Wer einmal Krakau besucht hat, weiß um die architektonischen Schönheiten dieser Stadt. Was man jedoch nicht auf ersten Blick sieht: Krakau ist eine jener europäischen Städte mit der größten Luftverschmutzung. Laut WHO landet die südpolnische Stadt an dritter Stelle. Viele Krakauer heizen noch mit Kohle, der zunehmende Autoverkehr, die Beckenlage der Stadt sowie mangelnde Grünflächen sind die Gründe für Krakaus ungesunde Luft. Die Bewohner der Stadt helfen sich u.a. mit Apps über die Luftbedingungen weiter, die ihnen anzeigen, wie viel Zeit sie unbeschadet im Freien verbringen können.
Unsere Gastautorin Zuzanna Zajac geht der Frage nach, ob reine Luft ein Privileg reicher Länder ist? Oder wie können die Anreize für nachhaltige und umweltfreundliche Veränderungen in Krakau aussehen?
Why is clean air a privilege of richer countries?
Visiting Vienna one can truly appreciate and understand why it has been considered most liveable in 2017. Space, visual incentives and intangible entertainment is tailored perfectly for all, however it is not what makes this city, or similar places such as Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm or Helsinki, so unique. It is the fact that one can breathe in freely, see the panorama beyond 100 km and recycle with incredible ease. This situation is however not a commodity in Europe, especially in the East. By focusing on a specific context of Poland, this article will try to create an introduction into the issue of pollution and reasoning behind it.
Krakow, a city in southern Poland, which is considered a cherry on the cake, thriving, growing, rich in culture, entertainment for all tastes and incredible architecture, is also a silent killer of its residents, slowly but surely feeding them its deadly weapon; air pollution. Krakow’s inhabitants are armed with apps about air conditions, which specifies the time they can spend outside, whether they can take their kids to the playground and what is the chance that while sitting in front of the TV they are breathing in cancerous chemicals. Increasingly often public transport is free for car owners in order to decrease exhaust or traffic and the time spent outside is closely monitored, even ill-advised.
The complexity of the situation is often addressed by the media, which blames individual and collective human activity but also acknowledges the destructive decisions made by the authorities. Despite this quite open approach, only the surface of the vicious cycle is targeted and the general public still seems to be kept in the dark. The main reason for this unawareness is that the topic is painfully simplified by the news. Pollution is said to be caused by use of coal furnaces, growing amount of cars connected with bad road systems, position of the city in a basin and a huge deficiency of green spaces within the city centre. This formal report is also given to the representatives of the European Union, which pushes countries to become more environmentally friendly, meaning that all action plans revolve around solving these specific issues, rather than addressing the core of the problem. The issue turns out to be much more multi-layered and thus complex to solve. The sole ray of sunshine in this storm is that the root causes are very much connected with each other forming a true circular economy, but not of a good kind.
It must be said that all the previously mentioned justifications for Krakow’s smog are true, nevertheless they are stemming from and even encouraged by the economic and political system of the entire country. If we start with the durable goods, such as old cars and coal furnaces, we can clearly see that the reason for their existence and extensive use is the fact that the population has no money to exchange them. Of course the EU now reimburses the purchases of new, gas stoves, but the legislation states that one must first use their own savings and then get the money returned and a huge chunk of the public feels sceptical towards this type of system. Another problem are wages, which do not, in many cases, cover even the costs of daily lives, not to mention the investments into a more sustainable future. Increase of cars on the roads results in the increase of people in cities, people who are looking for jobs, money and a career, something, which is unfortunately unavailable in smaller cities or peripheries, leading to the death of the countryside. This growing urban population generates an acceleration in the construction industry, where residential buildings are formed without hesitation (and irresponsibly using cheap, unsustainable, raw materials) and rapidly, with complete disregard to holistic urban planning methods. Apart from anything else, the existence of a master city plan is essential in the creation of wind tunnels, which allow air to freely pass through the city and clear any toxic residue. In our current state of affairs, the aero dynamism of e,g Krakow is non -existent leading to the concentration of static, polluted air. As the city becomes visibly darker, dirtier and destroyed (acid rain resulting in toxic chemicals ruins architecture, monuments, greenery) the authorities try to take seemingly responsible, but unfortunately very fake steps in order to improve our situation. For example pushing laws about decreasing coal furnaces leads to the decrease in the need for mines, causing mass unemployment of over 80 thousand miners in the Silesian region without allowing space in the budget for reskilling those workers and giving them alternative opportunities. The same goes for factories, car usage or building regulation. It easy to demand without giving anything back. The real change would be to truly regulate wages, city planning methods and combine giving people an incentive to be sustainable or environmentally friendly with giving people the platform and opportunity to be so. Employing methods, which work in Scandinavia or Austria is an automatic failure, because the context is completely different (historically, politically, socially, geographically and economically). Real, effective improvements needs intelligence, patience and care.
Returning to the clean air of Vienna or Copenhagen, we can clearly see a pattern. It is our responsibility to care for the environment, but in order to do it collectively, we must feel motivated through a caring government, which understands each countries individual contexts and capabilities and finds flexible strategies, which can be adjusted accordingly. If communities see that they are understood and embraced within their actions, they will definitely feel more motivated to work hard for a greener future.
Zuzanna Zajac has a background in Interior Design, completed in London and is particularly interested in Participatory Design and material science. She is currently studying MA Social Design in University of Applied Arts, where she focuses on mappings, urban innovation, circular economy and collaborative projects.
Zuzanna Zajac studierte Interior Design, das sie in London abschloss. Derzeit absolviert sie an der Universität für angewandte Kunst in Wien das Studium MA Social Design mit Schwerpunkt auf urbane Innovation, Kreislaufwirtschaft und kollaborative Projekte.
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