Warsaw’s historic ‘Finnish estate’ to become ‘test pad for urban innovation’ following 10mln PLN investment
Just a decade after its very existence found itself under threat, Warsaw’s iconic Osiedle Jazdów neighbourhood is celebrating a windfall of PLN 10 million – and more could be on the way to see it transformed into a unique ‘laboratory’ committed to testing potential city management solutions.
Officially opened on August 1st, 1945, the residential settlement was born in the aftermath of WWII from the need to provide emergency housing for the architects and engineers that had been recruited to rebuild the city.
In all, 95 ready-to-build cabins were erected, their materials seized from Finland by the Soviet Union as reparations for the war. Because of this, the pocket-sized district that arose soon found itself nicknamed Osiedle Fińskich.
From the outset, it became something of a model settlement, with facilities including a primary school, a water well, kiosk, kindergarten and grocery store. In the winter, residents could also enjoy a toboggan run and ice rink.
Each measuring 54 sq/m, the chalet-style houses were notable for their black-tar roofs, quaint little gardens and rustic-looking charm.
When, eventually, the architects began moving out, they were replaced in the early 60s by an influx of people at the forefront of Warsaw’s cultural life.
Lending the area a distinct free-thinking spirit, residents included the singer and satirist Jan Pietrzak (a passionate anti-Communist also known for founding the Pod Egidą cabaret in the late 60s); the prolific stage and screen actress Barbara Wrzesińska; the award-winning journalist, author and songwriter Maria Czubaszek; and Jonasz Kofta, a poet who would achieve lifelong fame as the co-founder of Hybrydy, a 1960s jazz club known for its licentious atmosphere and anti-authoritarian attitude.
An enclave of social independence at the height of Communism, it was no surprise that it was to hear that fans of the Beatles flocked during a march to honour the memory of John Lennon on the first anniversary of his murder.
With the gathered crowd openly smoking marijuana whilst singing Give Peace A Chance, it is certain that this outbreak of social expression would have shaken the authorities to the core.
Fittingly, in 1991 City Hall adopted a resolution that saw the street on which the march climaxed officially renamed ulica Lennona.
However, the political transformation would prove unkind to Osiedle Jazdów and in 2011 the then Mayor of the city centre announced plans for its dismantling.
Occupying a prime wedge of real estate between the Parliament, Al. Ujazdowskie and Al. Armii Ludowej, the reason given was that the development did not fit the “character” of the wider area.
Having been constructed as a temporary solution, the city also pointed out the disintegrating infrastructure of the housing. Others, though, saw the ploy for it was: a shameless and opportunistic attempt to cash in on the value of the land.
Outraging far more than city activists alone, the news galvanized Warsaw, with many campaigners openly crediting the intervention of the Finnish Embassy for ultimately safeguarding its future.
To much celebration, plans for its demolition were dropped in 2015; nonetheless, several core issues remained.
Depleted to just 27 houses through a combination of arson, wear-and-tear and development, Osiedle Jazdów has struggled to fulfil its copious potential despite the concerted efforts of the NGOs that have made it their home.
Having hosted thousands of events in the last five-years, initiatives have included the opening of an Embassy of Traditional Music, an urban gardening school, co-working spaces, a children’s science club, a ‘light therapy’ house, and a beekeeping centre.
Yet whilst many of these ideas have often been pioneering in a national context, they have been offset by tangible problems effecting the wider area such as poor sewage, inefficient energy sources and the natural deterioration of the buildings themselves.
In spite of repeated assurances, the hard cash necessary to implement change has not been forthcoming, at least not in the amount needed – that is until now.
Approved last month in a City Hall vote, the area is set to benefit from a much needed injection of PLN 10 million.
Tomasz Bratek, deputy mayor of Warsaw, said: “Jazdów is one of the most unique places on the map of Warsaw. We want to raise its unique character to an international level and we have a lot of ideas on how to enrich this place and make it work for the people of Warsaw.”
Among other things, the investment – set to be carried out over the course of the next three-years – will include major renovations on six houses, the reconfiguration of electricity, water and sewage networks, as well as a full modernization of energy solutions.
Working in tandem with the Otwarty Jazdów foundation that has so far done so much for the area, ideas have also been mooted to increase the number of people actually living there – as things stand, only six houses currently serve a residential purpose. But even bigger changes could be afoot.
Again collaborating with city officials, those involved with Otwarty Jazdów will submit an entry at the end of January for the New European Bauhaus prize with the aim of winning the competition’s EUR 5 million jackpot.
Should they do so, it has already been revealed that the prize money would be spent on the creation of a city laboratory that would seek to test and implement pilot projects relating to renewable energy, urban greenery and intercultural activities.
In the process, Osiedle Jazdów would become a hub for urban innovation unprecedented on a European scale.
Aleksander Ferens, Mayor of Śródmieście, said: “We would strive to keep what is best for Jazdów but supplement it with solutions not found anywhere else.
“If our ideas are favoured by the European Commission, this will become a model and inspiration for other cities and we can once again prove that innovation is an important part of Warsaw.”