the Middle Ages onwards. This was seen in Poznan in the transportation investment of the 60s or 70s, in cutting off historic areas by dual roadways. The processes of "modernisation" ultimately "ghettoized" the areas in the 1980s and even in the 1990s (see the map of Sródka area in a case study part of the text).

The second factor influencing the urban status quo nowadays is more strictly its correlation with the process of systems transformation itself (similar to the example of East Germany, see: Bryx, Jodach-Sapiello 2009). …

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