City and Power – Postmodern Urban Spaces in Contemporary Poland

by Katarzyna Kajdanek (Volume editor) Igor Pietraszewski (Volume editor) Jacek Pluta (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 160 Pages


This book is an empirical study of a central European city focused on the political process. The authors use the example of the city of Wroclaw to present a condition of the urban public sphere in the context of local governance. Contemporary specificity of the public sphere is a result of a long process of system transformation in this part of Europe as well as of the impact new global challenges have had on the political process in self-governmental institutions. The book presents the practice of governance as a form of the political in both institutional and civic spheres of the city. The cases provided (related to politics of memory, the symbolic, sports, subcultures and urban movements) show how circulations of governance practices are created and how they influence the institutional borders of the political.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface: Wrocław, a City of Success? (Katarzyna Kajdanek / Jacek Pluta / Igor Pietraszewski)
  • The Power over Collective Memory (Barbara Pabjan)
  • To Leave a Trace on Urban Walls: Youth Cultures in the Third Circulation of Memory in the City (Grzegorz Kozdraś)
  • Transformation of Architectural Space in Wrocław (Iwona Borowik)
  • Bike Power: Emergence of the Cycling Movement in the Urban Public Sphere (Katarzyna Kajdanek / Jacek Pluta)
  • Artists and Power in the Field of (Subsidized) Urban Culture (Igor Pietraszewski)
  • The Football Paradigm in Wrocław Urban Policy: the Municipalisation of Śląsk Wrocław (Mateusz Błaszczyk)
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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Katarzyna Kajdanek, Jacek Pluta & Igor Pietraszewski

Preface: Wrocław, a City of Success?

The idea of writing an anthology of texts devoted to Wrocław – a large city in south-west Poland – emerged as a result of a longer process. Its main subject – the nature of social transition in Poland from the perspective of local politics – stemmed from observations of urban movements that are now on the increase. By positioning themselves in opposition to the local government, urban movements have become an important player in the local public sphere. The local government elections in 2014, in which urban movements in Poland achieved the best results in their history, demonstrated the political significance of this process. In many big cities, long-standing mayors lost or, as in Wrocław, won only in the second ballot and with great difficulty1. This situation was only partly rooted in voter apathy and a jaded approach from the incumbents. Most of all, it was related to the dynamic of the social changes that accompany the current Polish political transition.

In the initial period of the transition (from 1989 to the beginning of the 21st century) the most crucial problems for the authorities were related to the construction of a new political, economic and social order. Solving these problems was necessary to overcome developmental delays. On a local level, it was necessary to establish democratic rules in the form of self-government. It is important to note that the construction of self-governmental order in Poland was clearly divided into two stages. The first stage began in 1990, when territorial self-government was restored at gmina (municipality) level. The second level of local and regional self-government (counties, Polish: powiat) with both self-governing bodies and a structure representing the state administration (voivodships, Polish: województwo) was established in 1998 and became operational as of 1 January 1999. Between 1989 and 2004 the narrative about Polish towns and their problems focused on economic transition, particularly the shift from an industrial to a service sector, as well as social problems such as unemployment. This narrative was accompanied by a quite universal political discourse that referred to historical heritage, which was related to the need to build an attractive image of Polish cities in Europe. However, somewhere around 2014, a change could be observed in these narratives. Problems ← 7 | 8 → related to the political, economic and social transition were gradually giving way to new challenges, rooted in global economic processes and cultural changes.

The processes of reflective monitoring of the public sphere were gradually forcing the local authorities to modify their narrative. This alteration can be described as the change of the political,2 i.e. a narrative method that introduces locality in place of statehood. At first glance, this change seemed attractive to local politicians who like to emphasise the increasing role of cities and their autonomy in a globalised world. On the other hand, the discussed changes may also be unfavourable to the local authorities, as the reflexivity of the public sphere undermines their authority and their narrative. As a result, the public sphere is revitalised as a space of articulation for local advocacy groups who object to the narrative and activities of the authorities. All these phenomena display the changing rules of the public sphere: a process in which power is being gradually distributed among different actors of the public sphere.

