Mayors of Cities and Towns on Bold Talks with the Central Government
Problems and challenges faced by cities and towns and urban representatives’ expectations of the National Urban Policy were examined by municipal mayors during a press briefing at the shared Cities’ and Towns’ Stand in the URBAN EXPO zone.

On Tuesday, 28 June, the National Urban Policy will be presented to the General Assembly of the Association of Polish Cities and Board of the Union of Polish Metropolises. “If not actually implemented, it will become no more than a pretty paper”, said Andrzej Porawski, Executive Director of the Office of the Association of Polish Cities, during the briefing. “We intend to make tomorrow’s meeting the beginning of our talks with the government concerning Policy implementation.”

The briefing was attended by mayor of Ełk and Board Member of the Association of Polish Cities Tomasz Andrukiewicz, who said, “Ełk is lucky enough to have a growing local population. Yet we are rather small in terms of area, which produces specific challenges associated with space shortages. Ełk is located in the Masurian Lake District, which means we care for the climate, and the implementation of environmental protection, water protection and noise protection instruments will be of huge importance to us in the National Urban Policy context.”

The city’s other significant challenges include immigration, mobility and electromobility issues.

“While the National Urban Policy has been drafted in collaboration between the central and local governments and is a high-quality document, today we know that what we urgently need are tools and instruments, and – primarily – funding sources,” said the mayor of Ełk. “We are not convinced whether the latter can be found any time soon, and we do have our expectations of public funding and education financing. We need them for our cities and towns to be able to develop sustainably.”

Mayor of Gdańsk Aleksandra Dulkiewicz said, “Cities and towns are facing multiple challenges today. Regardless of whether large, medium-sized, or metropolises, we have recently found out to what extent we can all be affected by global events.” Other issues Ms. Dulkiewicz showcased as significant included climate challenges, and the outcomes of urban depopulation and ageing. She further mentioned urban financial standing, quoting Personal Income Tax revenue statistics published this past Friday by the Ministry of Finance. Over the past 5 months, the state budget has recorded a year-on-year increase of nearly 14% in the category, whereas Gdańsk’s Personal Income Tax revenue for the same period dropped by 6%. “Prices are on the rise to the same tune everywhere, be it Gdańsk, Ełk or Hrubieszów,” she said. “Today, we have to be courageous in sitting down at the table and discussing local government funding, not least because tasks included in the National Urban Policy will have to be financed by local governments as well.”

Mayor of Hrubieszów Marta Majewska pointed out that her town with a population of 18,000 has recently received over 70,000 transit refugees from Ukraine. The town was by no means ready for such events. “Regardless of whether governing an agglomeration, large city or small municipality, we are all experiencing similar global issues; Hrubieszów is additionally affected by problems specific to small towns only,” the mayor said, mentioning agricultural land reclassification (which makes attracting investors more difficult) and problems associated with the close proximity of so-called bagel municipalities (moniker given to rural municipalities whose seats are located in towns or cities beyond their administrative borders).

Deputy mayor of Wrocław Jakub Mazur called attention to the fact that in Polish cities and towns, their residents and local governments are well-nigh solely responsible for any liability tying in with new arrivals. Wrocław is currently host to a total of 200,000 Ukrainians who had arrived in the city before and in the wake of the war, the number including 50,000 children. The condition gives rise to mobility, housing and educational problems. Wrocław’s erstwhile entire educational system accommodated 80,000 children. Consequently, the city will have to expand it by over 50% in a matter of months. “We need several dozen schools and several thousand teachers. Such are the challenges faced by mayors today. We are actually in the process of developing new cities and towns with a completely new list of responsibilities.” Mr. Mazur pointed out that Wrocław and other large cities have been waiting for the so-called Metropolitan Law to be passed for years.

Secretary of the City of Katowice Maciej Stachura emphasized that regardless of the multiple differences between individual local governments, municipal representatives are capable of speaking out in a single, united voice. While parliamentary halls are continually in the throes of dispute and conflict, the local government community is entirely different. He also briefly appealed to those in authority: “We local government people know how to do our job, so please let us take action and give us tools to make it possible.”

Deputy director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities spoke during the briefing as well, the Ukrainian Association having been invited by the Association of Polish Cities and Union of Polish Metropolises to co-host the shared Cities’ and Town’s Stand.