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Case Study Warsaw &endash; Draft 1

Basic data for greenstructure study
Ewa, Kaliszuk


Figures and Tables at end of paper

The greenstructure of Warsaw

The City of Warsaw has approximately 1 610 471 inhabitants on surface area of 494,3 km2. It gives average density of 3258 p. per km2 in 2000 (Statistical Review-Warsaw 2002). If Warsaw Agglomeration considered the population reaches 2 100 000 people. Warsaw as a capital of Poland is the biggest city, only one with population over one million inhabitants. It is located on the Vistula River in the central part of Mazowian Lowland. According to the administrative division Warsaw belongs to the Mazowian Voivodship (voivodships correspond to geographical and historical regions).

The specific administrative structure of Warsaw was established in 1990. The city has been an association of eleven independent communes since then. Each of the communes has a self &endash; government consists of the Commune Council and Board. Additionally, the Capital City Council has been constituted (Niemczyk 1998). As a major legislative body it controls spatial planning process in the whole city, together with the City Major and the City Board. The relationship between them and the communes regulates the Warsaw Act, binding since 1994. This administrative division is only one example among Polish cities and significantly influences Warsaw planning and management.


Main natural environmental features and their role in greenstructure development

Contemporary greenstructure of Warsaw relies on natural and historical landscape elements. Its dependence on natural structures is getting weaker as a result of the urbanisation processes, but there still exist some key components, which create visible pattern of green areas like relief, geological basement and hydrological system. The first significant natural landmark of Warsaw and its vicinities is the Vistula River (Fig. 1). Northern and southern parts of the river are quite natural and present some typical features of braided river like sandbars (unforested as well as forested mainly by riparian forest). Its bed is about one kilometre wide there and narrows to 350 meters in the central district. Both banks are accompanied by riparian forest along almost whole, twenty-four kilometres long, riverbed within administrative border. The Vistula River has unsymmetrical valley consists of few terraces on west and east sides. The west part contains mainly two terraces the lowest, contemporary flood plain one, and former flooded, the highest, while the east side has more complicated pattern of oldest, unflooded terraces. Still existing system of lakes - the Vistula old &endash; riverbed and streams (Fig. 2.) on the youngest terraces are the main attribute of their naturalness, and are additionally underlined by narrow strips of riparian forest and bushes. Wastelands, pastures and extensively used meadows cover the left parts of wide plain terraces.

Specificity of the highest eastside terraces emphasises geological basement. Aolian sand with number of dunes, parted by peat swamps or small ponds create different condition for greenstructure, which creates, in majority patches of pine or beech forests.

Divers in structure and naturalness the Vistula Valley provides wide green open spaces in Warsaw, even in central district.

The next significant element of Warsaw landscape is the Warsaw Escarpment, the edge of moraine plateau. This clay form is well seen only on westside of the Vistula River and plays an important role as a city landmark. It is twenty to twenty five meters high in the Old Town and central district (Fig. 3.) and getting lower in the north and south part of Warsaw, where reaches about ten meters (Fig. 4.). The course of the Warsaw Escarpment is underlined by the natural and semi natural green areas. They form rather narrow but almost continued structure to the inner city. Its south and the north part are connected with the large patches of open spaces, mostly forested. Both protected because of their environmental value create the framework of regional greenstructure. The northern one Kampinoski National Park (one of the biggest Polish national parks, 356.55 sq. km.) and the southern Kabacki Forest Nature Reserve. They are the natural sources of alimentation in two aspects biodiversity and air regeneration (Fig.5).

The Warsaw Escarpment was discovered as a crucial natural structure for localization of the magnificent residential palaces, parks and gardens or other representative objects. That is why it has gradually become a significant historical landmark too.

The major part of the Warsaw has been located on the west sides of the moraine plateau, where the urbanization processes caused gradually vanishing of natural landscape, greenstructure as well. Only few groups of tiny patches of forest, small lakes, short parts of streams or just only valleys, remain of those previous landscapes. Some of them are developed into parks or recreational areas but some are still abandoned as wastelands.

The major Warsaw spatial development directions have been established on the east side of Warsaw since 1990s, because west part of the city, within administrative boundaries, used almost every land reserve. In this circumstances open spaces, green areas included, without precisely formulated function, are the best source of land for housing development, mostly multi-storey ones.


The history of the Warsaw greenstructure element development

Warsaw was founded at the end of 13th century, and became a capital of Poland in 1596. Densely built up areas surrounded by walls (partially exist) formed Warsaw at the beginning. There was no place for greenery at all. Soon the city development was undertaken in different direction, on west- side of the Vistula River. The nomination on capital city was fruitful for Warsaw development, spatial and cultural as well.

