News that the outdoor Hala Gwardii market (not to be confused with the Hala Gwardii hall) will be ‘revitalized’ has dominated local headlines recently, and in the process sparked a furious backlash from city campaigners.
Fearing that the market will become unaffordable to all but a select few, activists have entered a war of words with City Hall accusing the Mayor’s office of lacking transparency during the ongoing process. For their part, City Hall have sought to allay these claims by promising that they hold the city’s best interests to heart.
Led by the NGO Miasto Jest Nasze, those protesting City Hall’s actions have repeatedly called for assurances to safeguard the market in its existent form, whilst simultaneously pointing out how similar past processes have led to unnecessary gentrification while pricing out the very people that form the lifeblood of such markets.
“The tender aims to transfer public land, including the market and Hala Gwardii, to private hands for up to 30-years,” said a statement issued by Miasto Jest Nasze. “In our opinion, the activities of a private investor are subject to high risk.”
Warning of this for several years, back in 2021 the NGO wrote: “the city is implementing a scenario that we have repeatedly warned against. Over the heads of the residents, and without social consultations, City Hall want to make a deal with a private entity for the development of a valuable and historic public space.”
Gaining support ever since, an online petition has garnered nearly 8,000 signatures, as well as the backing of high-profile gastronomic figures such as the chefs Aleksander Baron and Maria Przybyszewska.
Treading a tightrope, City Hall have fought back by issuing a strongly worded statement that the market will not be closed.
In a press release issued last week, City Hall said: “the necessary renovation of the historic hall has been planned for a long time using a public-private partnership formula and is at the next stage of implementation. The revitalization will concern the hall building and will not include the market.”
Continuing, they pledged that trade would continue as normal throughout these touted renovations.
They added: “it is necessary to deny false information – the city does not plan to liquidate the marketplace, the market function in this location will be maintained.”
The statement concluded by declaring: “the renovation of Hala Gwardii will restore its unique, original commercial and service atmosphere. Due to the historical value of the building, the renovation will be carried out based on conservation guidelines.
“The contractor will renovate and complete the preserved details of the façade (e.g. cornices, balustrades, window bands), and all traces of warfare (e.g. bullet holes) will be preserved. Importantly, the guidelines will not allow for large-format or discount retail.”
Though cautiously welcomed by Miasto Jest Nasze as “a step in the right direction”, concerns remain prevalent.
“The innocent-sounding announcements of City Hall promising that nothing will change in Hala Gwardii are just a clumsy attempt to mask what will happen here soon,” say Miasto Jest Nasze.
“The cost of restoring it to its splendor is tens of millions of zlotys, which the developer will want to compensate for as soon as possible by maximizing profits. Operating on at least a 30-year time perspective, it will have a free hand in the full commercialization of the facility. And they will certainly not be stalls selling sauerkraut and carrots.
“In this way, we will irretrievably lose the chance to create an egalitarian, inclusive place with an offer available to everyone, such as the current bazaar.”
Moreover, the NGO state that it has already become known that some traders will be shifted during the renovation.
“Merchants who have stands by the southern façade have already received information that they will need to move – whether or not they will be able to return to these places on the same financial terms is unknown. And that is just the beginning. Over time, Hala Gwardii will be renovated to a high gloss and this will put more pressure on the marketplace to change its face as well.”
Pointedly, campaigners have cited comparisons to other famers’ markets that have reemerged in Warsaw’s recently renovated historic properties – and their price marks.
“Mayor Trzaskowski recently said he shops at Hala Gwardii, but although he will continue to be able to afford to shop here, most of us will not.”
Urging City Hall to adopt a more long-term approach to their strategy, rather than seeking a quick fix to the city’s budget issues, Miasto Jest Nasze finish by beseeching the incumbent Mayor to “take action in the interests of residents, not developers”.
With many openly doubting that the “bottom-up character” and “general accessibility” of the market will be retained, the Hala Gwardii saga looks set to rumble on for some time yet.
However, not everything is black-or-white. Others have levelled criticism towards Miasto Jest Nasze, not least for hampering what many see as the progressive steps that the city has taken to advance into the modern world. As authentic as the market and its surrounding buildings may appear to some, they remain in desperate need of updates, and by skirting this issue, say some, the city will itself stand guilty of dereliction of duty. To prosper as a city, bold steps must be taken. Whether or not these placate all remains to be seen…