The New Poland: Part 1

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!

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36 thoughts on “The New Poland: Part 1

  1. Kinuk says:

    Ummm…I’m not sure if this is a joke (is it April 1st?) or if you’re serious.

    If you’re serious, then I would consider that living in the osiedle for life is far away from the ideal living situation. The neighbour above you making noise, the leaky pipes, no control over your heating system, standard water rates which do not encourage careful use, the teenage boys hanging outside your door, the smell of urine (often) just around the block (or worse, inside the stairwell!), czynsz (which seems to pay for a clean stairwell and a working lift but often there’s neither), the dog next door, the nosy neighbour who knows exactly what’s going on in your flat, the crooked walls, the dumpy metal 70s playground (with metal swings that your kids keep bashing against), the drunken hoard of middle-aged men who urinate in the sandbox and congregate just outside your balcony every summer evening, etc, etc…

    And, no, the new osiedles aren’t much better. And the walls still aren’t straight.

    No wonder the average Pole raised in a typical 70s osiedle wants to get the hell out of there and buy or build their own bit of Paradise.

  2. scatts says:

    Nice one!

    Jamie, you and I should definitely start up a development company, or something.

    I anticipate many more comments like Kinuk’s. To most people I know, your “nice new flat” is exactly that, nice. Your “paradise on earth” is similarly correctly titled. Credit doesn’t really matter too much from what I can see, what matters is that it is new, pretty and you can say that you own it.

    The more I go on about this myself, the more I’m coming to realise that the missing ingredient here is – CHOICE. I suppose it is natural that the population of Poland will embrace everything that is NOT what used to be. All the things that were denied them for so many years are now being frantically gobbled up like they’re going out of fashion! Years of pent-up frustration are now being released.

    You couldn’t leave the country easily, so they all move to the UK when jobs are easily had. You lived in a smelly block, so now you live in a clean block. You couldn’t get a car, so now you have a Porsche. You couldn’t get credit so now you suck it up. You couldn’t own property, so now you want to be the next Donald Trump. You lived with your family, so now you want a place of your own. All of this, from what I can see, being done in a hurry and with not enough thought ( actually, with no thought) to the possible consequences. Because nobody knows what the consequences could be! Because Poland has never been here before. Because this is all a big new adventure and it is not in the interests of the bank or developer that is profiting from your inner frustrations to list the possible downsides, other alternatives or to explain to you what might happen in the future based on experience in other countries.

    Conversely, you could live and work in the countryside, in fact, being a farmer was a good communist occupation, so you DO NOT rush into the countryside now. Bear in mind that by a Pole’s definition, the “countryside” starts about 5 km outside the city border. There is no such thing as a commuter suburb, or if there is, it is incredibly thin. There is the city and there is na wsi, i juz! If you are brave enough to venture into the countryside, it is most likely to be into a Truman Show estate (because they did not exist before) and not into a nice plot of land in a village, because then you’d be living with the beetroots. Anyway, we all know that the drive time from beetroot country is an hour or more and that’s just laughable for a Pole. For the moment at least.

    I particularly love those housing estates, the Truman Show style ones. I’ve lived in those, in the UK and I’ve lived (now live) in an apartment block estate in Poland. I know, from my personal experience, that I actually have more privacy and feel more at home in this block than I ever did in my Truman Show home in the UK, but you try convincing a Pole of that.

    Choice. Choice is what’s missing. Nobody is bothering to develop the residences that you, Jamie, or I would consider to be good and if the choice is not there, then nobody knows any different. Why is the choice not there? It’s not there because of laziness and greed. It is easier and far more profitable to build a mega-block estate of average apartments on an easily acquired plot than to do anything else and if Poles are going to keep buying them, then why do anything different?

