Today’s capitals of culture and cultural heritage all over the world face increasingly disruptive challenges, starting from overtourism, all the way to culture commercialisation and touristification. The list of potential impacts and outcomes includes the gradual migration of local inhabitants, long-standing services and traditional craftsmanship away from historic city centres, where supply and demand are largely driven by profit-making opportunities.

Cities and their Lifestyles

Whether we talk about the seemingly innocuous aspects of city life, such as the most popular cuisines available in restaurants or people’s favourite pastime activities, the last few decades, in particular, have been changing the way we interact with the cities we live in at an unprecedented pace. Quite naturally, the same applies to the way we communicate with one another, spend time together or build meaningful relationships.

In the age of mass tourism, cheap flights and popular television series attracting millions to „new destinations”, a city’s intrinsic ability to preserve its unique qualities and cultural identity is perhaps more important than ever before.

The experience of cities like Dubrovnik, Venice or Barcelona has shown that “too much popularity” gained at an uncontrolled pace can result in major damage to the very foundations of the already fragile relationship between #visitors and local #inhabitants, in just about every major tourist destination worldwide.

Contemporary cities are incredibly complex ecosystems, with ever more sophisticated networks of checks and balances. Hence, maintaining the right balance between all that is fast-paced and all that is slow-paced is of utmost importance, especially at a time when the transition from a „no-name destination” to a „superstar travel destination” can happen in next to no time.

In the so-called free market economies, city development is largely determined by market conditions, to a lesser extent by strategy documents drafted by city officials. As cities grow, confronting their historic identities with their contemporary drivers of change sooner or later becomes a necessity. It is at such crossroads, in particular, that the most fundamental questions need to be asked and answered.

Greenery at Hand

It is perhaps a little too obvious to recall in an article like this, but people who live in big cities usually appreciate having quick access to greenery, i.e. somewhere to catch a breath after a hectic week at work, take a walk, meet with friends or walk the dog.  The closer it is to where they are at any given point of time, the better. Hence, the growing popularity of the so-called pocket gardens, hidden in small courtyards, street corners or on rooftops. Unsurprisingly, a Google search result for the phrase („pocket garden”) yields as many as over 2 million results.

Likewise, as the experience of many cities worldwide has shown, in a sustainable city development model, greenery needs to be made an organic part of city growth, not isolated enclaves randomly left behind here and there. This is one of the many reasons why some cities are already implementing bold visions of bringing much more greenery back to the heart of urban activity. Hamburg is one of a few great examples of „thinking green” and incorporating greenery into the very fabric of urban development policy-making, not to mention London, whose ambitions go beyond what we do about greenery in urban aras, towards changing the underlying precepts of how we think about cities in the first place.

The Green Face of Kraków

Despite the many pressures of buzzing international business growth and unprecedented demand for new housing, Kraków is increasingly keen to explore all kinds of green innovations and long-term solutions. Planting trees and building new parks of different sizes has gained a new momentum over the last few years. Poland’s single biggest green-area development project will soon be implemented in the heart of the city, less than 3 km from Kraków’s iconic Wawel Hill. The place is called Zakrzówek and you can read more about it in this guide (much recommended!). Like so many hidden places in and around Kraków, it has a fascinating story to tell, one definitely worth exploring.

If you would like to know more about the city’s green statistics, you can start by watching this short film. Below, I have translated all of its statistics into English.

  • 47 parks (472 hectares)
  • 276 nature monuments
  • 5 nature reserves (48 hectares)
  • 3 landscape parks (4,753 hectares)
  • 3 “Natura 2000” Areas (384 hectares)
  • 7,23 hectares of greenery per 1000 inhabitants
  • 16% of total city area classified as “protected areas”
  • 17% of total city area classified as “open space reserves”
  • 7% of total city area classified as “forests” (1381 hectares)
  • 385 hectares of water (rivers/reservoirs)
  • 5533 hectares of “green areas”
  • 140 km of bike paths

Looking for perfect balance

If I were to identify a single quality that makes Kraków truly stand out, it would probably be its ability to balance the advantages of living in a modern, cultural-heritage capital (buzzing with international festivals and a great list of not-to-be-missed events), with the intimacy of a place where „slow life” and work-life balance is part of its identity. Not just on paper, in glossy reports, but in the very fabric of the city’s DNA.  Only next week, one of the biggest and most successful festivals in the city’s annual calendar is scheduled to start, attracting audiences from around the world to its many great concerts, workshops, meetings and even outdoor parties.

Genius loci

It’s always difficult to describe a city’s truly unique characteristics with words (often referred to as genius loci), so, in conclusion, let me share with you a few „moving images” instead. I have put together this short film in the last few weeks. Every single shot was recorded in the last 30 days.

Even though it’s only the beginning of May and the „tourist season” hasn’t even started in earnest, now itself you will hear dozens of languages spoken in just about every corner of the city, and I certainly don’t just mean one of world’s most famous Market Squares.

On the few warm days to date this year, the city feels exactly like in this film. If this kind of urban atmosphere is not worth waiting for, I don’t know what is.

 

#slowlife #greenery #greenpolicies #recreation #harmony #healthy #lifestyle #tourism #culturalheritage