Degraded and restituted towns in Poland: Origins, development, problems
Miasta zdegradowane i restytuowane w Polsce. Geneza, rozwój, problemy
One of the less known problems in settlement geography is the issue of so-called degraded and restituted towns. This lack of reconnaissance, however, is perhaps less the result of the towns’ scarcity than their specificity of being ‘awarded’ or ‘deprived of’ an urban label by means of strictly socio-political actions. Degraded and restituted towns, hence, are spatial units made ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ instantaneously, irrespective of their de facto state along what is widely considered a gradual path of (de)urbanization. Instead, they become compartmentalized into two constructed spatial categories that have survived the onslaught of material transformations and philosophical repositioning. While ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are conceptual binaries that certainly need to be treated with caution, their cultural salience may cause tangible consequences within national administrative systems that abide by a formalized rural-urban distinction. This issue becomes particularly important for settlements that clearly transcend any imagined rural-urban divide, i.e. those, whose material and immaterial characteristics seem counterfactual to their assigned category. It is also crucial in formal practices designed to avert such counterfactualities, but whose randomness of approach more creates confusion than helps straighten out a historical concoction. Both processes, nonetheless, lend ‘urbanity’ and ‘rurality’ a resonance of objectivity that justifies their use as guides for a host of developmental endeavors, despite subverting a much more intricate reality. Degraded and restituted towns are direct derivatives of this. Drawing on the above-mentioned irreconcilabilities, the aim of this book is to present and scrutinize degraded and restituted towns through the example of Poland, where these towns occupy a special niche. For one, Poland, due to its chequered and variegated history, is home to a conspicuously large number of degraded (828) and restituted (240) towns; for another, Poland’s relentlessness of formalizing ‘urbanity’ as a category of statistical, political and cultural guidance has a direct bearing on the lives of the towns’ residents. Realizing the intricacy of degraded and restituted towns in the face of commonplace rural- urban ideations, the editors and the 17 contributing Authors of this book have made an effort to capture the towns’ complexity with special foci on their shrouded origins, developmental specificities and incurred problems. Owing to the involvement of researchers from different scientific disciplines and subdisciplines, the undertaken project has helped elucidate the problem from multiple perspectives: spatial, social, demographic, economic, environmental, historical, architectural, cultural, legal and philosophical. Allocated into 17 chapters, not only have the presented interpretations allowed for a first interdisciplinary synthesis on the topic, but they also helped outline some prospective directions for future research. Moreover, collecting materials of such diversity into an amalgamated whole has helped identify specific discourses that enwrap the concept of “urbanity” when seen through its oscillations within formal contexts, and to which degraded and restituted towns serve as expendable game pieces. By combining knowledge arrived at through epistemologically different approaches, the incremental contribution of this book as a whole could be summarized in two attainments: a) extending theoretical frameworks used to study degraded and restituted towns in terms of definition, conceptualization and assessment of predispositions for future development on account of their spatial, legal, socio-economic and historical characteristics; b) initiating an anticipated discussion on a number of important and current topics related to the practices of degradation and restitution that have not received adequate attention, e.g., the urbanity-vs.-rurality paradox, the changeability of human settlement forms vs. the consequences of rigid spatial categorizations; the role of various actors in shaping the socioeconomic reality under the guise of an ossified binary; or identifying spatio-conceptual conflicts as future challenges for local, regional and national policy.
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Copyright 2015 by University of Gothenburg
The book has been peer-reviewed independently by two specialists, and presented/ discussed at an official higher seminar at the Unit of Human Geography, Department of Economy and Society, School of Business, Economy and Law, University of Gothenburg, Viktoriagatan 13, Gothenburg, Sweden, on Monday 25 January 2016, 13.00.
degraded towns, restituted towns, urbanity, rurality, formalization, Poland