If you install the Air Quality app on your phone or tablet, you can see day by day how bad Krakow’s air quality is, and get charming messages such as: “Don’t stay outdoor for too long,” or “Hypersensitive individuals should minimize outdoor exercise.”
If you are waiting at a tram stop and an ambulance passes by, you might be flooded by clouds of fine dust, because the city is not cleaned enough
Krakow and Amsterdam have the same number of citizens, but Krakow has three times the number of cars. Not all of these have low emission rates, not to speak of the highly polluting trucks and buses. Highly polluting old cars and trucks are not allowed to enter the city of Amsterdam. By contrast, Krakow has a highway in the middle of the city. On top of that, a large part of the heating systems uses polluting coal.
The survival rate of Krakow must be more then three times less then in Amsterdam. In my opinion, reason enough to limit the use of cars in Krakow. Given the Poles love for their cars, this will not be a popular approach. But taxis are cheap, public transport is okay, and bicycling is becoming more and more fashionable in this flat city.
Political theorist and author Benjamin Barber talks a lot about measures of a city’s success in his latest book If Mayors Ruled the World. For Barber, the quality of life of a city’s citizens is strongly influenced by how safe they feel and how well designed the urban environment is.
The ability to navigate a city easily is a key factor in quality of life – how easy is it to walk from one district, or ‘city island,’ to another? For example, can the elderly or mothers pushing baby buggies walk along pavements without being blocked by parked cars? Are the city’s arteries open to people, or just there for cars?
Barber discusses Amsterdam as an example of a city that gets it right, where people can sit together in pavement cafes, talk with their neighbours and friends, drink a glass of wine. People are the centre of street life in this model, not an afterthought.
Try walking from one Krakow district to another, even if you’re young, fit and not pushing a baby buggy – it’s almost impossible. Drivers ignore or don’t know parking regulations and the city police do not appear to enforce them.
City life is more and more important for a large part of the populations of every country. Getting it right is important, not just for economic reasons.
Quality of life in Krakow is bad, and there is no vision for managing the city. Besides creating more cycle lanes, the pavements should be given back to the pedestrians. Invest in city life and not in insane ideas such as Olympic winter games that will simply absorb lots of money, human capital and energy.
I recommend Benjamin Barber’s book to the city authorities – it is even available in Polish as: Państwa umierają, miasta nas zbawią.