This book discusses events that are direct or indirect examples of the political in the urban public sphere; they involve relations between the local authorities, other local actors and the ordinary citizens. To offer a broader context for these analyses, we will now provide a short profile of Wrocław.

Wrocław, a city with a population of 636,000, has been undergoing a process of transition since 1989 that is typical for all cities in Poland, that is, from a socialist city characterised by:

no self-government on a local level;

a limited urban public sphere, controlled by the central government;

limited economy based on industrial production;

dysfunctional and often degraded public space, unsuited to citizens’ requirements concerning the quality of life;

to a post-industrial city, in which:

local governments are autonomous from the central government;

in addition to production, consumption has an important role in the city’s economy; as a result, the urban system of opportunities and satisfaction of needs develops, particularly in the sphere of leisure;

the logic of growth is increasingly based on competition for resources on a national and global level; ← 8 | 9 →

with the increasing potential for development of urban advocacy groups, the importance of quality of life issues related to urban resources is also growing;

the public sphere becomes important as a moderator of urban life.

The post-Fordist model of urban development in developed countries, widely discussed by researchers, emphasised that cities are subject to macrostructural conditions (Błaszczyk 2015; Castells 1989, 2011), which leads to predictable and inevitable consequences (demographic, economic, social and cultural). On the other hand, many researchers share a view that postmodern cities are important centres for moderating social-economic processes, which, when used by local politicians and businesses, can bring them considerable profits (Florida 2005). However, there are also critical voices about negative consequences of development processes in cities that are based on unsustainable consumption (Zukin 1993, 1998, 2003; Clark et. al. 2003), financial speculation and domination of neoliberal ideology, which lead to social destruction (Harvey 2008).

Regardless of the debate about the uncertain future of cities, in the case of Wrocław the consequences of changes seem positive. For example, Wrocław was ranked 87th of 141 world cities in Mercer’s Quality of Life Index 2016 Mid-Year, ahead of Milan (88th), Saint Petersburg (119th) or Beijing (128th) and with only two Polish cities ahead of it: Warsaw (72nd) and Cracow (84th).3

Thanks to a positive net internal migration rate, the population in Wrocław remains constant despite the negative demographic processes observed in other Polish cities. Over the past years, unemployment has significantly decreased and it is now below 3%, making the city an attractive labour market in the region as well as on a national scale. A new phenomenon is a mass influx of migrants from Ukraine. In 2006, 38,000 work permits were issued (Karabon and Karabon 2016: 4). The majority of employees work in the following sectors: industry, trade, education, healthcare, administration, science, insurance, information and communication. In 2012, the GDP per capita in Wrocław was equivalent to 155.2% of Poland’s average.4 The GDP growth between 2004 and 2012 in Wrocław was 45%, which was the second best in Poland (after Rzeszów). Poland’s big cities average at 34%.5


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Urban sociology Social change Urban policy Politics of memory Youth subcultures Post-socialist architecture
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018., 159 pp., 12 fig. b/w, 10 tables

Biographical notes

Katarzyna Kajdanek (Volume editor) Igor Pietraszewski (Volume editor) Jacek Pluta (Volume editor)

Katarzyna Kajdanek is an Associate Professor at the University of Wroclaw. Her main research interest is the process of urbanisation, urban culture and rural studies. Igor Pietraszewski received a PhD from the Institute of Sociology at the University of Wrocław. His main research interest is the sociology of culture, music and memory. Jacek Pluta received a PhD from the Institute of Sociology at the University of Wroclaw. His main research interest is urban development, sociology of the public sphere and sociology of culture.


Title: City and Power – Postmodern Urban Spaces in Contemporary Poland
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162 pages