Property ownership is the new toilet paper. Thirty years ago Poles queued for days to get their hands on a few rolls of industrial grade bottom wiping material (grey please), today they’re tripping over themselves to dive neck deep into mortgage debt (Swiss Francs please). There’s a property development revolution going on in this country that makes the Bolsheviks’ 1917 shindig look like small beer.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the average Pole imagines himself or herself ideally living in a isolated hut in the forest hunting things with dogs and roasting hunks of venison over an open fire. In reality they live in overcrowded blocks and the only thing the big dogs are used for is annoying the neighbors. It’s deeply weird that a race with such a deep seated reverence and longing for the rural should be almost exclusively penned up in industrial rabbit hutches while 90 percent of the country is utterly empty. But that’s the way it is. Fifty years of not really having control over their own destiny (or is it a hundred, or two hundred) produced a pattern of habitation that seems completely alien to the Polish psyche.
Stand back baby, things are changing, my how they’re changing.
Let’s consider Jan Kowalski (John Smith to you) an ambitious young man just out of technical university. His ideal life plan looks like this:
1. Get married and live with the parents for a while.
2. Buy a nice new flat in Warsaw/Krakow/Poznan/Wherever and work for a high tech company with shiny new offices on some godforsaken industrial estate.
3. Build a house.
Note steps 2 and 3 in particular, they’re the important ones.
Coming, as I do, from the overcrowded isles of Britain they’re both something of a revelation.
Buy a nice new flat
Note is should be a NEW flat. Stay away from the old town with its 200-year-old tenements (Brits would kill to live in those) or the communist era osiedle (housing estate) with its shoddy workmanship. It’s got to be new, pastel colored, and bedecked with shiny aluminium balcony rails. There are millions of them springing up all over the place to meet this demand. Here’s one now:
In my opinion the new estates that are cropping up like acne rashes around all of Poland’s major cities are far inferior to the communist variety. Unlike in the UK, where high-rise housing estates are generally the dumping ground for hopeless immigrants and indolent chavs, the old Polish housing estates are a pretty close approximation to what the idealistic architects of the 60’s had in mind. In a Polish block of flats you can still find a doctor living next to a coal miner next to a university lecturer next to a factory worker and everybody behaves with consideration and the minimum of drug dealing. The open spaces are green, well tended, and free of burned out joyridden wrecks. The new estates are crammed, have almost no green space, and are irredeemably smug. Compare:
A 1970s Polish housing estate. Very nice, I know it well.
A 2000s Polish housing estate. A car park with blockhouses stuffed to the gills with ‘young professionals.’ I’d sooner die.
Build a house
It’s practically impossible to build a new house in England, there just isn’t any empty space that you’re allowed to build on. Poland is 90 percent empty space and restrictions seem to be non existent. Honestly, it’s incredible—travel across Poland and all you’ll see for hour after hour is primordial forest or primitive strip farming punctuated by the very occasional village. It’s not hard to imagine you’re in the wilds of Canada rather than in the heart of Europe. Faced with all this emptiness I used to ask “What have you people been doing for the past thousand years?” but I’ve given that up now after too many boxed ears.
The combination of massive demand for new houses, out in the wilds with the boar and the big dogs, coupled with the vast amount of space available and its woeful agricultural productivity means that almost anyone can build a house almost anywhere. Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly, but the contrast between the heavily protected ‘green areas’ of the UK that I’m used to and the free range of Poland makes it look like a 19th century Oklahoma land grab. Huge numbers of people in the countryside have just given up farming and gotten jobs in the local town instead, very sensibly. They’ve got lots and lots of empty land to sell.
Hundreds and hundreds of new houses. Twenty years ago this would have been a scene of two villages snuggled in their valleys.
Or buy a new house
Can’t be bothered to build your own new house? Got sackful of bank credit? How about living in Teletubby land? The surreal lengths to which property developers have gone with their enticements to live in ‘unspoiled rural bliss’ beggar belief. I invite you to consider the following ‘perfect’ homesteads–persons suffering from diabetes are warned to look away now:
Paradise on Earth 1
Paradise on Earth 2
Exactly what kind of life could you possibly have here? Jan drives to work every day and eventually goes completely insane, Mrs Kowalski eventually has an affair with the gardener and turns the children into mincemeat for the evening meal. Have you people not seen any suburban distopia movies? Get the hell back to the osiedle while you still can!