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Revitalising historic districts

Revitalising historic districts through renovation of buildings and multi-functions
Lodz / Poland
Size of city: 
1 050 000 inhabitants

Contact

Aleksandra Olejnik
Coordinator of the activities of City of Łódź in International Organizations
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Summary

The City of Łódź (PL) has recently taken actions to revitalise the historic 6.5-hectare area of Księży Młyn. Revitalisation included:
• physical transformation: modernisation, conservation and insulation of 25 multi-dwelling buildings, all built in the 1870s and 1880s for factory workers and their families,
• economic activities: transforming some of dwellings into commercial premises,
• social activities: establishing a Social Integration Club, Residents Club, social economy entities, introducing artist workshops into the area, programming social, artistic and cultural projects.
Residents are now supported by the presence of an official responsible for revitalisation whom they can always call to report problems. The buildings have regained their residential function with 21st century standards but they preserve their former functions and the public space layout designed 140 years ago. At the same time dwellings in these buildings, most of which are city-owned, serve as affordable social housing.

The solutions offered by the good practice

The housing estate revitalisation was prepared with the participation of its residents. At the beginning their distress was a serious difficulty. The City’s main task was to start building renovations and the renewal of the most neglected housing estate spaces and to deal with matters that were hard to identify in the course of general meetings or surveys, namely the residents’ individual problems. Preservation of the housing estate greenery, which had been neglected for 30 years, played a very important role. The key element of success was concentration on particular families’ individual needs, which proved to be the only way to work out integrated solutions that met the residents’ needs.
The city allocates dwellings in accordance with the needs and financial means of each family. Multigenerational families are offered a possibility to split a dwelling into two apartments, which in most cases leads to an increase of living space.
The revitalisation process in the context of relocations: a building in the vicinity of the housing estate was renovated by design and dedicated to those residents whose dwellings were under renovation. Thus, the residents of apartments under renovation could still live in the same neighbourhood and their children did not have to change schools. And the elderly did not have to change their health centres. This activity was aimed at not disturbing the existing local social links. The project offers 10 dwellings for socially excluded persons.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

The most important element of the work is the individual settlements with the residents, now supported by the presence of an official responsible for revitalisation and the fact that the residents can always call to report failures, which happened often particularly at the beginning of the revitalisation works. The residents have started to react to acts of vandalism and violence.
During renovations the historic character of the housing estate and buildings is preserved, which is why the buildings are insulated on the inside. Still, adjusting buildings to contemporary standards means that new solutions and new elements are implemented, and it is considered important to choose solutions best corresponding with the primary form of these objects.
Not only the residents are partners of the Księży Młyn renewal. The project is also supported by infrastructure networks administrators, artists, Police and Municipal Police.
The project evolves constantly, adjusting to the residents’ requirements and opinions. The project assumes that the tenants of communal flats and dwelling owners in condominium buildings who are willing to continue to live here will remain here.

Based on a participatory approach

In this project, various forms of social consultations have been worked out, which is especially valuable as no single form has guaranteed that the residents’ problems and needs would be fully recognised. A serious limitation for official meetings was the modest participation of people in the hardest situations. Individual meetings make it possible to overcome this obstacle only in part, so the best solution is to combine various methods, both when it comes to consulting a revitalisation programme itself as well as particular renovation decisions, which can be a valuable recommendation for revitalisation processes in many European communities.
Partnership helps to promote, to improve safety and the sense of security, to carry out cultural education activities and to give access to culture. All decisions of and actions undertaken by the municipal services require the opinion of the Project Manager.
The project is conducted as a so-called partnership project. The city, after negotiations and settlements, announced a competition for project partners. All condominiums and two entrepreneurs entered the competition. The city’s requirements as to the partners were in particular: liquidating low-stack emission sources and connecting to the district heating system. The partners prepared design documentation in this scope and also one related to the renovation of historic monuments. Decision-makers - condominiums, entrepreneurs and architects - worked out the concept themselves based on the city’s guidelines.

What difference has it made?

The historic housing estate built for factory workers in the 19th century had been neglected for decades, so much so that some buildings were decapitalised even in 90%, these buildings are still inhabited. Now the buildings regain their residential function with 21st century standards, but they preserve their former functions as well and the public space layout designed 140 years ago is preserved, too.
At the same time, dwellings in these buildings, most of which are city-owned and offer communal flats, serve to meet one of the most basic social needs, which is to ensure shelter for people who cannot afford to rent an apartment on the open market. All activities are conducted in a way that makes it possible to preserve the original urban fabric of the site. The fact of great importance is that thanks to direct relations with people, help is given in the first place to those who need it most - through eliminating overcrowding, helping the sick.
This kind of approach helps to increase social trust in the authorities, in the city. The residents feel they really can influence the actions, and that the city strives to help them and understands their needs and problems.
Also, activities aimed at including people in cultural life are conducted. Together, artists and the city organize events in which the residents participate. The project is a perfect example of how activities contributing to social inclusion should be performed. Some people have gotten jobs at companies renovating the area.

Why should other European cities use it?

We feel that this good practice should be shared, in particular because its most important element is the approach to the residents. The renewal of Księży Młyn is carried out based on the model of project management and project supervision by a project leader - a strong personality with broad competencies as a revitalisation activities coordinator.
The “Sheriff” of Księży Młyn has gradually convinced the local community that it is worth joining the conducted activities. The increase of trust has been followed by common care of safety. The residents have started to react to acts of vandalism and violence.
The project evolves constantly, adjusting to the residents’ requirements and opinions. The project assumes that the tenants of communal flats and dwelling owners in condominium buildings who are willing to continue to live here will remain here.
The area, which used to be considered not so safe and ill-famed, has become one of the most interesting spaces in the city for its atmosphere and unique historical characteristics.