part one - introduction

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)

Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street

Downtown, Kwietniewskiego Street

Downtown, Zeromskiego Street

Downtown, Piekarska Street

Downtown, Piekarska Street

Downtown, Smolenia Street

Downtown, Legionow Avenue

Downtown, Gliwicka Street

Downtown, Korfantego Street


author: Piotr Studzinski
first published: 2nd September 2009
last modified (updated): 28th November 2009
photographs taken between 10th May 2009 and 21st January 2010
translation: Radoslaw Obuchowski, Piotr Studzinski

What does not make sense is to remain blind and deaf to obvious things, period.

Perhaps, in day-to-day rush and pressure of duties, Bytom residents overlook the true colours of their homeland or maybe they can see it, but they are so used to that image that it does not evoke any deeper feelings at all. I have used the words 'true colours', not “other side”, on purpose because it is reality, not a coloured fantasy.

I hope that while browsing this website, Bytom citizens, as well as guests to our little fatherland and people who have never been here but are interested in the fate of the city, will take a little time to think what they read and what they see here on the attached photographs. Try to answer the following questions: Is it normal? Is such an image true of any big city? Or are these only shocking exceptions out of a wider urban context, which do not have important impact on Bytom image? Is it true that 'capital city of Warsaw' or 'state of Poland' itself are the only guilty entities for the current look of the city? Is it something natural that in heavy industrial city scrap-iron thieves and building looters operate on such a large scale?

While talking about this project with different people, I have met with opinions that 'it does not make any sense', 'it will not do any good, neither make any difference', and also will not bring me new friends whatsoever. Why does showing the truth not make sense? Views presented here may not be beautiful, but it is not my fault that it looks like that. Paraphrasing words of a popular music artist, I can say that I only show you how it is in reality, I present drastic details, hoping that with a portion of good luck somebody who can change it, or somebody who knows others powerful enough to change it, will turn up. Obviously, difference cannot be made without any action.

Poland, within which Bytom is located, is a democratic country. The 54th Article of The Constitution of the Republic of Poland says that 'the freedom to express opinions, to acquire and to disseminate information shall be ensured to everyone'. I take part in national and municipal elections on a regular basis. I have cast my vote for the present City President and therefore I think I have a full right to express my opinion about the city and to approach the person who I have voted for - and who is the most important person on the territorial administration level - with a request for a little moment of reflection on the topic. It is not without any sense! What does not make sense is to remain blind and deaf to obvious things, period.

It was a city of coal mines and steelworks, formerly rich, now times of welfare are long gone.

About fifteen years ago, during my summer holidays, I spoke with my new friend from Northern Poland. This guy was a rugby player and had been to Bytom. I remember his words as if it were yesterday, 'This city looks like there was a war a couple of days ago'. On hearing that, I felt astonished, amazed and even angry. In my teenage mind Bytom was just a regular city, so what was his point? In 1997, as a student of Bytom Primary School 32, I took part in an art competition 'My City, Bytom in Europe', where in my art category I was a joint runner-up. I put a lot of effort, time and gave this project all my heart to show city historic sites, to show nice places. How different it was compared with the present publication! Reality perception of a 15-year old is completely different than the one of a 28-year old man.

Back in the day, my visits in Downtown were limited to the main places such as Dworcowa Street, Kosciuszki Square or the main square of the city, marketplace called Rynek, and their look did not evoke any negative feelings or deeper thoughts. Over the years, from time to time I came across – through the words of my friends, family and in the mass media – the image of Bytom as a ruined place. Mostly, people in Poland have a tendency to exaggerate negative events and to generalise them on a larger scale. More to say, objectivity of the media, for me, was not that satisfying. Feeling reluctant to prop up my thinking with stereotypes that are popular within the society, but at the same time knowing that it is not 'rosy' around here, I have decided to take a closer look at my city.