  3. darthsida says:

    “90 percent of the country is utterly empty”

    A rural solution? Let’s consider all those non-providers:

    “sorry, no cable tv in the sticks”
    “sorry, no internet other than 56kB modem-wise (and only after TP SA would deign to grant some primordial phone connections here)”
    “the powerlines gotta be overhead, we’re kinda so sorry that a gust of wind stronger than your fart or a load of snow heavier than your curse can make the village powerless”
    “sorry, we know those waterpipes are 6 centuries old and they break and leak and carry no water, but we can’t replace them – the village stretches 10 km and we don’t have that kinda money”
    “sorry, no big store in the sticks”
    “sorry, no pizza delivery here”
    “sorry, no secondary schools here”
    “sorry, no kindergartens here”
    “sorry, you can’t choose from primary schools cause there’s just one, yes, sir, the one in the valley of the three churches”
    “sorry, no cinema here. — what about theaters? what’s that?”
    “sorry, no hospital here”
    “sorry, no dentist here”
    “sorry, I gotta charge you extra extra for driving my cab here”
    “sorry. few buses go there. (except frosty winters, than there are none”

    In consequence, pretty much everyone who cannot afford staring out the window to contemplate grazing kine or a reek from the local coal mine – gets their car, fills her up and gets the faster the better to their nearest city to get some life. So, you probably meant a well-developed suburban area with all city’s amenities – but placed away from street noise.

    It can’t be 90% of the country. I’d be surprised if this should be 9%.

  4. ge'ez says:

    “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!”

    >>> I’m not at all convinced that suburbias are all that or nearly even so distopic. Green space, btw, can be grown and I think most folks will see to it that it happens over time. It’s not fair to compare an old apartment development complex that has green grown over many years with a newly built, recently bulldozed suburban development. Also, my guess is that the new buildings are more green than the old apartments which are more likely than not the antithesis of green. There are many studies that point to the problems of suburban sprawl but there are just as many that examine the problems of urban congestion. Seems Poland is just going through what the US went through in the 1950s. For better or worse.

    And certainly, as Kinuk points out, osiedle are not all that utopic nor so idyllic as painted here in the main post. I’d add that walking up and down five big flights of stairs or more is no joy ride for older folks.

    So what’s your alternative, mr. scatts? Duplexes? I’m not at all clear on what you are proposing as an alternative in the cities or suburbs.

  5. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Some new osiedla are very nice, actually. But there aren’t many of those. The idea of a 1970s housing estate being a good place to live sounds… unlikely. I would rather live in a cardboard box.

    On the other hand, I would never want to leave city. Then again, I’m spoiled by almost twenty years of living in Old Żoliborz. It’s one of the very few places in Warsaw that survived the war pretty much intact, and it’s probably as close to what modernists imagined as possible.

    Scatts is right, people are running away from their childhood traumas. Those with less money can either buy a flat on some new osiedle far from downtown or move to a small town or village. Those with more money do buy old aparments, but the prices are rather steep. Here in Old Żoliborz, I don’t think I could buy a decent flat for less than a million PLN (some 300 thousand euros), unless a run down 27 sq metres (300 sq feet) room-with-kitchen counts as decent. Obviously, I cannot afford that much, so I rent. To many people this is unacceptable because of the aforementioned traumas. You never know when the next hyperinflation is going to strike.

    People who moved out from downtown into suburbs are already starting to come back. Simply put, traffic queues are killing all the pleasure of living in a “paradise”, because you still have to go to work to downtown.

  6. me says:

    My alternative would be a nice new high floor appartament close to the city center ,with a green area/parc in the neighbourhood and a nice view over the city.

    In the next 10yrs there will be lots of them in Warsaw.

    Especially the “port praski” (praga harbour) area should be great in the future…

  7. scatts says:

    Happy Jack, I didn’t realise we were neighbours, more or less! Were money no object we would obviously both be buying a house close to Mr Wajda’s place then! You’re clearly a man of extreme good taste! :)

    me – More connections. I’m also waiting to see what happens to that port area. I’ve a feeling it could end up as the best place in town IF they get it right, cut out some of the greed for the sake of quality and fix the transport issues from that side of the river.

