The city got a boost for development. The first conference summarizing the project is behind us Julia Szypulska November 24, 2023

The city got a boost for development

The first conference summarizing the project is behind us

The “Local Development” program is the first to support small and medium-sized cities. Hajnówka is taking advantage of this opportunity. The city is implementing many innovative projects, the effects of which can already be seen. For example, the first Local Activity Place in the Podlaskie Voivodeship, aimed at young people, has been launched. However, there are still many challenges ahead of us, such as the difficult situation on the eastern border or the progressive depopulation of the city.


Both successes and challenges were discussed at the conference Has the internal potential of the city of Hajnówka been realized? Presentation of the first results of the project “Hajnówka ReNewal – Green Transformation”, which took place last Friday (17.11.) in Białowieża. To participate in it we invited the project partners, the cities-winners of the “Local Development” Program, local governments belonging to the Forum of Ambitious Cities, experts from the Association of Polish Cities and the Institute for Urban and Regional Development. The meeting covered the following thematic areas:

  • Participation
  • Tourism
  • Local product
  • Development monitoring.

Hajnówka is a relatively young city. Its development is closely related to the development of the timber industry. After its decline, a difficult time began for the city.

A boom is often followed by stagnation and a push for further growth is needed. Medium-sized cities have not had much support. The "Local Development" program is the first such support and a good start, but the challenges for small and medium-sized cities remain.

Agnieszka Dawydzik of the Association of Polish Cities, who co-created the project "Hajnówka ReNewal – Green Transformation"

Such support and impulse for development for the city is the project just mentioned. We have been implementing it since autumn 2021. During the conference, Jerzy Sirak, mayor of Hajnówka, talked about why the project was created, what the preparations for it looked like and what its main assumptions are. Recall that it assumes the development of the city in the following areas:

  • Green Transformation – environment and climate not only in the Białowieża Forest

  • Do business in Hajnówka – diversification of economic activity on the basis of local resources and products

  • Integration and identity for a strong community

  • New Spatial Order – New Center of Hajnówka.

This is a difficult, complex project that treats the city's development in a comprehensive manner. It requires the involvement and cooperation of many entities, institutions and residents, as well as a change in thinking about the city and its future. The project is very ambitious and innovative, and we are trying to meet contemporary challenges in it. The effects of many of the activities we have started now will only become apparent after a few years. We will also seek external funding to continue these activities. Most importantly, however, the process of positive change in Hajnówka has already begun.

Jerzy Sirak, Mayor of the City of Hajnówka

Examples of the project's undertakings

We still have to wait for the long-term effects, but the first achievements are already there. The mayor of the city presented examples of projects that have already taken place and received a positive response from residents. These are primarily those activities that required their involvement. Noteworthy is the implementation of the so-called neighborhood initiatives, to which local NGOs volunteered. Thanks to this endeavor, two editions of the Day of Wierobieja Street or the Vernissage of Sound – a festival of young independent artists – were held. The Route of Hajnówka Murals was also created, including the first community mural on Pilsudskiego Street.

Youth is at the center of many project activities. The Local Activity Place, the first in Podlaskie Voivodeship, has recently been launched. Although the renovation of the facility is still underway, but until its completion we have made the auditorium available to young people, where they already organize various events and spend their free time. The needs of the young are also to be met by the surroundings of the former railway station. Ideas for developing this place were collected by students of Bialystok University of Technology, who took part in the ART TIME architectural competition. We want to use them and arrange the area according to the expectations of the young.

We would also like to convince young people that Hajnówka is a good place to live and do business. The awakening of the entrepreneurial spirit was to be served by the “My idea for business in Hajnówka” contest, which attracted a lot of interest from high school students. Their task was to create business plans. Participants submitted many interesting ideas. The second edition of the contest is now underway.

SceGrupa uczniów na scenie uśmiecha się do zdjęcia.

Business is also about cooperation with entrepreneurs. Two editions of business breakfasts were held as part of the project, thanks to which representatives of Hajnówka businesses were able to get to know each other, as well as receive expert advice on available funds. The effect of the breakfasts is already here. Participants of the meetings decided to establish an association.

It is impossible to think of Hajnówka in isolation from the surrounding nature, especially the Bialowieza Forest. Our goal is for the city to develop in synergy with nature. Hence, the flagship investment within the project is the Academy of Nature. It will be a place attracting tourists, offering nature education, with accommodation and facilities for organizing workshops and demonstrations. Here will also be the headquarters of the Hajnówka Local Product Center, where those willing to visit will find all the best of Hajnówka. The Academy of Nature will be located on Parkowa Street. Within the framework of the project, we want to implement the first stage of the investment, i.e. the development of architectural documentation and the construction of the first building “Academy of Nature with the function of collective housing.” The completion date for the first stage is the end of 2024.

If we talk about development, it is impossible to ignore the challenges that local governments face. Some of them are influenced by cities, others are not. The latter include, for example, the geopolitical situation or demographic trends – Hajnówka has been particularly affected by depopulation. Dr. Karol Janas of the Institute for Urban and Regional Development talked about how to develop in difficult times.

A city develops when it contains functional elements that serve the largest possible area, and the services available here are used by the largest possible number of people. It is therefore necessary to think about the development of a city in conjunction with the area it serves. Hajnówka is a strong local center.

dr Karol Janas, IRMiR

For this reason, cooperation with other local governments is very important. The expert also stressed that the attrition of residents is not just a matter of demographics, but also of metropolization. Even if small and medium-sized cities develop and the comfort of life increases, the big ones “suck in” residents.

