The BPCC and members Aga Podgajna Architects and cmT held a meeting for members from the real-estate and construction industry with representatives of the City of Warsaw to discuss town planning, and how to improve communications between the two sectors.
Drawing on case studies from Warsaw and from across the UK, the meeting highlighted areas in which cooperation between local authorities and private-sector investors could be improved, resulting in high-quality new developments and projects, resulting in a city that’s more open and attractive to people.
BPCC members, especially those in outsourced services, are finding it increasingly important to retain skilled employees. In this context, attracting inward investment from IT hubs and shared-services centres is becoming highly competitive, with cities wanting to show to an increasingly international workforce that they’re a great place to live and work.
After a welcome from the event’s host, cmT board member Jerzy Binkiewicz, the BPCC’s chief advisor, Michael Dembinski, set out the context from the point of view of corporate employers’ for whom Poland’s demographics were making it increasingly difficult to compete for employees.
Monika Konrad, the assistant director of Warsaw’s department of architecture and spatial planning, presented the capital’s vision for the future – a polycentric city, offering the comfort of local living. Her presentation showed how Warsaw can become a city of multiple 15-minute neighbourhoods – where the necessities of life are all within a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride from home. On the basis of surveys of Warsaw’s citizens, Ms Konrad suggested that notions of ‘near’ and ‘far’ depend on where one lives; city-centre dwellers are comfortable with a half-hour walk as being ‘near’, those who live in the suburbs say ‘near’ means 11 minutes’ away, whilst residents of more distant exurbs, wholly dependent on the car, defined ‘near’ as being just seven minutes’ drive from home.
The population of Warsaw, a city of 2,225,000, has grown by 300,000 over the past year and is still fluctuating as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although Warsaw’s population density is not high, because of plentiful green spaces, living space per person at 32m2 is around three-quarters of the EU average, which is 42m2. Climate change is another challenge; the urban heat-island effect means that the Warsaw is between 1C and 4C hotter than the surrounding countryside. Extreme weather events are more common, and the centre of Warsaw has all but dried up. Ms Konrad said that Warsaw’s urban renaissance would see more mixed-use development, more green spaces for fresh air and recreation, and above all, more ‘locality’.
Kinga Nowakowska, the operations director of Capital Park Group, gave a presentation showcasing the award-winning Fabryka Norblina development, which had taken eight years to complete. The transformation involved turning a 19th century factory complex into a mixed-use entertainment complex featuring 27 different bars, restaurants and cafes as well as shops and a cinema, a focus on live music and functioning as a public space for local residents as well as employees of the offices built above. Ms Nowakowska highlighted that more improvements for visitors of this part of the city could have been made as part of this development had there been a better dialogue between all the parties involved. For example, there’s no green corridor between it and the Browary Warszawskie mixed-use development one block to the north.
Aga Podgajna focused on the UK experience, showing how local planning regulations had been fine-tuned to reflect a balance of needs between residents and developers. She described the place of design codes and masterplans, comparing these to Polish practice, and the vital role of public consultations. Ms Podgajna also defined the notion of ‘placemaking’, which involved the creation of local centres that would give rise to and nurture local communities, in partnership with local businesses and the public sector. She mentioned the importance of ‘meanwhile strategies’ – what to do with land earmarked for subsequent stages of development before it is actually developed.
The presentations were followed by an animated and fascinating round-table discussion, in which Witold Zatoński, the founder of Syrena Real Estate (developer of the mixed-use building in which cmT has its offices) and cmT’s Rela Juraszyńska joined in, offering practical examples of how to improve the dialogue between public and private sector. Many interesting threads were raised – one concerned underground utilities – all the cables and pipelines – and how there’s no joined-up thinking about this subject, each conduit being the fiefdom of individual service providers. The role of BIM – building information modelling – in sharing data during the planning, construction and use phases of a development, was also discussed.
ESG will be increasingly important. Participants heard about a Warsaw business park where over 1,500 car parking spaces were being turned over into a green park for local people; this is the direction for the future, emphasising the primacy of pedestrian and cyclist over the motorist in the city.
All participants in the investment process are responsible for the success of new investments affecting the attractiveness of cities, economic and social growth, the creation of new jobs, housing estates and spaces worthy of the 21st century; developers, local authorities, officials, residents, architects, consultants and project managers. The necessity of open dialogue and cooperation seems to be the key to success – finding an appropriate and responsible balance between the economy of investment and the construction of city-forming projects that we can all be proud of.
The event attracted a full-house, with representatives of the public sector, investors, employers, real estate consultants and all other interested participants of investment processes to discuss the collective action needed to jointly create places that meet the expectations of future users and respond to the challenges of our times.
Lessons from Warsaw could be shared in other cities – it is hoped the BPCC will repeat this event in other cities where its members have large numbers of employees, to make them places where a workforce feels happy to live.