Urbanistica Informazioni

Spatial planners as the guardians of the future of Europe: tenacity and ambition in an era of uncertainty and complexity

Janet Askew – UI n. 307 – gennaio-febbraio 2023     

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Janet Askew

President of the ECTP-CEU

Spatial planners as the guardians of the future of Europe: tenacity and ambition in an era of uncertainty and complexity

The European Council of Spatial Planners (ECTP-CEU) represents planners and stakeholders across the 46 countries of the Council of Europe, enabling debates about the trends and activities of planning. The ECTP-CEU’s Charter of European Planning (1) sets out substantial principles which seek to be embraced by all those within governments central and local, agencies, civil society, academics, NGOs and the private sector. The main criterion for membership is that any organisation which recognises, practises, and supports spatial planning as a distinct discipline can join the ECTP-CEU, which provides its members with an insight into how planning is faring across Europe.

Planning affects everyone. Arguably, it had its strongest hour during the 20th century, when most European countries were establishing planning systems, not always out of expediency to deal with the aftermath of war, partition, and invasion, but also in response to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation during the 19th and 20th centuries. Inevitably, the new planners learnt from the other professions of the built and natural environments and from long-established planning methods in nearby countries, contextualising their own systems within individual identities and national issues. Despite acknowledging a locally distinctive approach, the ECTP-CEU unites planners under a common vision.

What are the current issues facing spatial planners? Reform is a constant. It is embedded in a global world where the pressures of the free market demand more privatisation of public assets, when planning is rightly a function of the state. Fears exist in many countries that planning is being undermined by corruption and the shift to neoliberalism. Through participating in research and exemplary practice, the ECTP-CEU strives to persuade governments and communities of the benefits of good planning in the public interest. With its unique position in having access to planners in so many countries, the ECTP-CEU is pleased to share its ideas through this column in Urbanistica Informazioni by inviting members to inform and educate through the pages of this journal. It starts with an article celebrating the centenary of the TUP – the Polish Association of Planners – bringing to readers the remarkable history of the tenacity of planning in Poland. That the Polish planners have sustained their practice during the past 100 years offers hope for innovative planning in an increasingly complex and uncertain future.


Tomasz Majda

Society of Polish Town Planners (TUP)

Centenary of the Society of Polish Town Planners

Poland regained its freedom after more than a hundred years of partitions after World War I, but military and diplomatic struggles for the country's borders continued throughout almost the entire interwar period - especially dramatically on the eastern border, initially with Russian tsarist and then communist troops. Resisting external threats were accompanied by the reconstruction of the country's potential after several times passing the front during the war, but above all after building the experience of several generations functioning in different political, economic, and legal orders. The greatest economic potential and self-government organization existed in the German partition, while in Russia and Austria, the partitioning powers did not invest in any infrastructure, and additionally in the Russian partition all decisions were made by the distant and centralized tsarist administration. It was the industrial revolution period, so the deliberate limitation of local social activity, including investment opportunities, led to a dramatic humanitarian situation in dynamically growing cities.

In this situation, on January 31, 1923, a group of 10 architects signed an act establishing the Society of Polish Town Planners (TUP) at the Faculty of Architecture of the Warsaw University of Technology. During the partitions, they gained various professional experiences throughout Europe, and when establishing the Society, they represented 3 institutions: the University, the City (Warsaw City Regulation Office), and the State (City Regulation Department of the Ministry of Public Works). Such a composition defined the profile of the Society's activities. Among the goals listed in the Statute, there was scientific and consulting work and the dissemination of knowledge in society. One of the duties of each member was to deliver at least one paper or publish a scientific paper in a three-year cycle. On the other hand, a prominent place in the activities of the Society was occupied by professional issues related to the redefinition of the concept of contemporary urban planning, but also with pressing social needs. Therefore, there were numerous urban design competitions organized jointly with individual municipal units, but also cooperation with the Association of Polish Cities within the permanent Urban Planning Commission established in 1930.

The most pressing social need, however, was the issue of housing. In 1925, the Society becomes a member of the International Federation for Town & Country Planning and Garden Cities (IFHP), and in 1929 it co-creates the Polish Society for Housing Reform, as a section of the International Housing Association, whose vice-president was Teodor Toeplitz, member of the board of the TUP. He was also a promoter of cooperative construction in Poland and co-founder of the pioneering Warsaw Housing Cooperative founded in 1921. Its aim was to build cheap, mass, and functional housing, fulfilling social and cultural functions and addressed to workers and the poor intelligentsia. It became a laboratory of new organizational, financial, social, functional, and material techniques. Due to the lack of funds after the completion of the first housing colony, the second and some later colonies were financed by a direct loan from the Banca Commerciale Italiana negotiated as part of a loan to the Polish government. The Faculty of Architecture was involved in these later projects, including Barbara and Stanisław Brukalski and Helena and Szymon Syrkus, members of the TUP also forming the avant-garde group Praesens and belonging to Les Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). Szymon Syrkus represented Poland in CIAM from 1928, also in the Executive Committee (CIRPAC), until its dissolution 20 years later. Helena Syrkus held various functions at CIAM, e.g. simultaneously translating the Athens Charter, because the proceedings of the 4th Congress were held in three languages, and after World War II, taking the position of vice-president. During the 2nd CIAM Congress, Poland presented projects of housing cooperatives from several cities, and after the Congress, the ‘smallest apartment’ exhibition was organized in one of the buildings of the Warsaw Housing Cooperative.

