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 considered which relate to the general understanding that the rural dimension is perceived as an obstacle or a possible expansion space for the city. Furthermore, rural areas are often considered as a system surrounding 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 in rural areas;
• 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 funding, as well a number of incentives in the strategic and planning documents aiming for this 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 organised into a non-profit association reuniting the core city of Szczecin and the surrounding urban and rural communes. It was founded in in 2005 by 15 local governments, five of them being rural communities.
The association is a formal body with quite a transparent representative structure (fees are sized to the number of inhabitants and when it comes to vote, they all have one voice) but due to the lack of legislation dedicated to metropolitan areas in Poland it has no binding power. Interestingly, even though this is a cross-border region with Germany, the Polish association doesn’t allow for German members.

Integration of the transport network: efforts are 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 generally perceived when mainly focusing 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 services production in the urban centers while rural areas see their basic services disappear.

Moreover, cross-border dynamics: income on average is double in Germany, while real estate prices are 30 per cent less than on the Polish side. This is something called metropolitan stretching. These aconcrete linkages between the two countries cannot be ignored. In the context of the Schengen zone, a new community, mainly formed by young families, has moved to the rural areas in the German territory while keeping their jobs, social and cultural facilities in Poland, only 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 Città metropolitana di Torino, the voluntary association of Szczecin Metropolitan Area suffers the absence of a metropolitan law and sees all the spatial planning tools in the hands of the municipal authorities; furthermore, in many cases the local spatial plans do not exist and therefore the opposition to development plans becomes even more difficult. Besides the challenges exposed, one aspect seems to emerge as the right set to address the theme of territorial cooperation and that is the energy supply and the use of renewable energy sources, both very popular in the West-Pomeranian region, which is the largest producer of energy from renewable sources in Poland.

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