    Darth – fair points but, well, here we hit the chicken and egg whatsit. Do people move out and then somebody (gov) is forced to deal with your issues or do (gov) fix those issues to attract people to move out? Someone in (gov) needs to realise that Warsaw (and other places) is going to grind to a halt if there is no planned expansion into beetroot country. Still, we need to remember that we’re dealing with a country administration that is capable of attracting office blocks and factories but does not give a hoot for planning anything to make the workers lives a little better and seems not to be thinking further ahead than the ends of their noses.

    ge’ez – alternatives? Not sure what you mean exactly but if you’re talking about alternatives to the housing stock that currently exists? A/ Out of town – I think we need whole chunks of beetroot country to be designated as housing areas, commuter belt. The developers and builders would provide all the things Mr Darth says are missing and still get rich in the process. Government would provide transport links into the cities (road/rail/other) and other gov type investments. People would buy either plots or ready made developments. Some of these developments would include low rise housing units for old people so they can move out of the city centre 25 m2 things they live in today and into a better environment. This then makes room for B/ redevelopment of old city centre blocks to remove all the problems they have. Better built, bigger apartments, better facilities (like lifts!). Probably end up a mix of high and medium quality stuff depending on location, but all better than what is there now. Some would be demolish and start again, some would be renovation of what’s there. Finally C/ development of lower density, higher quality, more imaginative city centre dwellings. I could find you tons of opportunities within a short walk of where I live but they are more complicated to realise, smaller plots, therefore less interesting for the get-rich-quick developers we have seen so far. But it will come. The most interesting thing for me will be to see where the prices end up. I think it is impossible (in terms of European comparisons alone) for the new, more interesting developments to end up costing more than some of the prices around today – like 15-20,000 m2. I therefore think that the nicer new places will occupy top price slots thus pushing down the prices of what people think today is nice but will by then look second rate. Be even more interesting to see what happens to land prices in currently fashionable suburbs (Izabelin, Konstancin itd) when properly organised out-of-town development areas are formed.

    But, no need to worry just yet. The government are incapable of planning their way out of a paper bag!

  8. island1 says:

    Scatts: Thanks for stepping in and addressing these points while I slave away on other things.

    I suppose a lot of what I was saying was part of my personal loathing for what you so aptly call Truman Show homes. It’s not the houses themselves, its the sheer insanity of imagining you can build a decent community out of 30 expensive houses surrounded by fields. I thought everybody had figured out by now that doesn’t work. In all the brochures the proud new computer-generated owners are hauling babies around, but what happens when those babies become teenagers. I have deep sympathy for any poor sod that ends up having to come of age in a setting like that… now Zoliborz I could imagine being a rather fun place to grow up in.

    I’m a big fan of urban living, but I know some people aren’t. Outside of Krakow I see two kinds of rural development going on. Firstly the random strip development of vast pastel coloured villas completely unrelated to the local communities or, more usually surrounded by fields — homes of future axe murdered the whole lot of them. Secondly houses being built in existing villages, often by people returning after a few years in the city. Now I’d rather gnaw my own leg off rather than live somewhere like that, but I can see it working because its part of a community.

    It would be great to see some imaginative development of Poland’s vastly underused urban areas but as long as there’s all that space out there I guess it’s not going to happen.

  9. island1 says:

    Kinuk: Okay, you’ve got a point. There are bad estates and good estates. Maybe I laid it on a little heavy with the osiedle praise. Still, I just can’t bear these new estates. They’re so smug and ‘new Europe’ and ‘child friendly’ and ‘integrated parking’ it makes my teeth ache. It’s all going to go horribly wrong, you mark my words.

  10. island1 says:

    ge’ez: By the way I did note that you’ve fully embraced your Ethiopian identity but I keep forgetting to mention it.

    I think you’re wrong about the green space. The old osiedle have loads more space between the buildings. Of course it takes time for greenery to grow but these new estates generally consist of buildings separated by roads and about half a meter of grass verge, that’s it.

  11. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Island – yes, it’s going to go wrong, because those new osiedla are even less functional than the old ones. Typically, developer “forgets” to leave some room for a school. Or a park. Or a grocery. A friend of mine lives in a new osiedle in Kabaty (another district of Warsaw, very modern), in a six-story residential building. The small courtyard is beautifully maintained, and the apartment is big with high ceiling and huge windows. But everybody makes their everyday shopping at a makeshift bazaar, because there is not enough regular space for shops and the rent is too high. Those osiedla are often derogatively called “sypialnie” – sleeping zones. Sleep is all you can get there.

