The suburbs of Poland are chaos theory applied to residential development. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to explain what has transpired other than to assume it has been an out of control free-for-all, first come first serve and do what the hell you like. So astounded was I by this mess that I recently visited a town planning department cunningly disguised as a guy who wants to build something. Here is the transcript of our meeting:
Me – “Good afternoon to you, fine urząd lady. I’d like to build a house in Nowa Dupa, or maybe a scrap yard for old car parts I’m not sure yet, where do I apply for permission?”
Urząd lady – “Permission?”
Me – “Yes. Take a look at the zoning plan perhaps?”
Urząd lady – “Zoning plan? Nowa Dupa?”
Me – “Yes. Well, perhaps you have a booklet explaining how developments in that area should be put together? Your future plans for infrastructure projects, transport, utility connections and so on? Perhaps some guidelines on architectural style, appropriate heights, colours, density of development, that sort of thing?”
Urząd lady – “Infrastructure? Transport? Utilities? Architecture? The director’s a very busy man, an important person. He doesn’t have time for things like that.”
Me – “Okay, let’s put it this way. I’ve bought a plot at the corner of ulica Kurcza and ulica Pieczony here (shows map) and I’m not sure whether it’s best to build a house there or a scrap yard. You know, the kind of place with mountains of old car parts, Rottweilers running around and workers with serious cases of bum crack exposure?“
Urząd lady – “It’s more than my job’s worth to comment on things like that. That’s your problem. Nothing to do with me.”
Me – “So you don’t care what I do then?”
Urząd lady – “Far from it!! I need you to sign this paper and buy a 60 grosz stamp from my friend over there. Then you can bugger off because it’s nearly 15:00 and we’re closing. Oh, and if you do build anything here’s the number to my cousin. He’s an expert carpenter, bricklayer, electrician and road builder who installs satellite dishes in his spare time.”
No surprise then that we are where we are. In some cases you see land that is perfectly situated for development just standing idle, used for absolutely bugger all while elsewhere new housing estates are springing up on tiny plots that used to be someone’s vegetable patch.
Polish “developers” need little encouragement beyond a narrow muddy track leading absolutely nowhere, preferably into the middle of a field of crops or a forest. Follow this with a casual discussion in the bar and you have the beginnings of ‘Tomasz Trump IV’.
TT IV – “No, jak tam, stary!”
MATE – “Soohigh, dude! Moj kumpel, Marek, kupalowałesz fajne teren agricultoraliczny na tam ten pole blisko moja babcia. Wiesz! On ma tylko 1,500 metre quadratowy i budowaliśmyczjyzny 58 domki. Bliżniaki, oczywiszcze. Mały kurdupoły domki ale ludzie bardzo lubi tego domki i on sprzedawały sie jak ciepłe bułeczki! Teraz on ma Range Rowera, wakacja na Bali i wszystki najlepsze sprzet AGD, nawet expres do kawy!”
TT IV – “Kurde! Ja tesz chce expres do kawy. Znam pole ktory ma malutki pierdolowy droga. Do roboty!”
Such are the beginnings and before you can say “O co chodzi?” something looking for all the world like a set for Coronation Street has appeared in the centre of a very large field somewhere on the edge of Łomianki. Surrounded by nothing but crops, served by only a mud track, the electrical supply provided by a set of jump leads hooked onto a nearby overhead line. Like a powerful lighthouse it flashes its message to all passers by “Look what a fellow Pole did. He got rich and now drives a Range Rowera. And you…..loser??!”
This nervous tension cannot last very long and so it is that Pan Masło, a middle manager in an international firm who seems to have far more money that his position would suggest, steps in and builds his 350 m2 mansion on an adjacent plot. The architecture doesn’t match, the colours don’t match, the scale is all wrong and it doesn’t line up with Coronation Street….but who cares.
Pan Masło’s place
More time goes by. The mud track gets worse and worse but as nobody has yet taken ownership of it, nothing is done to improve it beyond throwing more sand into the pot-holes. Another ‘developer’ builds a second Coronation Street not quite the same as the first and going off at a slight angle in the wrong direction. A few more mansions go up. There are problems with the water supply, sewage and electricity but they muddle through. The noise of 20 dogs barking in the night is a bit annoying but one must have a security system out in the sticks.
As a the population builds someone decides to open a sklep spożywczy in their garage with a 24hr alcohol license. Before long this becomes a popular local hangout and most missing husbands can be found there. No Polish settlement is truly kosher without a “Skup Palet” establishment, so someone opens one of those, also 24hr of course because you never know when you’re going to need a pallet! Around the same time all the Dell Boy Trotter types turn up and start opening Tyre Shops and Air Conditioning workshops, these being mixed in with the housing just to give the place that authentic Polish suburb feel.
Dell Boy’s Klima shop
The throbbing commercial heart of this fledgling community is further enhanced by a few residents opening up internet business using their home address. One selling AGD and the other baby goods imported from Italy. This greatly increases the traffic and the pressure on the roads but does please Skup Palet Man who experiences a 30% jump in trade. Urged on by the success of Skup Palet Man, Wiklina Lady parks her caravan on the corner and neatly arranges her woven baskets, rocking-chairs and garden ornaments. Completing the full set of required services, someone opens a bicycle repair shop which doubles as a place to buy ski equipment in the winter months.
An enterprising newcomer notices that there’s a spare 400 m2 on the corner that’s not used for anything more than a dog toilet so he builds a block comprising of 24 apartments, each with 50 m2 and one underground parking space. He makes a deal with a bank to offer 130% mortgages denominated in Icelandic Kronur, which proves a popular (but ultimately doomed) option. Everyone has two cars so they park the other one on the side of the mud track and then complain about the conditions to anyone that will listen.
By now the community will have achieved the regulatory target of 15% of developments that will never be properly completed, the owners having spent 90% of their budget on 10% of the items of work and then realised (too late) how deep their hand is in the potty.
This busy suburb is now being noticed and so three Ukrainian hookers wearing luminous hot-pants have taken to hanging around in the bushes nearby. A guy from Katowice opens a mountain style karczma on the side of the mud track, which proves to be popular with the locals at the weekend especially in the winter when an enterprising local farmer runs ‘kulig‘ from the village to the karczma. On the back of the karczma traffic, assorted locals set up shop by the side of the road selling jars of hand-picked mushrooms neatly displayed on the top of an upturned plastic crate. In the summer you can buy apples and cherries. The concentration of sweet teeth finally fuels the opening of two cake shops, one with permanent queues for the ice-cream in spring and summer.
And so it goes on…… Darwin would have called it evolution but with luck we won’t have to suffer a 1,000-page book by Richard Dawkins as I don’t think he knows where Poland is. It’s all way too Catholic for him over here anyway!