Over 320 experts and representatives of cities and towns attended a seminar on 8 April, the meeting focused on efforts to update the National Urban Policy.

A year has passed since the Association of Polish Cities began inviting urban practitioners and experts to attend online Local Development Forum seminars forming part of the “Endogenic Potential Activation as a Condition of Small and Medium-sized City/Town Development in Poland” series. The meeting held on 8 April was something akin to a summary and review of topics raised in the course of aforesaid seminars: matters of economy, environment, self-government finance, housing, demography, public-private partnerships and supralocal collaboration.

In organising the National Urban Policy 2030 seminar, the Association of Polish Cities was driven by two objectives: inform cities and towns of the status quo of related works and invite them to join a multifaceted discussion concerning the Policy itself, making an effort to collect individual municipal postulates in consequence.

The National Urban Policy 2030 is a document describing the strategy of supporting urban development over the next 10 years, the works schedule spanning the years 2021-2022.

The current National Urban Policy was passed in 2015, the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy having initiated the Policy update project in 2019 during the National Urban Policy Congress in Kielce. Ever since, it has been working with assorted groups and communities to make the document a good fit for the ever-changing Polish needs and European Union requirements. An inter-ministerial team and expert groups have been working on the document, all efforts co‑ordinated by the Institute of Urban and Regional Development. The Association of Polish Cities has been part of all task force groups. Planned work outcomes include an updated National Urban Policy draft to be presented in June at the Urban Policy Congress in Katowice.

During the seminar, Daniel Baliński, deputy director of the Development Strategy Department at the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, presented assumptions to the updated National Urban Policy 2030 and further works regarding the document. Representatives of the Association and local governments – expert task force members – discussed progress in 6 areas: spatial development; the economy and labour market; urban transport and mobility; housing and social policy; the natural environment and adapting to climate change; and governance and public finance.

Local government representatives attending the meeting were given an opportunity to submit their reflections and concepts they believe ought to be made part of the National Urban Policy. This gave rise to an idea for the Policy to emphasise positive pioneer urban experience regarding e.g. local energy markets or a hydrogen-based economy. The topic of preparing cities and towns for the process of inviting new groups of local residents was raised as well. Efforts should be made to e.g. improve the housing sector’s response to foreign nationals interested in living and working in Polish municipalities. It was further declared that cities and towns would require greater legislative autonomy conducive to project delivery, and greater flexibility of legal solutions to help adjust them to the size and specificity of municipal environments.

Public transport was another challenge seminar participants believe ought to be reflected in the updated National Urban Policy. How can local residents be re-encouraged to use public transport in post-pandemic times in light of the fact that urban environments are not well-suited to absorbing a higher number of private vehicles? The air quality aspect is another matter: air quality will improve only if a considerably higher number of residents make the switch to public transport or bicycles. Attendants referenced the 15-Minute City concept. Notably, Stockholm is already working on a 1‑Minute City project.

Mayor of Piła Piotr Głowski pointed to the changed reality urban municipalities will be facing in the wake of the pandemic. Threats evolving in largest cities (office space vacancies, for example) can become an opportunity for smaller cities and towns. Piła’s mayor believes that the Green City concept remains the single largest long-term challenge we will be facing. “It is not only about greenery,” he said. “In order for a city to morph into a 15-minute structure, everything has to begin with spatial planning. Legislation is another component: today, we do not have a law allowing hydrogen storage or transportation.”

It goes without saying that essential slogans for the immediate future include climate neutrality, urban energy self-sufficiency, and adapting to climate change. “We cities and towns are responsible for making our municipal services and urban transport ‘green’, for retaining rather than discharging water into rivers, for eliminating urban heat islands,” the mayor of Piła remarked. He further appealed for the new National Urban Policy to secure equal opportunities for all cities and towns in terms of acquiring new external sources of funding urban projects.

It is noteworthy that the updated National Urban Policy includes five crucial objectives. These include: developing cities and towns accessible and friendly to all residents; improving urban competitiveness and economic attractiveness; adapting cities and towns to climate change and using nature-based solutions; digital technologies and preventing negative outcomes of sub-urbanisation; and reuse of urban space.

The National Urban Policy seminar is one of the activities the Association of Polish Cities engages in with intent to effectively include the urban voice as a contribution to document-related works.