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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 7, 2008
The £ód¼ Voice
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City of Promise
May 7, 2008   
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Jerzy Kropiwnicki, mayor of £ód¼, speaks with Maria Sondej and Urszula Imienińska.

In the 19th century, £ód¼ was a vibrant industrial center and a promised land for many people, as depicted by Polish Nobel Prize-winning writer W³adys³aw Reymont in his novel The Promised Land. Does £ód¼ aspire to regain this status today?
As in the 19th century, £ód¼ is again developing fast economically. I take great satisfaction in this because when I was first taking over as mayor in 2002, probably the boldest dream here was to "attach" £ód¼ to Warsaw. £ód¼ residents wanted to find work and entertainment in Warsaw and to use £ód¼ only as a bedroom community.

Some time later-before the train route between £ód¼ and Warsaw began to be modernized and trains traveled faster than at the moment-many Varsovians started to come to £ód¼ looking for entertainment, and I considered that to be the first good sign.

Some very attractive investment projects appeared in £ód¼ in recent years. They were attractive because they not only provided jobs, but also constituted a change in quality: £ód¼ was becoming a city of new technology. That is why I asked that a stone be erected in the £ód¼ City Hall courtyard with a plaque showing the dates when Philips and Dell came to £ód¼, because I guess that was when it all started. And it does not matter whether these companies will be here "forever." Just their decision to invest here was a psychological breakthrough.

Is the fact that Hilton has decided to build a hotel in £ód¼ also significant?
That is true. My predecessors also saw the need for good hotels in £ód¼, but were unable to break the run of bad luck in the city in this field. Although several lots in the center were designated for hotels, nothing had come of it; there is a supermarket on one, and the construction of a hotel on another has not been completed to this day.

When did £ód¼ start to be an attractive city for tourists?
The turning point came in 2004. It started with the organization of commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the destruction of the £ód¼ ghetto, which became a huge event. Prof. W³adys³aw Bartoszewski gave me this idea, when he came to £ód¼ soon after I took over as mayor. I agreed immediately. The commemoration organized on Aug. 29, 2004 broke the ice between some of £ód¼'s former residents and their city. We managed to achieve the most important thing: participation of the general £ód¼ public in the commemorative event. And that is what we wanted, rather than the media hype that people would forget in a week.

My meetings with more than a hundred different groups-from parish circles, trade unions to members of the Association of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy-had paid off. I asked them about their feelings about the annihilation of one-third of the city's residents. In all these circles I found people who declared their help. And on the day of the commemoration, there were so many £ód¼ residents who wanted to take part that barriers had to be set up. Jews who used to come here in the past said after the ceremonies that something had radically changed in £ód¼.

Since then people of various nationalities have been happy to visit our city. Next year we plan to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the annihilation of £ód¼'s Jews.

Does £ód¼ stand a chance of winning the title of European Capital of Culture 2016?
I believe so. We realize that the title of a "cultural capital" is a great promotion for the city, but we have many competitors, and new ones are constantly being added. Toruń was first, then Poznań, Gdańsk, Warsaw, and Wroc³aw. I am sure that by 2014, when the decision is to be made, the list will be even longer.

We are constantly trying to have a presence at international forums with new ideas. One day it may be a BBC film promoting £ód¼, while on another the promotional "Gateway to Poland" film about £ód¼, which won an award in Berlin. But we can't stop there. We are leaving an impression on members of the European Parliament in Brussels by organizing, from time to time, typically Polish celebrations, such as Christmas Eve with carols and our traditional food. A concert in honor of the great £ód¼ citizen, pianist Arthur Rubinstein, was a great event; the turnout was enormous and many people waited outside. We intend to continue to organize both types of events.

We also want to support an initiative thought up by cartoon lovers, as it turns out that £ód¼ had made its mark in Europe in this area. This area of the arts has its fans in many countries, for example in France or Belgium. For more than a decade, the International Comics Festival has been held in £ód¼ by the Contur Artists Society and its head Adam Radoń. The festival is considered to be the biggest and also the most important comics festival in Central and Eastern Europe.

Were you proud of the award that the film promoting £ód¼ received in Berlin?
Of course. I expected to receive high marks, but not that we would win! The film was produced for the City of £ód¼ and was to promote £ód¼ as a [candidate for] European Capital of Culture in 2016, because as we know one Polish city is to be given that title. Our film beat nearly a hundred competitors. That is a great success!

And finally, please tell our readers: why is it worth coming to £ód¼?
To have a look at the city, because many buildings from the turn of the 20th century have survived here. This is a real treasure because this architecture has become fashionable throughout the world today. It's just that in many places heritage buildings were demolished long ago, while ours are still standing, together with factories, workers' quarters and palaces that once belonged to industrialists. But it is an expensive treasure as conservation and renovations cost a lot.

It has to be remembered that many of the former residents of £ód¼, both Jews and Germans, still have very warm feelings for the city. That is also fostering a positive attitude towards us throughout the world.
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