    Frankly, I hate this new model of “sleep at home, work at the office, do everything alse at the mall”. In a good old fashioned district like Żoliborz, everything is within a walking distance, including a theatre and a cinema, lots of small specialized services, a few bookstores, and a bucketload of pubs. Not to mention all the parks and public transport.

    I don’t know about other towns, but there is a lot of empty space in Warsaw. This was done on purpose – the green is supposed to help deliver fresh air into downtown. Reportedly, this works. Or used to work, because some vital parts of the system have already been built over. For some reason, the city council is unable to provide so called “local development plans”, which are very important documents meant to coordinate the design of new estates with the needs of local communities. But they are very efficient at chopping up all the parks, piece by piece.

    If I recall correctly, Port Praski was bought by some big company some ten years ago. They meant to build a large office complex, but something didn’t work for them, apparently. That may well be for the better. The area is neigbour to the site of the new “national” football stadium. Hopefully, it’s going to see some rapid development soon, because the stadium and all its infrastructure needs to be ready for Euro 2012.

    Scatts – you live near Kępa Potocka, don’t you? As for taste, it’s never really been a matter of choice. Before my parents moved to Żoliborz, we used to live in a basement in a house similar to Wajda’s estate, only much bigger. There was a big, poorly maintained garden with a swimming pool that never had any water. The nearest road was made of cobblestone and there was a big park at the opposite side of the street. And all this was just half a kilometer from plac Narutowicza in the Old Ochota district. Life wasn’t good in the eighties, but I sure had a perfect childhood in terms of the view from my window. :-) Most of my friends cannot say the same. They spent their childhoods in highrise blocks of flats, and all the view they had from their windows was another block of flats.

  12. ge'ez says:

    Big apartment living might be fine if you’re single, married/partnered w/o children, or even married/partnered with a baby or toddler.

    But once you have kids growing up and more mobile, my guess is you’d prefer that suburban lot even if there isn’t a massive amount of green space right next to your house. At least your kids would have a yard to play in under close supervision.

    People at different times in their lives have different preferences in terms of housing.

    I used to be very big on dissing the burbs during my single daze but now I see the advantages there even though I continue to live in an urban environment (but I actually have a decent sized yard my kids have been able to play in over the years). For recreation, they either go to a nearby park less than 1/2 mile (sorry) away. Or the wife and I drive them to soccer (sorry) or baseball games in the suburbs much farther away. Only certain areas of my city have any kind of organized youth sports (and not in the area in which we live).

    I think it mostly depends on if you have decent neighbors in the city. If you find that they are noisy, druggies or drunks, or pains-in-the-ass in general, one’s perspectiveabout urban living is going to be radically impacted for the worse right quick.

  13. To a Brit… perhaps Poland looks empty. To someone who actually has been to or has lived in empty places… Poland is FULL. Completely and thoroughly stuffed.

    I would love to live in the countryside if I could be at least 1 kilometer from my nearest neighbor. Since that isn’t possible and would, as has been pointed out, require giving up things like the internet, cable tv and possibly being hooked up to the city water/sewage lines… I’ll live in the city.

    Oh and as someone who lives in an Osiedle in a not-very-good part of town (Krakow’s Nowa Huta) I will say this: My neighbors aren’t doctors, coal miners or anything else as far as I can tell. I do know that one of them is a raging alcoholic because I can hear him yelling at his TV or ghosts late at night.

    My goal is to move to some new or new-ish apartment block near-ish to a bus/tram line that actually has parking (perhaps even assigned parking, please, god, maybe?) and where the average age of the tenants is 30 to 50, rather than 60 to 80.

    The biggest problem with completely new blocks (note the plural) is that they tend to be completely disconnected from public transportation. The last thing I want to do is ride the once-a-half-hour bus from my new flat in BFE for 75 minutes to work or to fight traffic in my car for roughly the same amount of time only to end up parking (free) a kilometer from work or shelling out 25 PLN for the ability to actually park near to my place of employment.

    All large cities have these problems I suppose but I do think that with the explosion of cars and new office buildings… the problem is going to get unbearable and stay that way for a long time until public transportation catches up or the city gives the finger to everyone bitching about how a car park will ruin their neighborhood OR how if you dig in the ground you’re bound to find a castle/church/historical thing of some kind. Of course no one wants a car park in their neighborhood… but parking on the sidewalks or illegally isn’t a solution, either. And yes, you’re going to find some chunk of wall or something but who actually cares? If it was important it would have been preserved in the first place. I live here and now and need to get to work and get home in a reasonable amount of time. If I can’t, I (and others who value their time) will go elsewhere and take those jobs with them.

