Shared Layers of History – Urban Phenomena of Post-Communist Cities #2
After the fall of communism, we had to learn how to shop and sell, how to build and how to lead an everyday life in a completely new realm. It does not matter if we are in Belgrade, Warsaw, Berlin or Bratislava – our cities are layered with history and scarred with the changes
One cannot understand the post-communist attitude towards sharing without knowing the twisted history and numerous transformations involved in the perspective. Presented here is our selection of socio-urban phenomena that helps explain – and hopefully offers a more detailed picture of – today’s public spaces.
HOUSING FOR THE DISTRUSTFUL
Gated communities are one of the most important symbols of the social, economic and cultural transformations that have taken place in modern Poland. Their number, scale and diversity raise numerous questions not only among the critically-inclined social or urban researchers, but also among the city dwellers living on both sides of the fence. According to Henrik Werth’s analyses made in 2004, Warsaw had about 200 gated communities, while Berlin had just 1 and all of France had only 72. No other European capital has numbers this high.
In the 1980s, Poland started the classic suburbanisation, fuelled by the free market forces being unleashed and foreign capital beginning to flow into the country. In the early 1990s, private entrepreneurs started buying more and more land and new houses popped up like mushrooms over a period of twenty years. When one of the first gated communities was built in Warsaw in the late 1990s, Gazeta Wyborcza – the most popular daily newspaper in Poland – stated that “an oasis of luxury and a slice of America” had now landed on Polish soil. The same tendency was happening in other larger Polish cities and in other countries in the former Eastern Bloc.
Marina Mokotów is one of the best known examples of this gated exaggeration. Built in 2006 on the outskirts of one of the most famous districts of Warsaw, it holds about 1,800 housing units on an area of 30 hectares. The entire area is enclosed by walls or fences about two meters high, guarded round-the-clock by guards and CCTV. As reasons for choosing to settle there, the residents report a fear of crime and the desire for personal safety: although a full 87% of Poles feel safe in their neighbourhoods, and crime statistics indicate that Poland is a safe country when compared to most other countries in Europe.
“If we were building Marina today, we would not have decided to fence it” – said Radosław Bieliński, spokesperson of Marina Mokotów’s developer, Dom Development. But the matter of prestige is related primarily to how the communities were marketed as peaceful areas created for and/or populated by people who belong to a certain social class.
This article was published in Magazyn Miasta / Cities Magazine # 1/17 – our special international issue released as a part of Shared Cities: Creative Momentum (SCCM) project. You can read more about the project here. You can download PDF version of the issue for free here.