Thursday, 29 October 2015

A driving ban for architects and developers

Another modest proposal. All architects and developers practising their craft within built-up areas should have their driving licences taken away. They should be forced to visualise and realise their grand schemes from the point of view of the pedestrian or cyclist, users of public transport rather than the motorist. Sharing this idea with Agnieszka in the office, who'd just spent several weeks with a leg in plaster after an accident involving a bus, she said she'd go one step further - architects and developers should have to have a leg in plaster and move about on crutches while designing new buildings and infrastructure.

Everywhere I go around, from one office development to the next, I see the mind of the architect at work. "The path goes from the car park to the office door." People coming by bus or on foot have to wade through mud - or take a 200m detour along a previously existing path that has not changed, because it's administered by the City and not the developer.

Architects and developers are failing to work with the local authority's public transport teams. Little or no thought is given to employees trying to get to their workplace using any other means of transport than the car.

Taking a walk along ul. Poleczki the other day. There's the new CEZAMAT building under construction. Nice neo-modernist elevation - except you won't be able to see it from the road because of the stonking great multistory carpark built in front of it. Centrum Zaawansowanych Materiałów i Technologii - the centre for advanced materials and technologies - stuck in the car-mad 1960s. There's nothing advanced about turning your employees to turn into blobs as they drive to work.

OK, there's a cycle path linking CEZAMAT to Puławska and Okęcie airport. But the cycle path zigzags from one side of Poleczki to the other; cyclists quite rightly ignore the stretch on the other side of the road which necessitates crossing the road twice to the get to the same point. So they cycle along the narrow pavement. Bad planning.

At Poleczki Business Park, there's acres of parking space but only three buses an hour off-peak connect the office buildings to the outside world.

The railway, which passes a 300m to the west, does not stop here. It carries on northward 2km to W-wa Okęcie, and the bus connection from there is highly inconvenient.

Now, let's look at W-wa Służewiec station, one stop up the line from W-wa Okęcie. This station is a crucial transport hub. It brings passengers from Piaseczno and the southern exurbs (and - no doubt - a vast number of Radomites) and from all points north and east to the fringes of Mordor. This bleak office desert of corporate exile is not seen as an attractive place for Generation Y to work in - they dream of redeveloped post-industrial loft spaces in the heart of the city, close to the downtown action, well connected by public transport.

But let's say you do have to work in Mordor na Służewcu. Take a look at the map below. This shows the route you have to take to walk from the Securitas building on ul. Cybernetyki to W-wa Służewiec station. The legitimate way along ul. Taśmowa is 744 metres. The direct route is but 388m. A full 352m further - nearly twice as far.

But few people working on Cybernetyki (lots of new developments to the south and east of the Securitas building) chose the long way. They take the short cut. Let's take a closer look at it (below):

The way to the platform is well-trodden by hundreds of people a day. There is a sign, forbidding the crossing of the track. People have this sign 'in the nose' (w nosie). If you click to enlarge, you'll see a small wooden ladder to help people scramble up to the platform, through the barrier.

This is the Polish Way. PKP PLK SA has evidently not been approached by the City or by developers to do something about the situation. The track infrastructure management company merely carries out the letter of the law by placing a barrier at the end of the platform and a sign across the track.

The British Way would be to seal off the tracks with unclimbable wire fencing - totally - from Warsaw right the way down to Radom and beyond. There would be uproar, and after a while, some planning and budgeting, a safe crossing point would be built here, with proper signage and steps up to platform level. For the record, even at peak times, no more than eight trains an hour run up this track, so it's not unsafe per se. It's just that there's no joined up thinking.

Developers and landlords with property in this part of Warsaw must push the City harder for better access here. My guess is that before too long, corporate tenants will be deserting Mordor for new developments in Wola (like Warsaw Spire and other landmark buildings sprouting up around Rondo Daszyńskiego) as well as trendy post-industrial spaces like the Norblin development I looked at yesterday.

Developers will pluck a plot of likely-looking land and get their architects to copy-paste existing solutions without regard for how the people who end up working there actually reach the place. They need to get there need a big dose of public transport. If not, they will continue to not get it, and the empty glass and steel of Służewiec will become a monument to the simple fact that cars and cities do not mix, and if public transport access is not first-rate, no matter how cheap the property, They Will Not Come.

This time last year:
Do you keep coming back, or do you seek the new?

This time two years ago:
In praise of Retro design

This time three years ago:
First snowfall in Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Of cycles, economic and human

This time five years ago:
Why didn't I read this before? Grapes of Wrath

This time six years ago:
Małopolska from the train

This time seven years ago:
Grading ul. Poloneza


Bob said...

These are examples of the mindset that has not changed. We all see it every day in one way or another. We say it is 'SP' - still Poland.

We have been in Miastecko Willanow quite a bit recently as a result of my foot surgery. Even in a newly developing area there has not been good planning for: appropriate number of parking places in developments for residents and on the street for guests. The streets are too narrow. Even parking areas near shops are scant.

Overall besides poor planning it seems that there may not be smart or even existing building codes. For example, today I would assume that in a multi family development one should plan for something like 1.8 vehicles per unit or so and a certain number of street spots. Also street width regs seem absent.

I do have to say that the streets planned by the overall 'miastecko' are quite good - it is the developer areas that are bad.

One ridiculous thing is that there is no left turn possibility when coming down Wilanowska from the east - duh!

This all leads to frustration and annoyance for all involved.

student SGH said...

Well-argued Bob,

I wonder what ban could there be for architects designing dwellings in newly built block of flats...
Layouts of most of them are horrible...
1. One expects a flat to have a shape close to a rectangle, or even a sqaure, but not to a carriage...
2. I realise property prices in Poland are steep and Poles search for what the can afford to, namely so-called compact flas, but squeezing a two-bedroom flat on less than 50 sqm is a step too far
3. Kitchens not separated from a living room have been all the rage some time ago, yet a kitchen should have a window and layout should one day permit to build a partition wall. Windowless kitchen were a distinguishing mark of era of austerity in Poland, bleak 1960 when Gomulka was the first comrade. Why returning to those standards today?
4. Even if a flat has a decent usable are, it happens to be eaten up by long, narrow corridors, narrow enough that no closet can be fitted into them...
5. Windows - large one do let in more light into a dwelling, but in our climate have large glazed area instead of brick walls means higher heating bills in the winter and unbearable heat inside in the summer...

This all leads to frustration and annoyance for all involved.