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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 27, 2013
Politics & Society
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Window of Opportunity
June 27, 2013   
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Jacek Wojciechowicz, deputy mayor of Warsaw, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Witold Żygulski.

What will Warsaw look like 30 years from now?
There are things you cannot predict. If the question had been asked in 1980, probably no one would have guessed that Warsaw would be the largest construction site in Europe in 2013. But when you look at the documents the city has adopted and the overall way it is developing, you can easily identify the priorities Warsaw should pursue in its development. One of them is housing and here I would like to mention the Chrzanów and Zielona Białołęka neighborhoods [as the most promising areas for residential projects]. Other priorities include development projects in the Wola district and the redevelopment of the Defilad Square area downtown. Yet another priority is to build at least two new metro lines. Then there is the need to build an efficient system of beltways. Work on this last project has only just begun.

Warsaw has enormous development potential in both its suburban districts and the city center. When you look at Wrocław, Poznań and Cracow, their historical centers are where most of the city life is. Warsaw is totally different in this respect, because its historical center, the Old Town, is primarily a tourist attraction rather than the actual downtown area. At the same time, Warsaw ranks among metropolises because of its size and is consequently governed by different rules than those applying to other Polish cities, even the largest ones.

Let me draw your attention to the fact that, as in the case of most other metropolises in the world, we are unable to give a precise estimate of how many people live in Warsaw. Official statistics suggest 1.8 million, but we know for a fact the population is in reality higher than 2 million and could be even approaching the 2.5 million mark. People will continue migrating to the city in the coming years. The trend in Europe these days is that the main metropolis is home to roughly 10 percent of a country’s total population, so we can expect Warsaw to have up to 3.5 million inhabitants in the coming decades.

What will be Warsaw’s trademark in terms of new jobs and investor appeal?
Needless to say, heavy industry is out of the question and so the city has to focus on services. Warsaw has more office space projects under way than any other city in Europe. We have almost 4 million square meters of office space and more office buildings are under construction. Warsaw has all it takes to become a European hub for financial, consulting and insurance services. Different international corporations are keen to open their head offices in Warsaw and the city has been approached by a growing variety of European institutions wanting to make their mark in the city with branches and representative offices. In the future, the capital of Poland could become one of Central Europe’s key administrative centers.

Is Warsaw also focusing on university-level education as a priority?
There are around 300,000 university and college students in Warsaw at present. Practically speaking, all universities and institutions of higher education in the city have been investing in new buildings, opening new departments and expanding their range of courses. A lot, of course, depends on demographics and that, admittedly, does not look very promising in the coming years. But in the long term, I am confident the academic community will emerge as a strong determinant of the city’s image.

What are the city authorities doing to bring all this about?
Given the trends I have mentioned, we have been planning Warsaw’s development on the basis of instruments such as zoning plans and plans related to the transportation network. We try to make sure that all new projects are in line with the overall development policy we want to pursue in the city. All documents adopted by the Council of Warsaw are designed to ensure just that.

For example, if the first metro line had been planned on a different route 25 years ago, Ursynów [which has fast and convenient access to the city center] would be in a completely different situation today. In the future, the same will be true of Chrzanów, which stands to benefit from the projected second metro line. This is how the city authorities can stimulate the development of different parts of the city. To this end, we have joined forces with several partners. For example, we have recently struck an important agreement with Warsaw developers to ensure coordinated zoning.

What role do funds from Brussels play in the city’s development?
A crucial one, but we cannot take European funds for granted. They will not be there forever and are only available within a limited time frame. I sometimes hear people complain that too many projects are being carried out in the city at the same time, but you need to remember that in order to make the most of EU funds, we have to do many things at the same time. This is our window of opportunity which we have to take advantage of here and now.

What expectations do private investors have as they knock on your door with business proposals?
Those already here usually expect assistance with different administrative procedures, especially when it comes to speeding up paperwork. We do our best to help whenever we can and whenever we have the legal means to do so. Nothing encourages investors better than professional assistance to let them follow through with their plans in a predictable environment. Even though Warsaw’s appeal is outstanding, it will not hurt to go to even greater lengths to attract partners from abroad as they debate what big city in Central Europe to choose for their new projects. To this end, we have been pursuing a range of marketing activities, taking part in trade fairs and other events.
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