  14. michael farris says:

    I’ve lived in a 70’s era osiedle and it wasn’t that bad. The upstairs neighbors could be loud but then there was the added bonus of the occasional soap opera scene being played out live from inside and then on the stairwell and a diabolical toddler named Arek! who liked to throw around bowling balls.

    Still, I’d rather live there than where a friend lived for a couple of years in a greener single family dwelling area (within city limits) with very bad access to the city (10 minute walk to the bus stop and about one bus per hour during rush times)unless you had a car and I’d really rather not drive in Poland given local driving ‘etiquette’ (ha! ha! ha!) .

    At present I live in a kind of mixed area – 2/3 70’s deski and bloki (high and low), some old kamienice and some single family dwellings and a few new kamienice (I’m in one of those) and I have no big complaints. Shopping and transport are both very easy and the great majority of residents are well-behaved (hint: when apartment hunting – places with a high percentage of military provided housing are generally more quiet and orderly than typical osiedles or picturesque pre-war buildings that often collect society’s dregs.

    The old commie era osiedles have their faults but they also have the advantage of being built with consideration given to issues like mass transit and local infrastructure. The western model (okay US model) is for developers to only worry about putting up housing product and letting someone else worry about transport and infrastructure (including things like schools, stores, churches and the like). This leads to nicer looking housing but lots of other difficulties and/or increased pressure for car ownership, not something to encourage given the probable long term reality of very expensive oil.

  15. Ewa says:

    In fact, as a mother of 12-years-old I’m not so happy with suburbs, and 70’s era osiedle is, really, better. My daughter, happily, is content with one friend, sometimes two, but for the child to have a nice _group_ of children to play, best is a nice, well-built osiedle. Four-five stories, big parks and places for children, a bit of road for bicycles or skates. I lived in such when I was a child, I’ve lived there when my daughter was from 5 to 11 years old, with 10 minutes to school and playground two stories under my window. Much better than suburbs, where you have either a bunch of eight-year-olds destroying your garden or plaintively asking if they can go to the only playground in the suburbs, much too far from home to be alone…

  16. ge'ez says:

    Ewa, but haven’t things changed in whatever city you live in since you were growing up?

    Perhaps then you could feel safe in the nearby park without your mother watching over you every minute. Is that so true today?

    Maybe so. But my guess is that a lot of these parks are covered with obscene grafitti and the group of kids there is not always so nice.

    By comparison, terrorist tomato thiefs don’t seem so threatening.

    I’m wondering how big organized sports is in the burbs in Poland these days. Are there soccer, er, football leagues of all sorts for both boys and girls? Here in the US, soccer has surpassed baseball for kids in terms of participation in all sorts of leagues. In “house” leagues, boys typically play with girls, even up through the teenage years. Higher levels of competition by gender — boys vs. boys and girls vs. girls — are found in “travel” leagues where parents have to drive their kids weekly from suburb to suburb to play, about 10-15 mile (sorry) trips. Even crazier are the “elite or premiere” teams that play in more distant cities 2-4 or even 6 hours by car every weekend, with hotel/motel stays often necessary.

    Gone forever are the days when I could go to the local field or park and play baseball sunup to sundown with my friends, choosing up teams for free with no paid umpires or parent coaches. It just doesn’t happen anymore. The only kids-only sports I see kids participating in these days are skateboarding, rollerblade street hockey, and basketball.

  17. island1 says:

    Jacek: I agree completely. I always really liked the way Warsaw was laid out–tremendously easy to wander around and through–and Kabaty just seems wrong somehow, it doesn’t work in the same way at all. They’re got something down there called ‘Little Venice’ as I recall, which is a stab in the right direction but I do remember it was full of expensive cafes and overpriced flower shops rather than anything useful.

  18. island1 says:

    me: Yes, that’s the kind of thing

  19. island1 says:

    ge’ez: Can’t really argue with you there, but it does seem to me it would be far better to grow up in the city rather than in Truman Show land or failing that in the actual countryside.

