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Overview

Located in the north-western corner of Poland, in close proximity to Germany, the Oder river valley and surrounded by picturesque moraine hills, Szczecin has recently become a popular tourist destination. It is also a shopping hub for visitors from the surrounding communes on both sides of the Polish-German border.

Photo on the right, Park Kasprowicza funded by Johannes Quistorp in 1990.

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The city currently undergoes major architectural changes following a period of post-cold-war stagnation. It also claims to have become, or perhaps planning to become a new garden city. But is it really putting the ideas of a sustainable city in practice?

The official town development plan favoured by the local government is 'Szczecin Floating Garden 2050' launched in 2008 by the president Piotr Krzystek who is closely linked to the Catholic church. Although this name is promoted by majority of local events and developments, it is rather limited to the geographic settings, or perhaps the original geological character of the islands in the Lower Oder valley, i.e. a couple metre-thick organic deposits forming large islands which virtually float in water. Apart from the plan to gradually regenerate some of postindustrial areas in the river branches, 'Floating Garden' does not stand for any major building projects. It also neither applies any traditional concept of garden city design, like for example that in Goiânia, nor it matches in scale the modern garden city realizations such as those known from Singapore or some parts of China.

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The recent rapid expansion has mainly been focused on housing as well as on road and leisure infrastructure paid mostly from the local budget, European funds and by small private investors. Nevertheless, new green zones and pedestrian streets with coffee shops and restaurants have been created and enlarged. There is an abundance of healthy lifestyle events initiated by groups and non-govermental organizations. Also traffic has been reduced in the town centre and the network of cycling paths increases every year.

Still, although this 400-thousand-citizen town is richly endowed in natural settings, their potential is not even partly taken advantage of. Szczecin boasts of the high proportion of green areas. However, there is a lack of new sustainable projects as well as green developments such as new parks. Almost all parks are inherited from the beginning of 20th century. Allotments - sometimes converted into informal housing estates - are still citizen's favourite open-air spent time. Even the recently started project of the Biosphere Park at Syrenie Stawy is an attempt to reinstate the botanic garden which existed here from 1926. There is also scarcity of green energy projects such as the low-emission Poseidon Centre near Brama Portowa entirely relying on geothermal heat pumps and solar panels as well as using rain water for its facilities.

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The city planning policy focuses on the return to concepts from before 1945, when the town belonged to Germany, and on incorporating new modern developments to bridge the architectural gap between old historical buildings and those from the communist era. Almost all of the most important tourist attractions, such as Wały Chrobrgo (Hakenterrasse), date back to the German times. WW2 bombing cleared large parts of the old town, creating space for new realizations, while a small proportion of the buildings then destroyed were reconstructed in the recent decades based on old plans and historical photos. The suburbs of Szczecin consist of villages, which were incorporated into the town, extended with large new housing zones as well as large industrial warehouses which now stretch along main roads. The overall architectural impression, when traveling across the town, is eclectic if not random.

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Following ideas set in the 1960s, the public housing, or rather communal flats are still located in the old historical town centre. This area is associated with many social problems instead of being the pride of city. Careful landscape design can change lives. It can attract people to migrate and stay. The local governors and the planning department are well aware of this, however their ideas for green development are generic and decisions are often left to developers and land owner, who of course tailor their designs to their commercial needs.

In contrast private and community green projects are almost inexistent or on microscale. At the moment, Szczecin remains far behind cities like Warsaw. The situation possibly could improve large private investments with good focus on sustainable policy, such as Hot Spring Bay at the Dąbie lake. However, long time will probably pass before such investors appear.

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