Łódź’s economic turnaround and continued development efforts embody a clear theme: reinvention. This happens to be the theme of the city’s bid to host Expo 2022, for which it is a candidate alongside Minneapolis and Buenos Aires.
Evidence of revitalisation work is everywhere: cranes dot the city’s skyline and banners of multinational developers such as Skanska drape new construction sites. This is all part of an initiative launched by the city council in 2007: the New Centre of Łódź (ŁNC), transforming the heart of the city – which over the past two decades had fallen into disrepair – and replacing it
with 100 hectares of residential, office, commercial and leisure space. The programme consists of more than 50 different projects worth over €1bn, and some 100,000 square metres of office space is already under construction thanks to private sector investment.
At a price tag of $1.3bn and with the help of EU structural funds, the NCŁ is one of the biggest urban regeneration projects currently under way in Europe.
“In terms of the revitalisation of the city centre, making it more modern, this is absolutely critical in attracting businesses – providing a beautiful space where people want to live and enjoy themselves,” says Hanna Zdanowska, the mayor of Łódź. “With that in mind, we’ve bet heavily on developing large infrastructure, including the new train station. We’re now in the process of developing an underground transport system and new office buildings. All of that adds up to a very nice area for people to live and for businesses to come.”
The jewel in the crown of the NCŁ is the new Łódź Fabryczna Central train station, which received its first train in December of 2016. With capacity to receive 150 trains per day, the station – the most modern in Poland – offers an easy passage to capital city Warsaw in just over an hour, and will be extended with a 6-kilometre tunnel connecting it to Łódź Kaliska, the city’s second largest train station. Once fully completed in 2022, the station will enable high-speed domestic and international trains to travel through the city. An architectural head-turner, its canopy-like roof is made of 10,000 glass and metal panels designed to refract maximum sunlight into the station’s interior.
EC1: a cultural powerhouse
Just steps from Łódź Fabryczna Central are the colossal buildings of EC1, the city’s former power station, which served the residents of Łódź from 1907 to 2001. Deteriorating and unused, EC1 has since been transformed into a state-of-the-art exhibition and cultural centre through a collaboration of the City of Łódź, the World Art Foundation, and EC1 Łódź – City of Culture in an investment of nearly €30m, just over €19m of which was provided by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund.
Re-opened to the public in 2014, its complexes now house an interactive Centre for Science and Technology and a Centre for Film Arts with a planetarium, 3D cinema, art galleries and seminar rooms, some of which are still being completed. Dedicated to sharing the city’s history, the Centre for Film Arts is a nod to Łódź’s rich traditions of science and film. Because it is the birthplace of Poland’s film industry and still boasts the most prestigious film school in the country – the Leon Schiller National School of Film, Television and Theatre – Łódź, which is pronounced ‘woodj’, fondly sports the nickname ‘HollyŁódź’.
“The idea behind EC1 was not only to secure these beautiful buildings but to transform it and give it new cultural and educational functions,” says Blazej Moder, managing director at EC1 Łódź – City of Culture. “We should have a European-class cultural institution within the city.” Meanwhile, the planetarium was named 'the new wonder of Poland' in a nationwide poll in late 2016.
More than a cultural attraction, however, these aspects of the NCŁ serve to tell a story to investors, says Mr Moder, who ran the NCŁ programme from 2011 to 2015. “EC1 is a part of this competition for talent. This is the whole story of building quality of life, competitive advantage, and I think Łódź has huge potential in this.
“Investors see the public sector as having a reputation for talking and not delivering – so taking care of our credibility was key. We were able to secure funds nationally and locally, but the crucial part was to meet our timelines and fulfil our commitments. We were investing in our reputation, and after about four years there was a switch in the way of thinking by the investors. They realised we were really doing what we said we would do.”
Expo 2022 hopes
“Another element of promoting our city is our candidacy for Expo 2022 – we want to show the city off to the world,” says Ms Zdanowska. “As residents of Łódź, we know how fast-developing it is. Now we have to make sure that everybody knows this.”
The host city for Expo 2022 will be chosen in November 2017, and if selected, Łódź would welcome an estimated 8 million visitors over the three-month exhibition period. “There are two main reasons to organise such events,” says Maciej Adamczyk, a spokesman for the Expo 2022 team in the City of Łódź Office. “The first is to improve the infrastructure of a place, and the second is to improve publicity.”
The train station and city centre renewal are central to this endeavour. The space for Expo 2022 in central Łódź – 25 hectares, which most cities cannot offer, forcing such mega-events to be hosted in the outskirts – is a unique selling point, enabling much “room for growth”, adds Mr Adamczyk.
“We know the potential we have, because we initiated these changes,” says Ms Zdanowska. “Now we need to undertake the effort to promote a city with a very difficult name to pronounce, and Expo 2022 provides a great opportunity for that.”
“We are positioning ourselves as the most business-friendly city, but we need to have hard indicators confirming it – such as the quality of schools, transportation, IT and cultural amenities,” adds Mr Moder. “It’s quite a challenge, but you need to see it from the perspective that we are competing on the global market, and not only fulfilling the needs of our local citizens.”