Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Kielce - the woes of Poland's second-class cities

If your city doesn't have a mediaeval Old Town, royal palaces, sandy beaches, renowned universities, a hip cultural life, corporate headquarters, world-class industry clusters, business outsourcing centres - then what?

I've written about my least-favourite Polish city, Białystok - time to visit another of the also-rans, Kielce. Ranked 17th among Poland's cities by population size, Kielce is home to 200,000 people, so about the size of York. It has always rivalled its neighbour 75km up the road, Radom, in terms of size (Radom's bigger at 225,000), manufacturing industry (Kielce's is stronger) and administrative importance. After the reforms of 1999, Kielce became the capital of Świętokrzyskie province, while Radom was swallowed up as the poor end of Mazowsze. Radom's unemployment rate is currently 19.3% (yes!) while Kielce's is 8.6% (Warsaw's is just 3.8% by comparison).

If you ever plan to motor south from Warsaw, take the Krajowa Siódemka (national route no. 7) which runs through Radom (100km), Kielce (175km) and Kraków (275km). The Siódemka is taking shape... here it is between Skarżysko Kamienna and Kielce. Still some work needed between Radom and Skarżysko, but by PolskiBus.com a faster connection than the wretched railway line.

A town, like Białystok, which developed rapidly under Russian rule in the second half of the 19th Century. Its excuse for not having a wonderful Old Town? The mid-17th Century invasion of the Swedes. Who burnt it. Below: an Old School Challenge photo - other than a solitary satellite dish (how 1990s!) and some graffiti, this Socialist Realist estate shows no traces of the modern world.

Below: despite the drabness of an overcast late October morning, Kielce feels more prosperous than its northern neighbour Radom. Few pawn shops, hardly any chwilówki (consumer loan) outlets or currency exchange bureaux - the hallmarks of poorer towns where migration to western Europe is commonplace.

Left: Old school block of flats. This is what English people immediately think of when you say 'Poland'. Drab, grey, communist buildings. The full-length advert for Centrostal Kielce, a firm noted on the Warsaw Stock Exchange without an English-language website, smacks of the 1990s.

But while it's visibly poorer than the Big Six Polish cities, Kielce is not run down. It feels well administered.
Right: Kielce's shame. The 1946 pogrom in which 42 Jews - survivors of the holocaust - were murdered by their Polish neighbours must never be forgotten. This plaque is on the wall of the building on ul. Planty 9, on the banks of the river Silnica that runs through Kielce. Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the pogrom. (Poland's English-language skills have come on since 1990s - there were evidently no native speakers around then to check the text.)

Below: ul. Sienkiewicza, Kielce's main drag, is a pedestrian thoroughfare linking the railway station to the heart of the city.

Kielce has a brighter future, I believe, than Białystok or Radom. It has a thriving exhibition centre (Poland's second biggest), plenty of manufacturing industry, tourism - as a base for the Świętokrzyskie hills to the south-east, agriculture and food processing, and the nearby spa-towns of Busko Zdrój and Solec Zdrój.

This time two years ago:
Wine connoisseurs or wine snobs?

This time three years ago:
Poland's golden autumn

This time four years ago:
Visceral and permanent - a short story

This time five years ago:
Crushed Velvet Dusk in my City of Dreams II

1 comment:

KrakowJosh said...

Nice Route 66 reference :)