Plac Nowy in Kazimierz has been a place of trade for both Christian and Jewish communities since it was created in the late 19th century. The round building in the middle, known as the “Okraglak,” was built later and was the only place in the city where you could buy both kosher and non-kosher meat right up until the Second World War.
After the War, Kazimierz’s fortunes declined and by the late 1990s crime was rife, making it a place one wouldn?t visit out of choice. Its fortunes turned around in the late 1990s as artists started to move in to the dilapidated buildings, attracted by cheap rents and the proximity to the Old Town. The first cafés (Singer Café and Alchemia) opened on Plac Nowy in 1999.
In 1992, a 10-year contract for the running and management of the square was awarded to a private company owned by a group of its traders. In 2002, this contract was renewed for a further 30 years without a public tender. The company is owned by 26 individuals, some of whom are still traders and enjoy preferential rates for their pitches, their trading expenses paid for, and a share of the substantial profits. As the square is a UNESCO World Heritage site, repairs and renovations are covered from the city?s budget.
While the amount, quality and variety of produce sold in the market has declined over the last decade, the area around the market is thriving. Many of the surrounding buildings house bars and cafes that are popular both during the day and at night.
In late 2007, local media reported that the city?s councillors had passed a new by-law that allows sale of alcohol on all of Krakow?s market squares until midnight, and in the case of Plac Nowy until 2 am.
The residents of Plac Nowy already suffer from problems with rubbish and noise. They are unhappy, not only about the lack of consultation by the democratically elected councillors, but also about the prospect of Plac Nowy being turned into a permanent Oktoberfest.
Representatives of Kazimierz sp. z o.o. maintain that the idea of cafes is critical for the future of the square, as the selling of fruit and vegetables doesn?t bring in enough revenue. They say that their intention is that these cafes will serve tea, coffee, beer and cakes but no spirits.
The City Council’s official reason behind the changes is that they are a way of supporting business and attracting tourism. However, this seems to fly in the face of the strategy of the city?s marketing policy, which promotes Krakow as a place for culture rather than partying.
In early 2008, residents and friends of the square launched an association called “Przyjazny Kazimierz” (“Friendly Kazimierz”) to push for a more sustainable approach to the development of the square. Research commissioned by the association revealed that a significant proportion of local residents use the market at least once a week and do not want to lose it; it is the only place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables in the immediate vicinity (the nearest alternative is a 15 minute walk away at the Hala Targowa). Their petition has almost 700 signatories, with support coming from as far afield as the UK, France and the US.
The association has also been meeting councillors individually to discuss the changes and has found some support. A number of them have privately admitted that the Council operates on a “scratch my back and I?ll scratch yours” approach to getting each other?s resolutions passed, which is probably why the potential implications of these changes were not discussed in full.
No one doubts that Plac Nowy needs to be redeveloped, but there is a fundamental conflict between a privately owned company that has a duty to maximize profits for its shareholders, and the residents who think it inappropriate for the future of a historic public space to be decided on by a private corporation.