The Promise of a Green City

The Promise of a Green City

photo: Grzegorz Piątek

Warsaw is probably the only European metropolis with an unregulated river running across its centre and an underground line that has both its terminals in a forest. Before the war, the town planners had already envisaged radical changes to this city of twisting streets and cramped courtyards. To urbanists and avant-garde architects, the tabula rasa of ruined Warsaw offered a historic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to erect, from nothing, an ideal city – one that would be full of light and greenery, hygienic and egalitarian. Commenting on town plans which had been drawn while still in the underground, the outstanding architect Helena Syrkus wrote:

“The reduced building density is immediately striking – the narrow wells of courtyards are gone. Greenery, sucked out of the town in the period of capitalism, is once again the natural environment, with the edifices rising above. The sky, lawns, flowerbeds and trees are visible from every window of every building”. ³

An ideogram in the propagandist album „Sześcioletni plan odbudowy Warszawy" [Six-year plan of Warsaw´s reconstruction] features a withering flower lit by a narrow blade of light from a tiny window and a blooming plant by a large window . Today, the enormous amount of greenery in Warsaw – considering that parks, forests, fields, gardens and orchards cover over 46.9 percent of its area – is a trace of that grand ambition. Citizens carefully guard every patch of green against encroaching construction. In 2009, during just a few days, more than 16,000 people signed a petition defending a stretch of the Pole Mokotowskie park against the appetites of a building company. In the district of Ursynów, a neighbourhood initiative is blocking, so far successfully, the plan to build a church in their local park. The most popular contemporary edifice in Warsaw is the building of the New University Library, which is overgrown with lush vines and has a hectare of garden on its roof. The Copernicus Centre of Science, currently under construction nearby, will have a similar roof garden. Yet the inhabitants of Warsaw still sometimes complain that they will soon have to endure life amidst a concrete desert.