So bravo then Gliwice, my home town in Poland, you have a shiny new Road and everyone is so, so spine-tingled and frothingly happy at being able to…what? Get to the region’s capital Katowice five minutes faster than they were previously? A Road. Not any old road, but A Big Road slap bang in the middle of the city, dissecting it, cleaving it in two so as to facilitate what is in effect, a giant pipe whooshing even more emissions into the wheezing, gasping lungs of a population located in the Black Triangle, shorthand for the most polluted region of Europe.
In a country where the manic desire to get from A to B is a defining national characteristic, matched only by the Poles perpetual habit of flagellating themselves with self-pity, Gliwice’s new Road shouldn’t be that much of a surprise for me. But it is. You see, I associate with progressive Poles. Intelligent and caring people. The only problem is, such people account for about 5% of the population here.
Judging by then near unanimous outpouring of unfettered joy at the opening of this new Road, 5% is a generous estimate. Another road! To facilitate more cars! Hurray for Gliwice as the city ushers in the Eisenhower Era! What else would the Poles like to appropriate from the 1950’s? Fast-food? Shopping malls? Burgers? New and improved lung cancer? Oh Gliwice can’t get enough of all these Mad Men-era goodies.
Katowice, on the other hand, gets a slick new museum, hip, urban, intelligent, with the right mixture of art and history, while we in Gliwice look forward to a new KFC. Next thing you know, the city’s President will be telling everyone about this great plan he has to do a little… nuclear testing…that’s right…out by the lakes – yep, we’re going to explode some missiles into the water because…well, it sounds like a real swell thing to do and it will sure as heck scare the eyebrows off the Russkies! Then we’ll all go to a swingers party and afterwards watch The Ed Sullivan Show!
At least 1950’s Americans have an excuse, as in, it was the 1950’s and they were American, and the general great mass of gum-chewing, beer-swigging, silent majority yokels didn’t have any sort of access to the information superhighway. No-one listened to historian Lewis Mumford when he warned how the Eisenhower Freeway system would damage both cities and countryside.
Today a growing number of American cities are backtracking their way out of the past, far away from the Road n’ Car strangulation combination. New Orleans has just received Federal money to remove the Claiborne Expressway, Cleveland is turning the West Shoreway freeway into a boulevard, and New Haven in Connecticut is turning many highway segments into tree-lined avenues.
”The logic behind building freeways in urban areas is collapsing,” says John Norquist, a former mayor of Milwaukee and the CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism (that’s Urban not Orban by the way). When he was mayor of the Wisconsin city, Norquist demolished a mile-long freeway in downtown Milwaukee because he saw how it was killing pedestrian movement, commerce and…social interaction. Ah. Hold on. Could this be it? Leaving aside the obvious answer that the general, great mass of gum-chewing, beer-swigging, silent majority of Poles might be as obedient and accepting as a dog whose master beats it seven ways from Sunday, could it be that they like urban roads because of how they separate rather than connect people?
In a country where no-one mingles in pubs and everyone routinely despises their neighbours, and where a 1950’s authoritarian government, heavily influenced by Communist policies has won the hearts and minds of an electorate who had other choices, the Road in Gliwice makes perfect sense. It symbolizes a country in love with the past, afraid of the future and fooling itself that it is smart and modern. But most of all it stands for a country where people just don’t really care about other people. I can get to Katowice five minutes quicker, so fuck you. Fuck your respiratory problems and your dorky children and fuck your fresh air. I can do 140km through the center of Gliwice.
I am Polish so fuck you.