Opinion: Krakow’s City Council Abandons Zakrzówek

Today, 31 March 2010, Krakow’s City Council voted by 17 votes to 14, with 6 abstentions and 6 absences, to reject a proposal to protect Zakrzówek, one of Kraków’s largest and most popular green spaces. In the process, they exposed the democratic process in this city as a sham and opened up the way for irreversible damage to Krakow’s environment.

Today’s vote now clears the way for a Portuguese developer, Gerium Polska Developments sp. z. o.o., to complete a highly controversial deal. They will exchange the un-usable land they bought in 2006 (consisting mainly of lake and cliffs) is exchange for a prime plot owned by the city. On this plot, housing for 5,000 new citizens, an average sized Polish town, will be crammed in but without the schools, shops, doctors’ offices or any of the other amenities that make a town a good place to live. In the process the natural habitat of endangered animals will be destroyed and the daily traffic chaos that is already evident in the neighbouring Ruczaj district will be made worse with the influx of a few thousand more cars.

In return, Gerium has promised to invest 70 million złoty to tidy up the park and build some leisure amenities. However, the developer’s own architect has stated that at least 40ml złoty of this is designated towards building the roads that the new town will require and a significant portion of the remaining 30mln will be spent on the totally unnecessary stabilisation of the cliffs surrounding the lake, so it’s not clear how much will be left over to invest in the park.

As part of the deal, the city will now vote through a Development Plan for exactly the area on which the new town will stand which will allow Gerium to obtain the relevant building permits; without this document, building on Zakrzówek has been impossible up to now. What makes this even more galling is that most of the rest of Krakow has been waiting for over 20 years for similar plans to be passed.

The campaign for the protection of Zakrzówek gained widespread support from tens of thousands of ordinary Cracovian voters and over 40 NGOs and associations. However it was the last minute political horsetrading, where the Councillors favouring protection of Zakrzówek were contacted by their colleagues who threatened to vote against their future projects, as well as Gerium’s widely-reported threat to fence off their land and forbid public access if they lost, that swung the votes in the developer’s favour. It is unknown at this time why as many as 12 Councillors, almost 30 percent of the Council, chose to abstain from or not be present at today’s vote.

Over the last few months it has emerged that the city was unaware that EU funds exists to help local governments buy up green spaces in cities and turn them in to parks for the benefit of all citizens. By the time the Zakrzówek campaigners brought this to the bureaucrats’ attention, it seems that the pro-developer lobby was too invested in portraying the involvement of Gerium as the only way that Zakrzówek will be cleaned up and turned into a park, given the city budget’s apparent lack of funds, in order for them to change their views without the loss of face.

So as a result, today Krakow’s City Council declared to the world that Krakow’s open spaces are up for sale to the highest bidder, all in the name of being pro-business. They rejected any notion that the current and future inhabitants of Krakow have a right to influence their environment and that they have been elected to represent their voters. The only good that can come of today’s events is that ordinary people declare that enough is enough and roll their sleeves up and get involved. Unfortunately, the people who represent us cannot be trusted to manage Krakow’s future for our common good.

See also: The Battle for Zakrzówek

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