Sunday 4 December 2011

Against Gentrification, Evictions and Arson in Praga

On December 4 there was a picket held in front of a landmark building in the Praga district which is about to be destroyed to build a luxury neighbourhood. We went there to add a social element to the protest, to speak about gentrification and speak about the problem of arson, most probably by the gentrifiers.

Most of Warsaw was destroyed during the war by the nazis, except for the Praga district. Therefore it has some of the oldest buildings in the city. But it also was neglected by the city, which now is selling it off to developers and trying to get rid of municipal tenants. The building in question was built in 1860, making it one of the oldest and was famous because there used to be a Gymnasium there, where Janusz Korczak studied. It is now owned by the company Elektrim, which plans to develop a bourgeois neighbourhood in Port Praski (Praga Port), with skyscrapers, luxury buildings and a marina.

(See photos below)

What the people who fight for the preservation of the landmarks forget to mention however that it is not only about preserving the look of the neighbourhood and the buildings: there are PEOPLE involved. As it happens, the two buildings on Sierakowski St. near the entrance of the new neighbourhood have people living in it, despite the fact that the city, when it signed a contract with Elektrim company, wrote that it had no tenants.

The landmark lovers sometimes forget that people live in these places!

Of course the city plans to evict the people. Besides that, a fire was set in the building in question, but luckily did not cause much damage.

The landmark people did a good job of publicizing this and inviting important people to protest the planned destruction of the building and Senator Borowski appeared. Then we showed up and asked about the people living there and made them the important point of the protest. After all, we are for the preservation of important landmarks, but also we don't want them renovated and then turned into some luxury buildings.

One of the tenants told about the situation, and our colleague from the Tenants' Defense Committee told about how the city sold the buildings to developers with tenants, in violation of the law. Then we mentioned about the arson and pointed out the series of suspicious fires. Last night there was one. A few days ago, the building across our office was set on fire at about 3:30 AM. In that situation, we know that the city was trying to get rid of the tenants because they had just recently come and said they would like to organize a campaign. But somebody set a fire on their roof and now they are all dispersed in temporary shelters, just trying to get their lives together.

 This is the fire on Targowa 19 a few days ago. It was set at 3:30 AM. It was set in part of the building where nobody lived and the fire department is about 50 meters away, so luckily it did not kill anyone.

This house across from our office was set on fire.  Five people were hospitalized, a couple of dozen are now homeless.

Other houses in the neighbourhood have also had fires, some minor, some very serious.

That fire was number 20 on Targowa St. since the beginning of the year. It is very clear what is going on. We announced that next week we would make an action in the neighbourhood.

Such scenes are common.
After yesterday's fire, tenants still living in the front part of the building not evacuated need medical attention. 40 families were evacuated from the other part and are in temporary shelter.

That's what the developer wants the neighbourhood to look like in a few years.
 Nice if you can afford it. Most people in the neighbourhood cannot.

Current view of the Praga Port
 Not exactly the luxury yacht club the developers have in mind.
 The developer's flags are all around the area.
 Part of the Port is an undeveloped area. It houses many types of birds and animals, including fox and beavers. Below is a picture of rather rare black woodpeckers which live here. They are a protected species in Poland and are not common in cities. But they have a home here. They and other birds will also be made homeless by the development.

 The landmark in question seen on an old drawing. 
In the area of the port there used to be a horse market.