In general terms, it is difficult to identify one specific aspect of urban planning that would be the most important. The art of building cities – urban planning – is one of the most interdisciplinary branches of science.
After all, spatial management takes into account an incredible number of aspects, such as economic, financial, functional, infrastructural, cultural, sociological and social ones, as well as those connected with transportation, ownership or environmental protection. All these should be taken into account in a way that is equally intense, regardless of dynamically changing external and internal development conditions, political turmoil and inevitable but somehow justified conflicts connected with this “branch”, raised by various entities, groups and lobbies – including conflicts of private and public interest, often manifested in a very radical way. Each city has its own specificity, and each specific fragment of city space is characterised by various potentials and problems – hence each local spatial development plan is a different kind of unique and very complicated “puzzle”.
In terms of the so-called “urban planning practice”, we are obliged to respond to current development needs by respecting the principles of sustainable development, basing on local traditions, values and potentials, as well as applying contemporary ideas, priorities and guidelines for urban design. Economic development must be accompanied by raising the quality of broadly-understood (natural and cultural) environment, care for resources for future generations, as well as social cohesion and justice – the modern city must be an egalitarian organism. As far as urban structure is concerned, this means: compactness, high population density, complete and comfortable technical and social infrastructure, and that related to transportation and services, as well as maximum multifunctionality (mixed land use) and creation of social mix.
One more principle should be added to all these universal and important ones, which is definitely raised too rarely, i.e. the city should be, above all, BEAUTIFUL as a whole (structure, profile) and in all its parts. Beauty is not a concept identical to that of “spatial order” regulated by our law, which should be simply considered as “orderliness”; beauty is something more ... Beauty is not measurable, it is an elusive and creative element which seems to be present in original decisions embedded in local cultural traditions, rejecting discredited modernist urbanism and referring to traditional urban planning of a “compact and dense” city (neo-traditionalism – “newurbanism”). And here is a huge role of the so-called “urban design”, a landscape composition of the system of public spaces as a whole and shaping the strings and sequences of urban interiors whose walls are formed by the fronts and facades of buildings.
This three-dimensional system, proportions and equipment of urban public spaces (available for ever yone) determine the visual reception of the city. Beauty is the opposite of unification, it is strongly associated with people’s sense of well-being, often forgotten or downplayed by us – especially when money comes into play. The beauty of space also has an enormous and underestimated economic dimension.
It should be mentioned that urban planning is only one of the tools used to achieve the objectives of the superior local government document, i.e. a development strategy – planning is therefore as effective as it allows to achieve specific objectives set out in this strategy.
The greatest difficulty in urban planning is to obtain a social consensus for proposed solutions. Not only land owners have the right to take an active part in the procedure of drawing up local spatial development plans for a given area, but according to our law, just everyone. Urban planning is, by definition, a very conflicting matter, and the reconciliation of numerous, usually conflicting, particular interests and postulates is extremely difficult. Achieving full consent in this respect is practically impossible; during many years of my practice as an urban planner, I do not recall any case where a project of local spatial development plan achieved full, one-hundred percent, social acceptance.
Therefore, the role of urban planner is, apart from designing original structures being correct in terms of engineering, as well as functionally and spatially attractive – conducting the entire long- -term urban planning process in such a way that the above-mentioned and often conflicting interests and postulates are reconciled as much as possible, without losing the quality of solutions. Apart from the issues of quality of the so-called “urban planning practice”, I think that the aspect of broadly- -understood social consensus for developing the urban space is the most important and the most difficult one in the whole process.
In this aspect, a very efficient and intense exchange of information among all stakeholders of spatial development plans during their preparation is of key importance. Year by year, we intensify the process of social consultations, using various forms of communication; in order to efficiently exchange information in Kielce, we have created an internet consulting platform (www.idea.kielce.eu), where we submit for consultations all current projects in the next stages of their preparation – it is important that local residents have a sense of real co-creation of the city. We also take care for the city councillors (to whom final decisions belong) to be kept informed in detail about the course of work at each stage of the spatial development procedure.
Urban planning in Kielce is approached in a very pragmatic way. The main objective is focused on qualitative development of the city as a whole, use of reserves and opportunities for change in already urbanised areas (equipped with infrastructure) and post-industrial areas which are currently changing their functions. We have selected with careful consideration new investment areas for development for the next several years, choosing them in such a way that expenditures for supplementing infrastructure are relatively low in relation to the planned increase in urban tissue. While implementing the principle of sustainable development, we make sure that the structure of urbanised areas of the city remains compact and is used intensively. We also strive to ensure that individual parts of the city have a maximally multifunctional character. Multifunctionality of areas at the local level seriously reduces the need for migration (internal transportation loads), creates the desired diversity of space use and its landscape, as well as creates very flexible conditions for investors.
Over the last years, about 50 local spatial development plans have entered into force, ensuring the development of all possible functions for the near future. In Kielce, there is one City Hall’s unit which is responsible for the processes of development strategy, economic stimulation, revitalisation, urban planning, and construction administration, i.e. Department of City Development and Revitalisation; its structure also includes Investor Assistance Centre. It allows efficient and quick undertaking of consistent decisions at many levels, and simultaneously, effective support for many investments, regardless of their nature. In 2015, Kielce achieved the third place in the nationwide ranking of efficiency of construction administration, awarded by the Polish Association of Developers.
We started a new opening in spatial management in Kielce from building a solid base for these processes – we have created one of the best urban spatial information systems in Poland, which is consistently expanded with new thematic layers and data sets. This system greatly facilitates and accelerates urban planning considerations – a large part of this data (including urban planning) is publicly available via the local geoportal (www.gis.kielce.eu), and thus constitutes an excellent information platform for residents and investors.
Apart from drawing up local spatial development plans, more and more operational and variant urban planning conceptions for selected areas of the city are being prepared – without launching formal urban planning procedures (i.e. resolutions on drawing up a local spatial development plan). Having such thoroughly prepared urban planning conceptions will allow the so-called “quick response” in case there will be a real need for drawing up a local spatial development plan. One such a pre-emptive study is the conception of developing the north-western part of the city, which in the coming years will most likely be the subject of intense urbanisation in connection with the planned investments for the new streets of the main technical class. We are very focused on improving the quality of public urban space by implementing consistently projects of individual urban interiors.
In Kielce, we do not forget about striving for this beauty – we inherited from the previous generations a city of extraordinary beauty, in internal and external landscape shots, where the cultural landscape permeates with the attractive natural landscape with high-quality natural assets. Natural and landscape assets create the quality of life in the city – this value, along with a very efficient internal transportation system, are among our advantages in competitive conditions of urban centres.