Bytom received its city rights in 1254 so it has a long history. Geographical location forced its direction of development into heavy industry. It was a city of coal mines and steelworks, formerly rich, now times of welfare are long gone. In the past it was a place where silver, coal, lead and zinc had once been extracted. High concentration of industrial objects on a relatively small area was a signature of Bytom. Other special mark was a unique residential area. Year 1945 appears to be the beginning of the end of its prosperity. Highly destructive Red Army activities, repatriations of big number of original Bytomians to Germany - outside new Polish border, compulsory relocation of male inhabitants (no matter if Polish or German) to Far East and subsequent ruling the country, the region and the city by communist authorities deepened the crisis. After 1989, apart from so called heavy industry reorganisation (almost always resulted in closing facilities one after another), which was a bitter pill for the city, and opening a few hypermarkets, there have been no major changes and Bytom has fallen into a hibernation (or has been going through “transformation period” as some people would like to name it). There was a time when unemployment rate exceeded 20%, which did not help the city get up from its kneeling position either.

What does Bytom – a city which is among 20 biggest places in Poland - look like in 2009? There are nice areas and the city presents them to promote its positive image. Those locations are known to Bytom residents and it is very good that something we can be proud of even exists. In my subjective opinion, beautiful places are not dominant part in the city. Maybe my reception of beauty is disturbed and my aestethics level is distorted, but perhaps there are real causes of such belief? Anyway, it is not true that the whole area of Bytom looks like a warfare zone! Let it be known. I do not want you to get me wrong.  The content of the website is very precise. Calling something “beautiful” is a matter of one’s taste. Back in the day, Bytom was a superb city, no doubt. Unfortunately, aforementioned stage did not take a place during Polish administration and that is a shame.

'Downtown of Bytom is put on the list of crisis areas of the city '[4]

One can accuse me of being too subjective with my judgement. Having that allegation on mind, below I have presented some quotes from public documents, confirmed over the years by City Council. Its authors are experts who are more professional in making such statements than I am. 'Condition of majority of tenement houses from the turn of 19th and 20th century has to be labeled as bad. The buildings are seriously damaged (long-standing lack of repairs, mining damages).'[2] 'A lot of abandoned objects.' [3] 'High level of degradation of municipal areas and objects.' [2] 'Downtown of Bytom is put on the list of crisis areas of the city.' [4] 'Existence of neglected municipal housing estates.' [3] 'The most damaged are postindustrial monuments, especially the ones located on closed mines and steelworks terrains(...) Industrial plants disposal processes lead to situations where big number of historic industrial groups of objects has been demolished.'[2] 'Overconcentration of postindustrial areas needs rehabilitation.'[3] According to the above-mentioned words, can we claim that recently published ranking [5] of the cities in Poland, which put Bytom on the first place as the most ugly place, is completely without merit?

Walking around former 'Upper Silesian pearl', as the city was once called, due to ups and downs over the centuries we are not able to be happy with having medieval monuments since they had all been destroyed in the past. 'Today, historic value of the city is determined by 19th century brick apartment houses whose exceptional diversity puts Bytom in the top group of Polish cities on account of its architectural value. Within Bytom borders you will find almost full variety of architectural trends of the turn of 19th and 20th century, from historic styles, through modernism and secession to expressionism and functionalism.[1]

What stands out is the condition of the buildings – or 'residential substance' as it is called in official writings – and this condition is poor most of the time. 'One hundred thirty eight cases within three months – such a number can horrify because this is how many buildings pose a threat to life and health of its residents.' [2] Occasional, as for city dimensions, renovations cannot change the negative image of the tenement houses of Bytom. The condition of the bulit-up area in Silesian Province according to City Development Institute research is the worst in Poland. It is Upper Silesia where most of the ruined buildings are located in.[3] President of Bytom, Piotr Koj, while commenting on the very same article[4], admitted that the situation of the city centre houses is dramatic and added: 'It is good to remember that not always are we (Bytom) the worst and there is not a land of milk and honey all around.' Mr. President, please...

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