Wroclaw, with a population of more than 600,000, is crossed by five rivers, and the Odra is the most dangerous of them. The gigantic floods of 1997, affecting Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, claimed a total of 114 lives, forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, and the total damage exceeded $ 4.5 billion. 55 of those who died lived in Wroclaw - no wonder the residents’ confidence in their rivers was fundamentally shaken.
Today, however, many things have changed. The Polish Government has spent a small fortune on flood protection: In 2005, an EU loan of € 251 million was used to tame the Odra (supplemented by an additional € 300 million in 2015), which included widening and deepening the riverbed, raising embankments along rivers, and building dams and dykes. As a result, the locals ventured closer and closer to the now less dangerous riverbank; beaches, summer food stalls, and other small businesses appeared.
In 2018, the city decided to endow all five rivers with a different atmosphere. They have made improvements to the buildings and services along their riverbanks, thus preserving the uniqueness of the neighbourhoods. And with modern irrigation systems, an increasing number of community gardens have been established - today almost 10 percent of the local population produces vegetables and fruits here.
“Even with the development, there’s now a lot of land that belongs to the city that has not been developed yet and is perfect for growing vegetables and for social integration.” – reveals Małgorzata Bartyna-Zielińska of Wroclaw’s Sustainable Development Department. About 18% of the surface area of Wroclaw is agricultural land, then there are allotment gardens covering around 5%. They are starting an EU project to learn more about the agricultural potential of the area to maximize their sustainability efforts.
“Part of the project would be creating a database of this land so that people who want to start community gardens could use it. We’ll even offer training to help them get started”, Bartyna-Zielińska said.
The river can also make transport easier; construction plans to build Wroclaw’s river trams were launched in the autumn of 2020, and the city generally wants residents to use the bridges more often, or the new bicycle paths that have recently been built under them.
All of this could not be achieved without taming the river, which in turn indirectly enhances the feeling of community togetherness. Fifty years ago, most locals dreaded the riverbank and urban floods, all businesses moving away from the river. Now, this has all changed, and even non-profit organisations are present; for example, an 800-square-metre information centre called the Odra Centre was built, where those interested can learn all about the river’s history.
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