  20. island1 says:

    Brad: What do you mean it looks empty, it is empty. I’ve seen it. Nothing but bison and people plowing with their bare hands.

    Excellent anti-archeology rant by the way, sounds like a sore subject?

  21. island1 says:

    Ewa: Hi and thanks for commenting. You’re speaking from experience and I’m just ranting, but it seems we agree. I’m sure I’d rather grow up in a proper community rather than a suburbia land.

  22. island1: Yeah it is a sore subject, I suppose (anti-archeology) although I’m not anti-archeology. I’m more… anti-preserve-every-idiot-rock.*

    Honestly, in Krakow I’m not aware of ANY public underground garages. There are certainly no public (and by this I mean: not attached to a shopping mall) garages in the city center. What there is a LOT of are elderly Maluchs parked in perpetuity on the street with adverts on them pointing the way to some crappy restaurant or store. Illegally parked vehicles (double-parked, parked too near a bus/tram stop, parked in a no-parking zone, etc.). My favourite is right near where I work. The owner of a Chinese restaurant likes to park his POS Polonez next to the tram stop (illegally) and then raise the bonnet, as if it is having some sort of mechanical issue. I’ve seen it come and go like that a dozen times or more. Cars parked next to him are clamped – but not his. The cops that aren’t clamping his car have got to be terminally stupid though; the police station is not more than 150 meters away and the cops drive by it all the time. They just don’t give a rat’s ass which is SO odd considering that tickets out to be their bread and butter.

    I hate driving into the city center with the idea of parking my car there because it always ends up as some sort of treasure hunt through hell. Invariably if I want to be sure if parking in a legal spot it means parking far enough away from my actual destination (after having circled and looked around for ages) that I might as well have just taken the bus/tram. I’m not Polish enough to park any old place I please or I guess it wouldn’t bother me nearly as much.

    I’ve driven through a fair bit of Poland, in particular the south and middle bits. Never seen a lot of open spaces but I haven’t spent a lot of time in the E/NE part of the country. ‘Round these parts, though, open spaces are that half kilometer bit of undeveloped land between villages. Guess I need to take a drive towards Belarus. Maybe in the Autumn.

    * I’m all in favor of preserving something of actual shared historic value. Or something in an otherwise undevelopable area. Since Poland has been around for a good thousand years, though… ANYWHERE someone digs they are going to find something. So how did all the current stores, blocks and alcohol shops get built? Obviously they just dug up someone’s grave or old castle or whatever, said “that’s interesting” and moved on. Nowadays the “it’s historical!” argument is used when someone actually means to say, “WTF don’t you dare put an ugly, noisy parking garage anywhere NEAR my place of work/home/hangout spot. NIMBY, no sir!” When it’s a parking garage …which DO get proposed …and then shot down… it’s shot down by the gormless locals who have had their Polonez, Daewoo or Fiat parked in the same spot since before Poland joined the EU …or they don’t own a car in the first place.

    I wish the politicians would have the intestinal fortitude to tell ’em all to go piss into the wind and then have the necessary infrastructure built. PO’s the sort of party that would build that stuff but they don’t seem to like to tell anyone to piss off, no matter what sort of a-hole they’re being. Whereas PiS was happy to tell almost anyone to piss off so they could get back to their witch-hunting, German-baiting, Rydzyk-palm-greasing and other games of the corrupt.

    PS: I oughta guest write on Polondian; I could do a new rant every week. Wouldn’t that be fun.

  23. Kinuk says:


    Hey, I’m no fan of these new estates either. They’re just so…”M jak Milosc” and so nouveau riche and pretentious in many ways. And, yes, they’re empty of green, services and shops. And you can still hear when your neighbour farts a little too loud.

    Alternatives would be nice, but I despair thinking about possible commuter belts (Konstancin/Piaseczno anyone?).

    Me? I live in a 70s block, in Mokotow, but not in an osiedle. I love the city, I don’t miss not having a garden and my walls are nice and thick.

  24. me: I haven’t been to the first two, but I’ve visited – and hidden a geocache in – Bledow Desert. It’s an awesome place.

