Cities Accessible to Everyone – Local Development Forum seminar report
Urban accessibility was the theme of the 34th Local Development Forum seminar held as part of a series centred around endogenic potentials of small and medium-sized cities and towns.

This meeting focused on the key development potential – local residents.

Organised by the Association of Polish Cities in collaboration with the city of Stalowa Wola on 25 May, the seminar was held in hybrid format: on location at the Museum of the Central Industrial District, and online for attendants from throughout Poland. The choice of the Museum as a venue was not left to chance, its intent to showcase collection artefacts and provide information to visitors as well as to do so in a form and manner accessible to anyone concerned: persons with disabilities, senior citizens, mothers with children.

As event organiser, the Association of Polish Cities decided to showcase the immense potential we all carry as residents of Polish cities and towns. Consequently, owing to video footage, presentations, and interventions by persons gathered directly at the Museum, seminar attendants could visit over a dozen towns and cities, learning about their experience, solutions applied, and the philosophy of local governments to whom accessibility issues are key in any action taken. The seminar agenda included presentations on good practices in implementing architectural, digital and language accessibility, as well as that associated with mindset in cities, official authorities, and institutions of culture.

Progressive local governments ought to interpret accessibility in terms as broad as reasonably possible: the issue ties in with more than just public institution accessibility from the vantage point of a person with a disability. It is also about the need to secure accessibility to all residents across all areas of public life, regardless of age, background, gender or wealth status,” Minister Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak told seminar participants. “Campaigns for accessibility help promote the culture of openness, making it a reality for persons with disabilities as well as for all local residents”.

“Accessibility defined as participation has to be secured for all residents: once we provide participation-friendly conditions to all, local residents will join urban life”, added Executive Director of the Association of Polish Cities Andrzej Porawski. He further pointed out that residents of well-managed cities and towns frequently claim they no longer have to engage, as elected officials are governing their town very well. “We have to attract such residents as well,” Andrzej Porawski said. “We can only do that if participation methods we invite them to join are friendly and attractive”.

In goes without saying that Gdynia is such a well-governed city. Accessibility is not discussed there because it is fashionable to do so, or because funds have been provided to introduce “accessibility-fostering” solutions. Gdynia speaks of accessibility because such is the local residents’ nature, and the issue is close to their hearts: Gdynia is a city of sea and dreams. Here, anyone can be happy and follow personal passions.

“Architectural and communication accessibility is obvious to us. This is why we can live together rather than next to each other”, said President of Gdynia Wojciech Szczurek.-“Gdynia is friendly owing to the local accessibility policy – but also thanks to its hospitality and openness”.

The Local Development Forum seminar host city, Stalowa Wola is delivering one of the twenty-nine comprehensive “Local Development” Programme projects: “Model Solutions to Difficult Challenges. Stalowa Wola’s Local and Institutional Development Plan”. Activities assumed as part of the project include a number of accessibility-related tasks. Of all the institutions presented at the seminar, the Museum of the Central Industrial District and the Senior Citizens’ Activity Centre in Stalowa Wola were given particular attention, the latter found enchanting by all attendants owing to its openness to diverse senior citizens’ needs.

It is noteworthy that the series of Local Development Forum seminars is delivered as part of the “Local Development” Programme implemented by the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy within the framework of the 3rd edition of Norway and European Economic Area Grants.