“A beautiful part of Wroclaw”

As part of the CoSIE project - a pan-European scheme looking at the co-creation of public services - a pilot project in Wroclaw, Poland has been launched that project aims to support co-decision-making processes about a housing estate in Popowice, a residential area in the western part of Wroclaw by bringing together a variety of stakeholders in conversations about the area and what could be improved. As part of this process, a number of residents from the local area were trained as Community Reporters to gather stories about life in Popowice and this feature article presents some of the key ideas expressed in these stories. Firstly, it explores the things that residents like about the area, highlighting its existing strengths. Then it summarises some of the complaints and problems that residents brought up about the area. It then turns to examine what residents had to say about relationships between neighbours on the estate, before finally exploring the solutions proposed by residents to the problems identified, and their suggested steps for action.

Pride and positivity

Many of the residents discussed their pride in being resident in this particular area of Popowice and were keen to share how long they had lived there. One woman described her pride in the housing estate that she has lived on for over 40 years. Another woman told how she has lived in the area for 30 years and that she lives here because she thinks it is “a beautiful part of Wroclaw”. The first woman cited the amount of green spaces in the area as one of the reasons she likes to live here. There are a lot of parks and natural spaces with old trees that are well looked after. She is happy that the trees are left to grow, and her message is that we should “look after what we already have” when it comes to our green spaces. This message supporting the preservation of and importance of parks and gardens in the area was echoed in other stories.

As well as the green spaces in the area, having friendly neighbours was mentioned in the stories as a positive aspect of life in Popowice. “I have very good neighbours in my block of flats, so there are no conflicts,” said one woman, speaking positively about her local community. Another woman said that she “lives well” in Popowice, and has “great neighbours”. Other positive comments made about life in Popowice in the stories included its convenient location, one woman described it as “fantastic”, offering proximity to other parts of the city and for commuting to work. Another woman described herself as being “delighted” with her apartment on the estate. This shows that different people have a diversity of reasons for enjoying life in Popowice, often based on their individual circumstances and needs. 

Concerns of residents

However, most residents who shared their stories had concerns over some aspects of life in Popowice. Problems with maintenance of green spaces, the built environment, litter and recycling, vagrancy and infrastructure such as parking and road crossings were all expressed in the stories.

While she celebrates the amount of green spaces in the area, one woman expresses concern over the way the flowers are cared for and maintained, for which she blames other residents “who do not seem to care”. She sees a difference between this area and other areas where she feels the residents do care. Other residents reflect these worries about the condition of the greenery. They feel that the tree pruning is taking place in the wrong time of the year and therefore is removing healthy bushes and trees. They also think that the state of planting of greenery is chaotic, saying that “no one plans how it should be planted” and this creates “disorder”, “chaos” and “mess”. Another conversation about the way the green spaces on the estate are maintained reflects similar concerns. A resident here tells about the brutal way that the lilacs were cut outside their block the previous day, while his neighbour is worried about parasites like mistletoe.

The amount of litter on the estate, and in particular the poor handling of refuse and recycling were a concern expressed by many residents in their stories. One resident discusses how although it is the local authority that are ultimately responsible for keeping the communal areas of the estate clean and for segregating the recycling, the residents are the ones who actually do the separating. He expresses frustration at his neighbours that the recycling is not properly dealt with: “I’m very angry because around the bins we have a lot of rubbish and they [residents] think that if they pay [taxes], they don’t have to separate rubbish. He would like to see residents thinking more about recycling and taking responsibility for the rubbish they see, not just to walk past and ignore it. He shows photographs of overflowing bins and highlights that this doesn’t leave a good impression on visitors to the area. He acknowledges that this problem is not isolated to Popowice but is a wider problem around Poland. Another long-term resident of Popowice also points to this as the biggest problem on the estate: “people do not segregate rubbish” and this leads to rubbish being spread around the estate.

A handful of residents drew attention to the levels of homelessness and vagrancy in the area, which they felt came with accompanying problems that made the area feel less safe to live in. One woman described how she does not feel safe when walking through the park, because there is a place where homeless people buy alcohol and sit on the benches drinking it. “I can handle it, but someone else maybe can’t,” she says, highlighting her concern for her neighbours who may feel more vulnerable. Another woman also highlights that people are afraid to walk through the park: “There is a problem sometimes in the evenings. I’m afraid to go through the park alone, because there are people who drink alcohol on the benches”. Another resident feels that the park is missing a toilet to help deal with the issue of people urinating and defecating in the park, and describes the homeless people as “disruptive”. These stories suggest a number of interrelated problems that require joined-up solutions: tackling the issue of homelessness itself; improving relationships between residents and homeless populations; and providing facilities for rough sleepers in the area to take care of their basic needs. 

