Fighting poverty in Lublin

The City of Lublin in Poland is part of the Com.Unity.Lab Urbact network which is looking into how to adapt the Bip/Zip strategy from Lisbon to its local context with the goal of addressing citizens’ empowerment in priority neighbourhoods. In this interview they explain to us about their work.

The City of Lublin is positioned in the eastern part of Poland, despite being in a less developed region of Europe, the employment rates are currently extremely high, although this has not eradicated poverty from the city. The challenges the Municipality of Lublin face result from the fact that aside from statutory, mandatory activities such as social services provided on the basis of national regulations, there were very few participatory activities undertaken so far when it comes to tackling urban poverty. Various divisions of the Municipality undertake separate initiatives which sometimes lack coordination amongst themselves. Furthermore, often counteracting poverty is not addressed in a participatory manner, which results in lack of involvement of residents in co-designing tools or mechanisms to decrease poverty. On the other hand, many participatory initiatives are implemented without fully addressing the specific needs and requirements of population coming from priority neighbourhoods.

Participatory activities implemented by the Municipality of Lublin so far include: participatory budgeting, Citizen’s Panel, local initiative, Green Budget, financial and non-financial cooperation with NGOs. All these activities are not directly designed to tackle urban poverty, but they do have an indirect effect when it comes to involve the persons from empoverished communities. For example, two Centres for Neighbourhood Initiatives, co-financed by the Municipality of Lublin, were created specifically to involve local communities from the areas included in the Revitalisation Programme of the Municipality of Lublin. Various initiatives were included in the programme as well, i.e. opening the Lublin Seasonal Cafe at the main square in Lublin, designed for professional activation of local unemployed residents. Lublin Development Strategy 2013-2020 also includes development of creative industries, which are located in the revitalised area of Lublin specifically to engage local residents in activities.

The City of Lublin has experience in co-governance approaches to designing local participatory tools as well as Lublin Development Strategy. They are now beginning the process of creating the Lublin Development Strategy 2020-2030 which will be completely participatory. The Municipality of Lublin has also conducted Foresight Lublin 2050 which was done on a participatory basis. Within the Participatory Budgeting there were (among others) projects called “Points of Culture” in impoverished neighbourhoods which were designed to activate and build local communities as well as inter-generations solidarity.

Tools in place 

In terms

of mapping, the City of Lublin has a Revitalisation Programme with clear denomination of areas of the city in need of intervention. Yet, this mainly focuses on areas in need of physical intervention, with less attention on the socio-demographic data. In fact, there are also several neighbourhoods not included in the programme, which should be taken into consideration, such as social housing neighbourhoods in the outskirts of the city.

The Social Participation Office, in charge of the collaboration within the Com.Unity.Lab partnership, is very experienced in the management of the participation and grant schemes with local NGOs. It uses an internet platform for cooperation where every idea from NGOs is submitted, verified and reported and the office facilitates the functioning of the platform inside the municipality. In particular the office handles: 

    • Participatory Budgeting (PB), currently at its 5th edition, is designed with the goal of distributing projects across 27 neighbourhoods. Interventions can be small (approx. 70.000 euro, often soft such as sport or training) or large projects (300.000 euros,  for infrastructure). The total budget 3,5 million euro, so there are many funded projects every year. The process foresees the submission, the technical verification by the different departments, the possibility of contesting, the promotion of the voting (also children), the implementation within one year, which is a challenge of cooperation between departments. The PB process grew some local politicians at district level. There is a need to update the regulations to avoid the “professionalisation” of people proposing projects, as this limits the broad participation.  
    • Local initiative funding: The program consists of 1 million euro of municipal budget that can co-fund citizens’ ideas, resulting in a similar program to PB but without the voting as the Mayor decides on the winning project, and ends up being mainly related to infrastructure projects.   
    • Green Budget: Is a funding program specific for environmental issues with a budget of 0,5 million euro on which the University and NGOs decide. It is a very good opportunity for getting the city to listen to the needs of the citizens, especially in terms of protecting green areas, as many projects are meadows, community gardens, etc. 
    • Citizens Panel is a democracy 2.0 strategy which was developed in Australia and Ireland. The process foresees to randomly select a representative group of citizens, who are asked to solve problem of the city over a period of six weeks. In Lublin 60 people were selected based on districts, gender, education level, age, etc through a special algorithm and were asked “How to solve Lublin’s smog problem?”. At beginning experts are involved to explain smog issues and different stakeholders invited. Based on this input the Citizens Panel compiles a list of recommendations to the Mayor, of which 80% of voted items are binding law. It was started in 2018 with positive results, such as changing heating in houses currently working with coal, which is currently nationally promoted. Participants were paid 25 euro for each day, which is symbolically important to state their expert role. The overall organisational cost was of 50.000 euros for promotion, rental room, food, expert fees and mailing by post invitations. 
    • Inclusion of foreigners by working with NGOs and institutions building a support group that meets once a month to solve problems, for example foreigners have difficulties in communicating with health offices. Currently working on getting cultural institutions to involve foreigners in programs not as viewers but as promoters. Many foreigners are not getting involved because they don’t want to just be representatives of their homeland. The main communities in Lublin are from Ukraine and Chechnya.  

In terms of local offices for accompanying the physical transformation and for formalised NGO networks, the City of Lublin has not yet developed a specific experience in this direction. 

Key stakeholders and local practices

During the site visit, the City of Lublin organised a round table discussion with local representatives from NGOs and from the urban regeneration department of the city council in order to share impressions and needs within the Com.Unity.Lab project. From the discussion emerged the need to strengthen collaboration amongst public administration and civil society, possibly by improving the existing infrastructure and experimenting new models within the upcoming Revitalisation Program of the City. Local partners expressed the need to improve the collaboration amongst each other and their capacities to create sustainable economic models.