The issue of regional planning and, at the same time, the relationship between spatial and economic planning appeared in internal discussions of the TUP in 1928, reflecting the association's interest in large-scale problems as well. Probably the most famous large-scale project was the Functional Warsaw by Jan O. Chmielewski and Szymon Syrkus. The interdisciplinary concept on a local scale was derived from analyzes on an intercontinental, European, and national scale. It took into account factors that remained constant in the foreseeable future, and when proposing a functional and spatial structure, it recognized the schedule of successive development. The 5th Congress of CIAM in 1934 adopted the project of Functional Warsaw as a methodological basis for the development of analogous problems by groups from other countries. The accuracy of the design solutions can be proven by the fact that the boundaries of the Warsaw Province, despite the change in the socio-economic system, were set after World War II in accordance with the range of Functional Warsaw, and the current settlement structure is consistent with the one designed 90 years ago. In addition to the plans of 11 regional planning districts organized until 1937, TUP postulated (from 1933) the creation of a plan for the development of the entire country, but the War interrupted the work, and after the War, Poland again found itself in other borders and an imposed foreign system. The death of 40% of TUP members during World War II and the dominance of communist economic planning over long-term spatial planning caused a change in practice in Poland till the end of the 1960s. However, it was a period of theory development. Bolesław Malisz published ‘The Theory of Threshold Analysis as a Tool in Urban and Regional Planning’ (1963), the method which is still used in the practice of world planning studios. At the same time, the Warsaw Optimization method was developed: a formalized method of two-stage development of plans, based on minimizing inputs and maximizing the effects of the distribution of urban public investments. Later on, Kazimierz Wejchert, by building the new city of Nowe Tychy, developed the ‘theory of elements of urban composition’, which became one of the foundations of teaching urban design in Poland. It differs from Kevin Lynch's theory in that it is a practical toolkit.

Due to the limited possibilities of international cooperation from behind the Iron Curtain, but at the same time a high opinion of Polish experience related to reconstruction after war damage, Polish urban planners took part in the work of the United Nations. Adolf Ciborowski became the chief director of the UN program for the reconstruction of Skopje in Macedonia after the earthquake in 1963, and then he was an adviser on spatial planning to the UN Secretariat. On behalf of the UN, Polish teams led the reconstruction of Skopje, Chimbote in Peru after the 1970 earthquake; Bogdan Wyporek was the head of the international team of UN experts in Libya and the general designer of Libya's national plan, the coordinator of UN projects in the countries of East Africa and the Middle East at the UN HABITAT Center. Polish urban planners also won the main prizes in many urban competitions, e.g. for the center of Leopoldville, Espoo near Helsinki, the development of the Tronchetto island in Venice, or New Belgrade.

From a small and rather exclusive Society of experienced urban planners, TUP has transformed into an extensive union organization with regional representations and horizontal problem sections. The early 1990s marked the beginning of a period of democratic changes in Poland. For the first time since 1945, conditions were created for expanding international cooperation. Already in 1990, TUP organized the 26th ISOCARP Congress in Warsaw, and in 1993 the IFHP Congress. In 1991, TUP joined the ECTP-CEU and became the only association from outside the EU to become a member of the Council. TUP participated in the development of the New Athens Charter and a guide for novice urban planners entitled ‘Try This Way’. The first general meeting outside the EU in the history of the ECTP-CEU was held in 2001 in Warsaw and was combined with a conference entitled ‘Consequences of EU enlargement for spatial planning and spatial planning in EU candidate countries’. The following year, TUP was accepted as a full member of the Council, and the president of TUP, Bogdan Wyporek was elected vice-president of the Council. In the meantime, along with the change in the socio-economic system in Poland, state design offices were abandoned and a commercial market for planning services was introduced. It was the beginning of the decrease in the number of members of the Society, sealed by the creation of a professional self-government - the Chamber of Urban Planners in 2003, which also took over the membership in the ECTP-CEU two years after Poland's accession to the EU in 2004. In 2014, however, the Parliament dissolved the Chamber of Urban Planners, which resulted in another extension of the scope of the Society's activities, e.g. for professional advice, but also increased its international activities. In addition to international workshops of various nature organized by TUP members, including those associated with ISOCARP and international sessions in Congresses, the TUP also co-organized the jubilee 50th ISOCARP Congress in Gdynia in 2014. Many members of the Society served as vice-presidents of ISOCARP - Piotr Lorens being the longest.

In recent years, TUP has cooperated, among others, in the organization of the UN World Urban Forum, which took place in Katowice in 2022, and a few months later, and just three months before its centenary, at the September ECTP-CEU General Assembly in Bratislava, TUP was re-admitted as a member of the Council, closing a certain bracket while opening a new century of its activities.


  1. https://ectp-ceu.eu/2013-the-charter-of-european-planning/