Many residents used their stories to point out vital pieces of infrastructure that they thought were missing or lacking in the Popowice area. One man, who described living in the area as “average”, complained that there were “too few shops, too many cars and not enough places for them to park”. Parking was an issue raised by several residents, one of whom pointed out that there was no real parking lot on the estate. One woman describes her successful campaign to get more more parking near the church and in other places around the estate, but has found this takes its toll on her health, saying “I do not have the strength to beat”. Some residents praised the impact that the Tęcza club (a community club on the estate) has had on their quality of life, but others felt that, while it is a good community resource, it has problems that prevent them from accessing its services. One residentdescribed how there are not many social clubs around, and so would like to attend the Tęcza club, but finds that its limited opening hours conflict with her caring responsibilities for her grandson: “the club is open at a time that doesn’t work for me,” so she finds it more difficult to socialise. This suggests that elderly residents in particular would value increased social provision, but need to be consulted on appropriate opening hours and access.

Relationships with Neighbours

When discussing their relationships with neighbours on the estate, residents showed a real breadth of responses in their stories. Some felt very close to their neighbours and said they got on well, whereas others described a more fragmented and isolated experience in the community. 

One man tells how he knows his neighbours due to the fact that he is a technical person, and they call on him to help when they “have a problem with TV or some tool”. He describes pleasant relationships with his neighbours; he talks with them in the stairwells and they exchange cakes at Christmas. Another storyteller says that she knows all her neighbours, “mainly because I have a dog”. This gets her out and about and they meet together in the park, and are “good friends”, exchanging clothes and taking trips around the city together. Another woman describes how she has “very good neighbours”. All these stories reflect a positivity around connections with neighbours and describe individuals building mutually beneficial relationships.

In contrast, however, there were also residents who reported not knowing their neighbours. One woman said that she does not know her neighbours, except when they talk when they are waiting for the elevator. One man discusses the problems facing senior members of the community, saying that the world has changed in recent years and he feels that people are not kind and cordial to each other. He feels that once people helped each other but now they do not, especially young people who he feels are preoccupied with their own problems and their work: “there is no cordiality between people...everyone is complaining that it is bad, but no one has the idea to talk”.  Another resident describes what he sees as a fragmented community, where there are lots of older people who do not know each other and lots of apartments rented to other marginalised and potentially transient groups like immigrants or young people. “The community is not enough integrated, there are plenty of older people and lots of people who rent flats, like foreigners or youth, so we don’t know each other completely,” he says. His thoughts are echoed by another man, who describes his view that “main problem is the fact that there is no integration between seniors and young people who rent apartments on the estate”. He feels that it is important to start integration and conversations between the two groups and intends to run training sessions for seniors and young people. There is a contrast, therefore, in these stories between one group of individuals who feel they have strong and reciprocally beneficial relationships with their neighbours, and others who see the community as fragmented, and neighbours as isolated from one another. In particular, some residents see different groups of the community as having barriers to communicating with each other, such as age, language or work status.

What will help to improve?

In their stories, residents who gave negative feedback about the area were often quick to offer potential solutions to the problems they had identified, suggesting a willingness to fix the problems and work with the local authority to improve the area. However, they also expressed uncertainty about how to go about getting support to make their ideas become reality. For example, one womandescribed her idea for creating a small public garden for the local community to use, but found that she doesn’t know how to go about getting permission for it. 

Another woman described the difficulties she had faced getting support to enact her idea to renovate the building facades on the estate “to make them more colourful so that they fit in with the beautiful green spaces around them”. She displays a proactive attitude towards making positive change in the area, and tells how she had even identified a source for renovation funds via information in the local newspaper. However, she describes having come up against obstacles within the public procurement process, which only allows construction companies to work up to the 4th floor level. Here, the stories give insight into the kinds of barriers that residents come up against when they try to work to improve life in their area.

As well as solutions to improve the physical environment around the estate, residents also described their ideas to improve the community interaction and well-being of residents through social activities. One woman described how she dreams about setting up a place, a house or Senior Hub where people could “come at any time to engage with young people who would be working as volunteers”. She thinks that this solution would “help single people living alone, because it would offer them a place to go for help and support”, while also improving relations between the different demographic groups who share the neighbourhood. 

Conclusions

Overall, the stories of residents living in Popowice showed that they were engaged with their local area and had positive things to say about it. In particular, the green spaces, location and relationships with neighbours were all cited as good things that made residents happy to live here. However, residents expressed a number of concerns in relation to both the physical, built environment and the more abstract sense of community and the social wellbeing of the area and its residents. Namely, these were the maintenance of greenery, buildings, parks and recycling; issues around infrastructure such as parking; homelessness in the area; and issues around isolation and community, particularly the gap between younger and older residents

Residents are actively looking for ways to improve the area and have good ideas that they are longing to share and to see become reality. They are however somewhat frustrated at the lack of support in putting these ideas into practice and/or unsure as to how to proceed. A co-creation approach could be extremely beneficial here to harness the viewpoints and ideas of those living in Popowice. The stories clearly show that there are some very engaged members of the community who are willing to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to improve the area.

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