West-Pomeranian Region
Julita Miłosz-Augustowska, Regional Office for Spatial Planning

Working towards a new understanding of the metropolitan dimension to achieve integrated urban development

When talking about rural areas in Poland, a number of issues need to be taken into account which relate to the general understanding of the rural dimension perceived as an obstacle or a possible expansion space for the city. Furthermore, they are often considered as a system surroundings the urban settlement and not an integral part of the functional urban areas, most often a reserve of land for the expansion of the urban center.

This approach is leading to consequences such as:
• polarization of development processes;
• deterioration of living conditions of some residents;
• reduction of the efficiency of the entire functional area;
• inefficient and unsustainable use of the territory.

Rural-urban cooperation is not yet recognized as a goal.
There are a number of instruments and tools requiring cooperation agreements between urban areas to receive regional fundings as well a number of incentives in the strategic and planning documents aiming for these kind of cooperation.

Among the most significant:

• partnership of local government units, cooperation agreements
• local government contracts
• Integrated territorial investments
• cross-sectoral partnerships for the metropolitan area
• strategic and planning documents as the basis for action.

In this context, intermunicipal cooperation as a platform for further ideas
and projects is not a goal in itself.

Challenges include:
• difficult fiscal and economic situation of municipalities;
• lack of dedicated funds;
• lack of legal regulations for metropolitan areas.

Szczecin metropolitan area

Szczecin metropolitan area is home to 680,000 people and is organized into a no profit association reuniting the core city of Szczecin and the surrounding urban and rural communes. Since its establishment in 2005, it was founded by 15 local governments, five of them being rural communities.
The association is an informal body with quite a transparent representative structure (fees are sized to the number of inhabitants, when it comes to vote, they all have one voice) but no binding powers. Interestingly, even though this is a cross-border region with Germany, the Polish association doesn’t allow for the German members which are currently excluded.

Integration of the transport network: efforts were directed to establish an integrated public transport system through cooperation among urban and rural communities. This is something generally understood translating into a common effort to address the transportation system, not only the infrastructure but also the mobility patterns across the whole region.

Develop and implementing a coherent urbanization system and reduce the negative effects of migration: urban-rural cooperation is perceived when mainly focuses on housing-working relations and commuting. The territory witnesses a commuting phenomenon where young families move to the rural areas while keeping jobs, facilities and services (culture, education and healthcare) in the urban areas. These trends provoke an intensification of the services production in the rural centers while rural areas see their basic services disappear.

Moreover, cross-border dynamics: Germans earn double, while real estate prices are 30% less than on the Polish side…This is something called metropolitan stretching. There are concrete linkages between the two countries that one cannot ignore, like the fact that a German resident earn twice as much as a Polish, and one can buy a house in Germany which is 30% cheaper than in Poland. In the context of the Schengen zone, a new community, mainly formed by young families, has moved in the rural areas in the German territory while keeping their jobs, social and cultural facilities in Poland 20 minutes away from the borders.
Commuting across the border is an aspect that needs to be addressed together with housing affordability which is a huge topic but not discussed yet in the metropolitan association.

In contrast with the strong tools of CM di Torino, in the context of the voluntary association Szczecin Metropolitan Area – in the absence of a metropolitan law – all spatial planning tools are at the level of municipalities; furthermore in many cases the spatial plans do not exist and in this case to stop developers is very difficult.
One topic which has great future potential for cooperation in this area is the energy supply and the use of renewable energy sources, which are very popular in the region.

Please visit the page Metropolitan Partnerships in action across Urban and Rural to know about more cases from across Europe.