A river in the city – a summary of the Sendzimir Foundation conference

Rzeka w mieście

“The Sendzimir Foundation’s training courses draw you in like walking through a swamp.” – summed up her participation in the conference by one of the participants. It was intensive and constructive, thanks to 120 specialists and professionals from all over Poland – employees of local governments and public administration, non-governmental organizations and independent experts who came to Warsaw to consider how to rebuild the lost potential of river ecosystems.

“We all live in a catchment area, whether it’s the Oder, the Vistula or small urban rivers.”

With this statement, Tomasz Bergier of the Sendzimir Foundation and AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow began a panel discussion on the Foundation’s latest publication, “River in the City. Sustainability – Applications.” Their guests: Anna Januchta-Szostak of Poznan University of Technology, Agnieszka Kowalkiewicz of Gdansk Waters, Lukasz Pawlik of the Board of Urban Greening in Krakow, and Jan Piotrowski of the Board of Greening of the City of Warsaw. Warsaw asked about river valley management practices in cities.

Anna Januchta-Szostak briefly presented the history of water fronts: from the time when the dominant uses of rivers were those related to navigation, energy, sanitation and water abstraction to the present, focused on restoring ecosystem services and representative functions. Lukasz Pawlik talked about how river parks can help restore ecological corridors, and Agnieszka Kowalkiewicz stressed that it was the fear of water that obliged the city to act.

As a result, Gdansk has emerged as a leader in rainwater management, which “relies on as much water as possible being retained where it falls, by introducing technical and non-technical facilities into the urban fabric that store water and treat it at the same time.” Jan Piotrowski, meanwhile, talked about the management of the Warsaw section of the Vistula River, which requires reconciling the needs of conservationists, water sports enthusiasts or event supporters. All participants in the “River in the City” conference received a copy of the guide, which can also be downloaded free of charge. Interested parties have the opportunity to order a printed version (while supplies last).

River in the city
A river in the city - a summary of the Sendzimir Foundation conference 1

Open, workshop nature of “River in the City” conference appreciated by participants

The program of the “River in the City” conference included many opportunities for direct exchange of experience, so needed by people from different sectors and specialties. During the workshop session, participants were able to choose one of the three main topics.

The first, “Rivers for Nature, Nature for People – river restoration from concept to implementation,” was led by Ilona Biedroń of the Hectares for Nature Foundation and Maria Wisnicka of the Sendzimir Foundation. The participants analyzed the barriers standing in the way of the implementation of the “Concept of functional connection of the Drzewiczka, Wąglanka rivers and their valleys with the public space of the city of Opoczno.” They worked out recommendations for further actions to restore the ecosystems of these rivers and bring them closer to local residents. In the wrap-up session, Tomasz Luczkowski, deputy mayor of Opoczno, thanked for the joint work and pledged to implement the developed recommendations.

Beavers vs. SWOT analysis

The second workshop – “Shaping river valleys and urban water fronts” – was led by Anna Januchta-Szostak and Tomasz Bergier. The groups worked on concepts to reconcile different, sometimes conflicting, interests in shaping water fronts, based on the RGBR approach. The acronym refers to the color scheme used in urban planning, where R (red) stands for urbanized/developed areas, cultural identity and social needs; G (gray) for infrastructure and economic needs; B (blue) for water environment; G (green) for natural environment and ecosystems. Work on the SWOT analysis revealed strengths and weaknesses, but also conflicts and threats, as well as areas of synergy and development opportunities in shaping river valleys. The protagonists of the workshop were beavers, which, depending on the point of view, turned out to be a strength or weakness and an opportunity and challenge for sustainable management of river valleys.

What is the river to Kowalski, what is Kowalski to the river?

This question was posed by the participants of the third workshop (“Involving city residents in protecting river valleys”), which was led by Agnieszka Czachowska and Ewelina Pękała of the Sendzimir Foundation. Guest speaker Kirsten Paaby of Phronesis SA (the project’s partner organization) spoke about the experience of public participation in Oslo. They discussed what conditions should be met in order for participation in conservation to benefit and take into account the recommendations and needs of the average person. Which elements of the process should be given special attention during the planning and implementation of participatory activities? Workshop participants stressed the importance of all parties understanding co-participation as a process culminating in the development of recommendations that will be taken into account and influence the final shape of a given action.

Drwinka, Mleczna, Drzewiczka and Wąglanka protagonists of good practice sessions during the “River in the City” conference

Another interactive element of the program was a best practices session, during which 8 examples of river valley management were presented. Participants were able to decide which project they were particularly interested in and deepen their chosen topics during intimate sessions over coffee. Among the topics presented were:

  • Protection and development of river valleys as a long-term policy of the city on the example of Krakow.
  • Nature conservation in a river valley on the example of the Drwinka River.
  • Renaturalization and adaptation of the Milk River in Radom to climate change – goals, effects, difficulties.
  • The possibility of combining flood protection and restoration objectives on the example of restoration activities on the Drzewiczka and Wąglanka rivers in Opoczno.
  • Plant-based treatment plants in confined urban areas.
  • Management of rainwater in Gdansk.
  • Retention greenery at the historic Montownia building in the Young City area of Gdansk (site of the former Gdansk Shipyard) as an example of ecosystem-based design.
  • HIGH FIVE! Five best practices in social action communication.

In the evaluation survey, more than ¾ of the participants identified the workshop and best practices session as the most inspiring elements of the “River in the City” conference program.

River in the city
A river in the city - a summary of the Sendzimir Foundation conference 2

At the end, everyone went to the river….

…Because the river is best discussed while walking along its banks. The icing on the cake was the study visits to the Vistula River. Depending on their preferences (and tolerance of the cool breeze blowing over the surface of the water), participants could take part in wooden boat cruises on the Vistula River, which were combined with stories about various aspects of its maintenance, or in a trip to the “Stone” Educational Pavilion and a walk through the Golędzin Meadows.

The conference was implemented by the Sendzimir Foundation within the framework of the project “Urban ecosystems of river valleys. The Potential of Ecosystem Services in the Face of Anthropogenic Climate Change,” which benefits from funding worth more than $164,500. Euros received from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway from the EEA funds, under the Environment, Energy and Climate Change Program; program area: Environment and Ecosystems.


Photo source: Sendzimir Foundation

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