Cultural regeneration of a popular district put in danger by gentrification

The case of the Old Podgórze neighbourhood in Krakow

Krisztina Keresztély, 20176

Two formerly low status neighbourhoods, related to the industrial past of the city – Old Podgórze as residential, and Zabłocie as industrial. Cultural regeneration processes have started in both quarters recently. In Old Podgórze, as spontaneous processes, through the activities of NGOs and stakeholders involved in culture and the creative economy (printing, architecture and interior design, arts and crafts, design production, advertising and promotional materials, catering) and in Zabłocie as voluntary processes generated by large-scale public investments through the creation of cultural institutions: Eagle Pharmacy, Schindler’s Factory (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art - MOCAK (2010). These processes have led to the regeneration of the area, but social and economic sustainability are not guaranteed.

General data

Old Podgórze and Zabłocie are situated near the historical centre of the city of Krakow.

Population of Krakow: 750,000 inhabitants, the 3rd city of Poland after Warsaw and Poznan, and the 2nd most important cultural centre after Warsaw. Unemployment rate was 5% in 2011, compared to 11% in Małopolska region. Krakow is a highly important tourist attraction in the country and in East-Central Europe as a whole, with 9 million visitors in 2012 alone! Krakow is also a university city with 100,000 students.

Population of Old Podgórze: 12,000 inhabitants (2012)

Population of Zabłocie: 715 inhabitants (2008)

From a former industrial district to a cultural neighborhood

Old Podgórze neighbourhood is situated near the historical centre of Krakow, directly linked to Kazimierz neighbourhood. The latter is well-known as concentrating Krakow’s Jewish heritage and being the liveliest cultural neighbourhood of the city, attracting tourists, university students and expats. The dynamic development of Kazimierz has been in progress since the 1989 political transition. The recent development of Old Podgórze is strongly linked to that of Kazimierz: for almost a decade, a rather organic urban regeneration process has been taking place here, sporadically supported by public interventions. Since 2010, the two neighbourhoods have been directly linked by a pedestrian bridge (Bernatka Bridge), inspiring the “the café rejuvenation of the streets leading to it in both quarters” (Murzyn-Kupisz M., 2012, p.7)

Old Podgórze is a neighbourhood of approximately 12,000 inhabitants. Initially, Podgórze had functioned as a suburb of Kazimierz, and once the latter merged with Krakow, Podgórze became a free royal city founded by the Austrian emperor. Thanks to its dynamic industrialisation and intense urbanisation at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Podgórze developed in rivalry with Krakow until the fusion of the two cities in 1915. Due to its industrial development, Podgórze used to be characterised by greater social diversity than the historical parts of Krakow. Its relatively strong economic position within the city decreased as a consequence of WWII: part of the neighbourhood had been designated by the Nazis as the ghetto of Krakow, with the concentration camp in its vicinity, in Plaszów. (Fayman, Keresztély, Murzyn-Kupisz, 2008)

Old Podgórze and Zablocie Krakow (OpenStreetMap)

Old Podgórze is also strongly linked to the Zablocie neighbourhood, a former industrial area with waste industrial plants, currently on its way to becoming a cultural/tourist quarter thanks to some new cultural investments, the most important ones being the Krakow Private University (Krakowska Szkoła Wyższa) and Schindler’s Factory Museum, which opened in 2010.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, a slow transformation has been taking place in Podgórze, showing the typical signs of the conversion of an industry based urban area mainly inhabited by a working class population into a trendy cultural neighbourhood.

The main elements of Podgórze’s new cultural identity

The transformation of Podgórze began at the turn of the millennium through a number of pioneering initiatives that awakened the local identity and cultural activities: restoration of a former Jewish prayer house as a modern art gallery; creation of Association, an NGO active in promoting the neighbourhoods’ cultural heritage and attractions partly through their website offering a description of the area in 13 languages. From the beginning of the 2000s, a large number of cafés, bars and art galleries have appeared, introducing a continuously expanding alternative cultural offer besides those of the traditional historical centre and Kazimierz neighbourhood. The latter, at the same time, is losing the avant-garde character it acquired during the 1990s, and is increasingly dominated by tourism and catering functions (Murzyn-Kupisz, 2012). Following the analogy of similar tendencies observable in many cities, a shift of the alternative, creative cultural functions from the centre towards the outer, more popular parts of the city, can be observed in Krakow as well through the emergence of Podgórze as a possible new cultural neighbourhood. For instance, between 2010 and mid-2011, Fabryka (The Factory) art club was open and run by the owners of the most famous alternative place of Kazimierz, Alchemia. Zbiornik Kultury (the Culture Tank), an exhibition centre was active in the same period, between 2010 and 2011. Apparently this period was the take-off of the cultural transformation of the area. Besides an alternative culture offer, this was the moment of the settling of new educational functions, especially artistic education: music schools, Krakow School of Art and Fashion Design, AF Modrzewski University in interior design, journalism, cultural studies, etc. This development was supported, on the public side, by the creation of museums in Zabłocie: Schindler’s Factory, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK), etc. Podgórze is also witnessing a boom of cultural economies: a rapid increase in the number of firms in book publishing, printing, interior design, arts and crafts and advertising (Murzyn-Kupisz, 2012).