  25. simon says:

    You’re partly right about the 70s housing estates – most are nice and green, and the buildings well spaced. The problem is the blocks themselves – they’re generally not very user-friendly (concrete walls, lack of thermal insulation, cramped apartments, low ceilings), not to mention their level of upkeep.
    None of these drawbacks are permanent, but they are difficult – and expensive – to fix. Unfortunately in big cities most Poles have a choice between living in a crap commie block flat or a much nicer apartment in a crap estate. It’s really no surprise that most prefer the latter.

  26. Michael says:

    I live in Wlochy and the amount of “neauveau riche” flats that are sprouting up like weeds is amazing. Add to the fact that traffic there is already atrocious, I can only imagine what the traffic levels are going to reach when all of the new projects are even 50% complete. It’s terrifying. It already takes me almost an hour get to work now by bus, when on a Saturday or Sunday it takes me 20 minutes. It’s mind-boggling that they’re even being allowed to build all these new flats without planning accordingly with new roads, and better communication. And as for quality, my flat is about 10 years old, and already in need of repairs in certain areas. They’re being built quickly, but not with any regard for quality. The walls in my “new” flat are not straight either. But not to bitch too much, It still is “my” flat, and in pretty good condition. But the commute to work can kill me sometimes.

  27. scatts says:

    Brad, we need to talk about geocaching some time. I recently bought a new sat-nav gadget for car use but was sorely tempted by some of the hand-held versions as well. I then got diverted to geocache sites and I must say it looks like fun! An added dimension to a family day out at any rate.

    Simon, agreed. This recent development is out of control and there seems to be absolutely zero town/infrastructure planning being exercised whatsoever to deal with the consequences. Still, that means hard work and loads of expense, so should we expect more?

    Michael, “your” flat? :) Quality of many of the new blocks is diabolical but it’s back to what I said earlier – people keep buying them and there’s no other choice available….so….

  28. Michael says:

    Yes Scatts, “my” flat. Bought and paid for with no credit hanging over my head even!!! And it was bought exactly for the reasons you mentioned. I did the best I could with the money I had. And mostly it’s in pretty good shape. Just things are starting to flake when they shouldn’t be. But overall, I can’t even complain about the construction except for a few minor things. That and a lot of the walls aren’t exactly straight…but oh well. We all do the best we can with the money we have.

  29. Ewa says:

    Island, I very much like my house, with garden and everything. I don’t need (again, now) anything very close – my car is OK, my daughter enough grown up to be self-sufficient in going around my nice small town.

    Still, what I’m living now in is not this kind of suburb you are describing – I’m still in walking distance from the center of the town (if this town has any center, which is not really decided :->).

    Ge’ez, you are listening too much to the media, and not enough walking around in not-as-big cities. In fact, living for years in Kraków, I had never any problems, and my sleepy little Opole is now as safe (if not more) as it was in my childhood. Same for even smaller and sleepier Kędzierzyn, where my family is from and where I did move a year ago.

  30. ge'ez says:

    Well, the 5th floor residential apartment I stayed in Krakow just a few years back for two months in the summer not far from the Wisla Krakow stadium was noisy inside and out. Outside there were drunken students and older drunks singing and shouting obscenities until the wee hours of the morning. The nearby playground was covered with grafitti, most of it very not nice, and there were what seemed to me to be unsavory characters there from teen through thirty-something hanging out there at night. Most of the women there I know are very leery about walking in the alleys that go behind and between apartments during the evening.

    Of course, it wasn’t like that in all of Krakow.

  31. Steve Walker says:

    Nice Article

    Beat you too it!

    Property Development that is

    Hope you like it; this is the reality of New Polish homes. Our Architect is Polish and everything is taken from houses in the Warsaw area that have survived from the 1930’s.

    Bye Bye New American suburbs and welcome home to Poland

    With a little bit of desperate housewives thrown in

  32. Derek says:

    If you ask me it looks more like American suburbs than Warsaw from the 1930’s.
    And American suburbs is the last thing I would wanna see in Warsaw.

  33. […] off! yes, you too!”. It’s comforting to know that even when the designer can’t think of enclosures, life eliminates that engineering flaw and erects many a lock, stop and barrier. It’s […]

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