This is how the tug-of-war begins. The city that finds a way to attract residents has a chance to develop. In doing so, it would be worth redefining the word development. In this case, it is no longer growth, but rather the inhibition of negative processes.

IRMiR expert

He pointed to the following as the foundations of urban development:

  • Jobs

  • Housing

  • Communication accessibility

  • Quality and availability of services

  • Environment

  • Spatial policy

  • Socio-economic policy.

Previously, the fundamental need was jobs, it was jobs that attracted people to cities. Today, the fundamental need is housing. This is the main problem facing young people today. According to the IRMiR expert, local governments that find a way to meet this need may have a competitive advantage in the battle to attract residents. He added that a positive development in the case of Hajnówka was the restoration of railroad connections. Can urban development be guided? The fact is that local government officials influence only a fraction of conditions.

Sometimes we hit a strong external current that carries us away. However, we can increase the chances of development by taking advantage of "light breezes." Often it is the crisis that is the chance to find something new.

dr Karol Janas, IRMiR

To this end, it is worthwhile:

  •  Have an ambitious vision of development growing out of a sober diagnosis of the situation in the city.

  •  Accurately identify and mobilize local resources.

  •  Build a pro-development coalition – even the best leader alone will not “pull” the city.

  •  Do not wait for a favorable wind, but take advantage of every, even the smallest gust.

  • Plan a development policy and implement it consistently but flexibly.

  •  Remember that development is often “blood, sweat and tears.” A good plan is not enough, even money can sometimes be too little.

Discussion panels

Two discussion panels were held during the conference. The first was about participation and was led by Agnieszka Maszkowska, president of the SocLab Foundation. It was attended by Katarzyna Czurak, a representative of the Metamorphosis Association, Mariola Bolisęga, Rydułtowy City Hall, and Małgorzata Wiszniewska, the supervisor of the “Szkolna Dwójka Volunteers” with her students.

The second panel, in turn, was devoted to tourism. It was moderated by Michał Basiński, an expert on creating a tourist brand of a place from the Synergia company. Among the panelists were: Ireneusz Kiendyś, Hajnówka City Hall, Andrzej Pleszuk, Podlaskie Voivodeship Marshal’s Office, Walentyna Pietroczuk, Hajnówka Poviat , Marta Grzelak, LOT Region of the Białowieża Primeval Forest, and Joanna Bińczycka, winner of the Podlaskie Brand of the Year 2021, owner of the “Cukrowe Fantazje” Cake Studio.

So how do you build a brand in a difficult time and place?

Our discussion was quite heated. We talked about what should be happening - certainly more investment in promotion is needed. We also recognized that the tourism industry in the Białowieża Forest region has been hit hard by independent factors. The difficult situation already began during the pandemic, and was later made worse by the war in Ukraine. It should be emphasized that this is an abnormal situation. As long as the tourism industry does not receive support, the question of difficult times and place will keep coming up.

Michał Basiński, an expert on creating a tourist brand of a place from the Synergia company

There is certainly a lack of cooperation with the services that, due to the difficult situation at the border, are present in the region and are introducing customs that are not necessarily in line with what has been accepted here so far. What can be done is to establish one united front and lobby for the normalization of this situation. The panelists agreed that tourism entities should lobby together, so that the message reaches those in power that we are together, able to articulate our needs and demand solutions to problems.

As for the promotion of local products, a lot of work is still needed here. Even in not too distant Białystok, not everyone knows what Hajnówka marcinek is. It is also worth considering promoting the region in neighboring provinces. The people there are more familiar with the situation on the border than those in other parts of Poland, and perhaps they would be willing to take advantage of our offer.

It was no less lively at the panel on participation.

When it comes to participation, Hajnówka is innovating on a regional scale. These were bold things that are not the norm in local governments. There was a lot more going on here, and thus a lot of excitement. Here the most important potential is people, without them it is impossible to make changes.

Agnieszka Maszkowska, presenter, president of the SocLab Foundation

The panelists noted that the implementation of participatory activities presented various difficulties. A representative of the Metamorphosis Association told what cooperation with the local government  looked like on the example of the creation of Local Activity Places.

During the preparation of the project, a diagnosis of the problems plaguing Hajnówka was created, including those related to communication. We were given a ready-made prescription in this document. The question is whether we are ready to implement the treatment. What is needed is conversation, conversation, and more conversation. In this way, many problems can be solved.

Katarzyna Czurak, Metamorphosis Association

In a similar tone, Mariola Bolisęga from the Rydułtowy City Hall said.

As local government officials, we don't know everything very well. What is most important in communication with residents is to talk openly about problems and risks, not to hide difficulties. Constant contact with residents is very important. Then the decisions of the authorities are accepted, residents identify with them more easily. We are all still learning and the success is that we want to do it .

Mariola Bolisęga, Rydułtowy City Hall

The panelists agreed that the project had initiated many activities of a social nature that would not have been there otherwise. However, it is worth considering what to do to make these processes sustainable, so that they do not go away with the end of the project. Certainly, a good direction is to bring about the formation of a Youth City Council, then the voice of young people would become more audible. It is also necessary to strengthen the mechanisms of the civic budget and continue participatory activities, even small ones, such as mini walks and meetings.

The conference ended with a workshop on indicators for monitoring urban development. They were conducted by representatives of the Bialystok University of Technology. The workshop was attended by representatives of the Hajnówka City Hall and subordinate units. Their goal was to develop a list of indicators useful for making decisions based on knowledge and data analysis, relevant to the development of the city.

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