The Challenge: Sustainability of Podgórze as a Creative Culture Cluster

As Murzyn-Kupisz argues, the main challenge faced by Podgórze is the sustainability of its creative cultural functions. In 2011, several units of creative culture closed down: the Factory, Arsharter/Atelier Hothaus (organisation of workshops and art groups in the field of theatre). The apparent decline may be explained by a number of diverse factors.

The cultural boom has attracted more and more commercial investments in the neighbourhood. Podgórze has shown up on the tourist map of Krakow, the number of new hotels and catering units has increased – although still to a lesser extent than in the two classical touristic neighbourhoods, the old city centre and Kazimierz. As is often the case in such rapid and mainly organic development of an area, gentrification is taking place rapidly. Small-sized cultural venues, focusing on creation and not on commercial functioning rapidly fell victim to this development, as they were inexorably unable to cope with the increase in rents and other costs in the area. This is a ‘natural’ development in many cities that in ideal conditions can be balanced by appropriate public policies.

Gentrification processes also accompanied real estate development in Podgórze. Although housing prices are still on the average level of Krakow, the housing investment market of Podgórze has been active since the 2010s (Gluszak, M. & Maronan, B., 2011). Prior to the cultural expansion in the neighbourhood, until the mid-2000s, Podgórze had mainly been occupied by low income households; its image as a disadvantaged urban area remained valid until recently: “Podgórze is still perceived as a rather dangerous and less prestigious area, one of predominantly working-class character and industrial traditions where a Jewish ghetto was established by the Nazis during the Second World War” (Murzyn-Kupisz, 2012).

Notwithstanding this image, a certain change in the households was already apparent by the end of the 2000s, parallel to the slow emergence of housing renewal in the area. Housing renewal is almost exclusively related to private investments in spite of the fact that Podgórze, and especially Zabłocie, constitute one of the target areas of the Urban Rehabilitation Program of the City of Krakow (Fayman, Keresztély, Murzyn-Kupisz, 2008).

Krakow’s urban renewal program was adopted in 2008; its goal was to balance local priorities, urban level goals and overall objectives determined by the regional operational programs financed by ERDF in the Małopolska region. Eight special zones for urban renewal were designated by the program, according to seven criteria: unemployment rate, educational level, rate of new enterprises, poverty rate, delinquency, state of housing stock and infrastructures, and environmental pollution. Three priority zones had been selected, including Old Podgórze and Zabłocie. The priorities of urban renewal formulated in these two areas include aesthetic as well as functional elements (functional mix) testifying to the city’s apparent political commitment to integrated development.

But the ambitious priorities expressed in the program were not based on solid financial feasibility, and as a result public intervention in the area remained punctual, mainly concentrated on public spaces and, as mentioned above, the creation of some prestigious cultural amenities. Drafting the strategic documents without a solid political and financial foundation could “risk leading to chaotic development and an increase in real estate prices, and as a result destroy the identity of the neighbourhood” (Fayman, Keresztély, Murzyn-Kupisz, 2008).

The lack of solid public intervention for the sustainable renewal of the area and maintenance of its creative cultural functions has also been expressed by stakeholders in the artistic life of Podgórze: “The developers have not backed off; they are not interested in the fact that Zabłocie has developed some symbolic capital, already created a certain artistic brand. We cannot afford to stay there. The regeneration of the quarter is in this sense a mission of MOCAK and Schindler’s Factory, institutions which are large enough to support such processes” (Białkowski 2011 cited by Murzyn-Kupisz, 201, p.73).


Hardly a decade after the emergence of the first signs of a functional transformation in Podgórze, this transformation seems to be taking a new direction. The chances of Podgórze becoming a new centre with creative cultural functions in Krakow are being endangered by gentrification processes occurring too rapidly in the neighbourhood. It seems that this area of Krakow was not prepared for the ‘clash’ of different stakeholders’ interests (private actors in real estate and tourism, cultural NGOs, public sector), and is ceding the place to the strongest amongst them. NGOs apparently are not sufficiently rooted in the area to be able to keep up with competition from private actors. Public policies remain weak. The possible future of the neighbourhood has been outlined by a researcher specialised in the cultural development of Krakow as “…advancing gentrification coupled with lack of support on the part of the city authorities, which should be trying to foster synergies between major cultural investments and creative activities in the area, (…) can lead to an undesirable imbalance between creative and other activities. Rather than a real cultural quarter, then, Podgórze may thus become a well-located but indistinguishable area consisting of enclaves of luxury housing complexes and office buildings. Even if major museums are present in the quarter, they will not be institutions inspiring smaller-scale creative activities in their vicinity, but only sites of tourist consumption” (Murzyn-Kupisz, 2012, p.13).


Fayman, F, - Keresztély, K – Murzyn-Kupisz. M (2008) Réalisation d’études sur les politiques de renouvellement urbain des villes d’Europe Centrale illustrées par la réhabiltaiton de quartiers existants, le cas de Cracovie, Rapport final, study for Agence Nationale de l’Habitat – Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations. ACT Consultants (Paris, France), Ville et Habitat (Paris, France), International Cultural Centre (Krakow, Poland).

Murzyn-Kupisz, M. (2012) Cultural Quarters as a Means of Enhancing the Creative Capacity of Polish Cities? Some Evidence from Cracow, Quaestiones Geographicae, 31(4), p.63-76

Gluszak, M. – Maronan, B. (2011) Housing demand, Urban Sprawl and Gated Societies: Evidence from Poland, ENHR Conference 5-8 July, 2011, Toulouse

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