Bydgoskie

Author: Maciej Czarnecki

A group of students moves into Bydgoskie Przedmieście, once a Mecca for Polish artists, now degraded and dangerous district of Toruń. Inspired by stories of their old neighbour, they establish a Society for Bydgoskie Przedmieście. Soon they are flooded by letters from citizens and get involved in social campaigns saving the only public library in the area and organizing workshops for children from the orphanage. The district starts to change, attracting students, university teachers, artists and... developers, who bring new problems.

 

I met them in Czarny Tulipan, a stylish dive with Klimt pictures on the walls at Sienkiewicz Street. At that time they were already quite well-known in Toruń - Paweł Kołacz, Marta Kołacz, Łukasz Broniszewski. For the last couple of months I had been writing about their actions, but we knew each other only by phone. I remember that at first glance they looked surprisingly young. We sat near the window. Sipping beers, they looked like an ordinary bunch of students right after their classes.

We all lived in Bydgoskie Przedmieście, talked about Bydgoskie Przedmieście, met in Bydgoskie Przedmieście. Not a very safe place for a night out, but certainly an appealing one.

A forgotten wonder, a pearl hidden under the cloth of time, back in the 1920s, Bydgoskie Przedmieście was a district of artists. Prussian walls from the 19th century, Art Nouveau mansions, large villas with gardens on Słowacki street became home to painters, sculptors and writers, many of whom came here from southern cities: Cracow, Lvov, Zakopane – capitals of Polish modernism. Kazimiera Żuławska, the good spirit of Zakopane’s artistic cafés, widowed by famous writer Jerzy, bought an old Prussian mansion here at Bydgoska 26, opening a pension for actors of a local theatre, and actresses, of course. What a loot for Żuławska’s old friends from the south! Soon Toruń attracted top Polish artists of the period: Witkacy, Stanisław Przybyszewski, Juliusz Osterwa. They all lived in a pension in Bydgoskie Przedmieście, an area bursting with cultural life, full of cafés, restaurants and cinemas, with its own concert space and an enormous 19th-century park.

Żuławska lived in Toruń until 1926. Later the war broke out, and after that – the communists arrived. Locating factories on the outskirts of the city, they turned Bydgoskie Przedmieście into a workers’ area. This is when the process of the district’s degradation began. Bydgoskie Przedmieście turned into what Nowa Huta meant for Cracow. Except that it wasn’t built on the core. The communist engineering affected the very heart of a historical place, bringing crime, alcoholism, poverty, vandalism. Only several old citizens remained. Among them was Edward Moszyński.

An old painter, erudite, and collector of ancient stories, who could debate for hours and hours about the history of Polish gentry, the art of the Enlightment, Kant’s philosophy, Russian literature as well as hundreds of other topics, and the neighbor of Marta and Paweł Kołacz.

The young pair moved in, when they arrived in Toruń for studies. He - a tall, lively chap in glasses, with a clear facial expression and three-day-beard, she - a lovely blonde, working part-time for the Centre of Contemporary Art. I don’t know how exactly they met Moszyński – maybe on their way to the local shop or cleaning the staircase. I know that soon they started having discussions. Surrounded by a circle of students, in a loose atmosphere, Moszyński gave informal lectures about Bydgoskie Przedmieście – about the history of a mansion just around the corner, about 19th-century architecture and about old families that had already moved out.

It was 2007, when Kołacz – an archeology postgraduate – and his friends decided to establish a Society for Bydgoskie Przedmieście (SBP). Inspired by Moszyński, they created a website about the district – and were flooded by dozens of letters from citizens, especially those who moved in later, in the 1990s. Since then, Bydgoskie Przedmieście has been regaining some of its charm, attracting students, university teachers and restaurant-keepers due to its location near the Old Town.

People asked them to install CCTV, because the area was still dangerous, sent old photos, wanted to find out more about their houses. A real test for the new organization came in April 2008, when local authorities decided to shut down the only public library in the area. Readers began protesting and received strong support from SBP: the young wrote letters to the City Council and alerted the local media. Soon officials withdrew the idea of closure.

