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Rafał Zając: We aim to make Stargard a city that is resilient and adaptive to climate change

Interview with Rafał Zając, Mayor of Stargard in Poland

  • February 27, 2020 11:30
  • Author Aseniya Dimitrova
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Source: Rafał Zając / City of Stargard

Rafał Zając has been working in the Stargard City Hall since 1999. He moved from clerk through Head of the Social Policy Department (2001) to Mayor (2017). In this conversation, he talks about the flagship housing assistance programme, social development, attracting investment and more.

Mr Zając, how do you describe your city? What is there to see and do in Stargard?

Stargard is the third-largest city in the West Pomerania region. It is located 40 km from Szczecin, 180 km from Berlin and 120 km from the ferry terminal in Świnoujście.

We do have a lot to offer, not only to the citizens but also to investors and tourists. The city has seen dynamic growth in the past years.

Two industrial parks are home to companies from many different industries, representing local business as well as large multinational corporations, and in total they give employment to approximately 7000 people. We continue to focus on economic development by offering attractive investment grounds to companies.

Stargard has an abundant cultural and entertainment offer and our citizens eagerly participate in a variety of events. We are proud of the local Orchestra Camerata Stargard.

Each year the entire city is full of high-level art during ArtFestival held by the city. On every weekend of the summer holidays, the city is teeming with all kinds of events. During the rest of the year, different concerts and performances take place.

Stargard also boasts a rich history which can be appreciated due to the city’s well-preserved medieval monuments, the most impressive being the collegiate church, a gothic temple which is one of the most valuable historical buildings of the West Pomeranian region.

Most of those monuments can be enjoyed strolling through the parks which surround the old city centre, spanning almost 3 km. Atmospheric parks where one can enjoy outdoor activities or leisure are our strong side.

The current strategic document for the social and business development of Stargard expires this year. To what extent have the main goals of the Socio-Economic Development Strategy 2020 been achieved?

That document outlined the goals for 12 years. During that time, we were set on sustainable social and economic development. In my assessment, we have achieved a lot in those areas.  The quality of life has definitely risen.

The city has become more friendly not only to its citizens but also to investors. The variety of industries represented by companies from our industrial parks results in the continuous growth of the number of job offers requiring new specializations and competences. A couple of logistic centres, production plants and warehouses were built in 2019 alone.

We have also implemented a variety of investment projects and solutions which significantly contributed to the quality of life in different areas. The positive changes affected education, culture, sport and leisure, transportation and infrastructure.

We have improved public transportation by upgrading to low emission, energy effective buses. We have built a new passenger transfer centre which integrates the routes of operators of passenger transportation who offer their services throughout the entire Stargard county.

Currently, the public swimming pool is undergoing a significant upgrade. The renewed building with a modern pool will answer the growing need for sport and leisure venues among Stargard’s citizens.

Stargard Science Center, which is currently under construction, will expand the city’s cultural offer. When analyzing the fulfilment of social and economic goals, our housing support program has to be mentioned.

Our assisted housing program is still a benchmark for other municipalities in Poland. Its participants are people who require assistance in everyday life. Revitalization has also seen a lot happening.

The quality of tenement houses has improved, assisted housing for children separated from their families has been established, new areas for pastime and playgrounds have been created and new parking places were set up.

You stepped in office as a mayor after the last actualization of the document. Do you envisage changes in the strategic directions of the city’s development? If yes, do you foresee new objectives or rather new ways to achieve them and address the existing challenges?

We would like for Stargard to continue on its path of dynamic social and economic development. The quality of living in Stargard must continue to improve.

At the same time, we want to stay ready for new challenges resulting from a tendency visible throughout all Poland, namely the depopulation of cities. We are focusing our activities on keeping the current inhabitants of Stargard in our town and attracting new ones.

One of the tools for the task is the Stargard Citizen Card supported by the StargardVita (“Stargard Welcomes”) campaign. The campaign is aimed at promoting our city through attractive job opportunities, among others.

We aim to make Stargard a city that is resilient and adaptive to climate change. A challenge facing us in the upcoming years will be the sustainable management of resources, i.e. water and energy, as well as waste management. We will most definitely be adapting to the challenges of the ageing society and sustainable financing of city development.

Despite the troubles, you described 2019 as very good for the local citizens. Also, you shared your willingness to increase the number of inhabitants and encourage further economic development in 2020. How will you do this?

I am convinced that Stargard is a good place to live in. It offers jobs, housing and a wide variety of leisure activities. We show all of that to prospective new citizens.

Through the StargardVita campaign, we are trying to convince people from northwestern Poland that it is worth moving to our city. Stargard is a city with large potential and is continuously developing.

Increasing the number of citizens is a chance to broaden our education, housing and cultural offer. There are people from the region currently working in Stargard, we wish to convince them to move to Stargard and settle here.

One of the benefits, as mentioned before, is the Citizen Card. With it you can buy a seasonal bus ticket, tickets to the cinema or pool for a fraction of the regular price. It also gives precedence for applying to nursery and kindergarten.

Last year PKP Polish Railways have started a significant investment in the city. Can you tell us more about it  and how is it expected to improve the lives of the inhabitants of Stargard?

First of all, a new tunnel will be built connecting the passenger transfer centre with the railway station. Additionally, 4 railway overpasses will be rebuilt and the streets passing below will be broadened by adding bike-pedestrian shared ways.

It will also allow for the construction of the northern bypass of the city which in turn will allow for the reorganization of the city centre and ease car traffic. We are also preparing for the construction of a P&R parking lot for 300 cars neighbouring the railway station.

As to the project of the Polish Railways, thanks to the renovation of the tracks and transmission lines trains will go faster. Those works combined will improve the functionality and image of Stargard.

Finally, is there an innovation or a good practice from your city that you are proud of and that you would like to share with the other mayors in the European Union?

In Stargard we have developed a number of solutions which make everyday life in general easier. We focus a lot of our attention on helping those who need assistance in everyday life.

We get a lot of praise for our benchmark assisted housing program. We get visits every once in a while, from other municipalities, often larger ones, that wish to know how we make our almost 100 assisted apartments work.

They want to make use of some of our own solutions that our Social Housing Association has developed in the last 20 years for people requiring different types of assistance:

  • “No Barriers”, for people with physical or mental disabilities;
  • “For Starters”, for youth leaving foster care and specialized care institutions;
  • “Not Alone” for the elderly;
  • “New Beginning”, for the homeless leaving shelters.

In my opinion, throughout those two decades, those programs have managed to prove their worth and can set a good example for others. The entire undertaking can be deemed a huge success made possible by close cooperation with the Social Housing Association.

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