Urbanism After Extraction

Reclaiming Europe’s Coal Towns: Housing, Landscape, and Infrastructure in the Silesia Region, Poland

As part of the Upper Silesian Coal Basin, Katowice grew through much of the twentieth century with the development of the coal mining industry. Poland had become a world leader in coal production until its transition to a service economy and the restructuring of the industry in the 1990’s, which has led to phases of population decline and unemployment in many cities across the Katowice metropolitan area. While Poland’s economy continues to grow as a whole and Katowice has been establishing new cultural, educational and employment opportunities, there remains affected areas in the region that still face serious environmental degradation including subsidence, landfill, and water contamination.

Despite the general decline in the industry, increased operational costs in old and deep mines, and an aging power plant infrastructure, Poland continues to be heavily reliant on coal to meet their current energy demands. As the European Union and much of the world sets targets for transitioning to renewable energy, Poland and the Katowice urban area in particular are faced with a twofold challenge: how to reclaim a highly degraded post-coal landscape for the future, and how to transition to a new energy paradigm. This urban design studio will address both the environmental and social aspects of this problem. The studio will challenge students to seek a comprehensive approach that calls to combine design and landscape strategies with processes of legislation, zoning, financing, and investment structures. Focusing on selected sites and recurring urban conditions within Katowice, the following questions will be asked – can the reclaiming of this post coal- mined landscape be combined with new urban development practices in a way that one supports the other? Can we imagine strategies for environmental reclamation and landscape cultivation that carry ambitions for social reconstruction? Can new models of housing, such as citizen led collaborative developments, take an active role in this project? Can we envision new models for integrating public environmental cleanup efforts, with market driven projects (housing and commercial spaces)?

This was the focus of the spring 2017 joint urban design studio, supported by the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism, and co-taught by Rafi Segal and Marie Law Adams.