It was a similar story a couple of months later: my newspaper revealed, that the authorities were considering demolishing a 100-year-old sports centre instead of renovating it. Our source claimed that there was at least one developer, who was prepared to buy the land and build a gated apartment complex. After the article was published, Paweł Kołacz convinced the heritage conservator to put the building on the official list of protected monuments, saving a popular sports centre for the local community. At the same time, the organization presented its ideas for the future of Bydgoskie Przedmieście during a public debate. The young see it as an “artistic district”, as it used to be, and already agreed with the Centre of Contemporary Art, which is operating in the Old Town, to launch a residential program in the area. Foreign artists will come to live in the district and create installations, sculptures or live acts. In autumn, people from SBP and other NGOs from the city organized a street art festival and photography workshops for children from an orphanage on Sienkiewicza St. Every participant had their photo exhibited in the windows of local shops. Children are now waiting for a new football pitch – the authorities are going to build it in the western part of the district. As part of the national program called “Orlik”, new sports complexes are going to be built all over the country. Initially, it seemed that Bydgoskie Przedmieście didn’t have a chance of qualifying for a pitch, due to the lack of space, but SBP carried out a successful campaign to plan it on a deserted square near the tramway.

Quite a success! Yet, there is a lot to improve. Almost 3,000 out of total of 40,000 citizens living in Bydgoskie Przedmieście are on social security. No jobs, no money. No plans for the future. The area is still one of the most dangerous in Toruń – fights, burglaries, vandalism. A lot of old mansions, owned by private landlords, have regained their glamour. However, there are still many that are squalid, neglected, unkempt.

Then in Czarny Tulipan, sitting with people from SBP, for the first time I thought to myself, that Bydgoskie Przedmieście may turn into what Praga became for Warsaw and Kazimierz for Cracow. Once old, dowdy districts, they are now full of modern cafés, pubs and hotels, bursting with life and new energy. The same happened to Salford Quays in Manchester and the coastal parts of Barcelona.

Of course, the revitalization itself also produces new dangers. A property developer called Marbud is planning to build about 750 new apartments in a northern part of district, all gated with private shops and restaurants. It’s a good sign for the area, but rather than push existing citizens out to poorer parts of city, we should try to offer them something new – say the young from SBP. That’s why they are now starting a gallery and a cultural space in a deserted Prussian building near the river, they are planning to organize other workshops for children from the orphanage, they have launched a campaign to change the administrative borders of the district (which will make more citizens eligible for revitalization funds from the EU). It’s important, that many activities are undertaken not only by the city, local companies or regional authorities, but also by young citizens, who have become an outlet for the voice of many others.

Bydgoskie Przedmieście is changing. Last year Andrzej Lipiński, a well known local restaurateur, opened a stylish Italian café just two blocks from my house. More and more mansions are being renovated and there are more students, artists and professors interested in living in the area. A private company is planning to open a hostel here, another businessman came up with the idea of constructing a 4-star-hotel near Marbud’s housing estate. A series of our articles about the district, inspired by SBP’s activity attracted another people – new NGOs are springing up like mushrooms. They establish new websites, organize discussions, call for new bicycle paths or organize workshops. Some of them are opportunist, trying to promote candidates for euro elections. Others are not. It all proves that Bydgoskie Przedmieście is becoming trendy. After all, Machiavelli wouldn’t bet on a lame horse.

 


 

Maciej Czarnecki graduated from law and cultural anthropology at NicolausCopernicusUniversity in Toruń, Poland. He is an experienced journalist and traveler, and he is currently writing a book about Bydgoskie Przedmieście district in Toruń. Maciej plans to use the awarded scholarship to realize a series of interviews with people engaged in revitalization of once degraded districts in a few European cities, such as London, Manchester, Paris and Madrid. This would allow him to write about their experience, successes and errors, providing examples and ideas for Polish revitalization projects.

 


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