The first significant element of historical greenstructure was established in 17th century in the village located south of Warsaw (nowadays it belongs to one of the Warsaw communes). The Wilanow Palace and park was at the beginning, the king's summer residence. The natural conditions of Vistula terraces were used in garden composition. Simultaneously spatial and functional connections were developed, on one hand with Warsaw, on the other with villages and farms. All main roads from Warsaw to Wilanow were planed and design with trees (Kicinska 1993) in the end of the 18th century. The vicinities of this residence were agricultural at that time, and most of them had kept this function for years, even nowadays. The existed forests were located along the Vistula River, Warsaw Escarpment and in the south of Warsaw (Kabacki Forest) as it is today.

The first major groups of concepts and projects of urban fabric development, the greenstructure as well, were realized in 18th century, the period known as "the golden age of city planning and architecture (Kicinska 1993). Warsaw was transformed then into modern European City with 110 000 inhabitants (Tab.1). Two axes ordered urban structure, the Saska and the Stanislawowska. The Saska Axis (one and a half kilometre in length) continued from the Warsaw Escarpment to the west part of the suburbs (Fig. 6a, Fig. 6b.). The crucial part of it was created by the Saski Palace (destroyed during World War Second) and Garden (exist nowadays). The scenic continuity was protected for years, but later urban development interrupted this attribute of axis. The second achievement, the Stanislawowska Axis, was good example of considering the most valuable natural elements in that spatial composition. The Warsaw Escarpment, the terraces and the Vistula River, the existing forest created frames of that composition. The key elements of it are one of the most valuable elements of today's greenstructure and historical objects in Warsaw downtown.

After these fruitful time Warsaw development was limited by three partitions of Poland for 123 years. Even then, some significant investment of that period has unconsciously influenced contemporary greenstructure. The system of military fortification constructed by the Russian Tsar authorities creates nowadays two circles of forts (some of them with moats or wooded), roads and embankments contribute to greenstructure development.

Next 19th century investment, Warsaw railway, provides presently key areas for ecological system. Vast unbuilt areas from west suburbs to the central district plays important role as a passageways, crucial for city ventilation (western circulation predominately performs in Warsaw).

During that period of time the Warsaw surface areas and the number of inhabitants had rapidly changed (Tab.1 and Tab.2). That tremendous growths caused subsequent investment of 19th century, the water and sewerage systems built according to Lindley's Plans. Presently they are called the first plans of regulating ecological problems, environmental protection and health of inhabitants (Wilski 1993).

Modern greenstructure development

Rapid growth of Warsaw population and its surface area made architects elaborate systematic plans of Warsaw development, greenstructure included. The first neighbourhood with carefully design greenstructure was developed at the early 1920s, and next the first legally binding municipal plan of Warsaw elaborated in 1929 (Wilski 1993). The most significant elements of the proposed greenstructure were green fingers, indicated from downtown to suburbs. The recreation and the proper air ventilation of Warsaw were two key reasons of that greenstructure development. That two integrated targets have been implemented in next elaborated plans, the latest one as well.

The World War Second caused almost total Warsaw destruction on the west side, greenstructure included (Fig. 7.). The first sketch of the Warsaw Plan of 1945 proposed to develop vast green areas along Vistula Valley and main transportation elements (railway and roads) but its assumptions were never achieved (Fig. 8.). The idea of greenstructure planning and development was continued even if political system changed and the economic situation got worse just after the war.

The concept of "the parks of culture and leisure" was adopted to assure cultural entertainment (cinemas, amphitheatres) and to provide conditions for sport and recreation (stadiums, playgrounds). The normative for greenstructure design were elaborated at that time (Król 1995). They regulated on one hand surface area of greenery per person on the other the pattern of green open spaces. As an effect of those established conditions, number of parks, squares and promenades were developed during the first two decades after World War Second. The idea of green fingers of 1930s was continued then. This domination of recreational aspect in greenstructure had lasted until 1970s when second crucial aim appeared, ecological. It coincided with the world-wide awareness of environmental protection. Indicating and protecting natural systems, have become a real challenge for ecologist and landscape planners in Poland, Warsaw included. The Urban Natural System (UNS) concepts known also as the Urban Ecological System (other terms were also used) has been promoted since then (Stala 1986, 1990, Biernacki 1990, Szulczewska Kaftan 1996). Their assumptions were developed as a consequence of implementing ecosystem theory into planning process. They stressed not only importance of preservation and conservation of the most valuable landscape structure elements but they recognised creation of ecological systems through the urban areas as a key task. The identification is crucial for ensuring proper living condition of city dwellers, through making place for nature performance. Taking into account the assumptions of the UNS concept in the major Warsaw planning documents should be considered as an important achievement.

The present greenstructure of Warsaw together with other open spaces, like open water or agricultural land, cover significant part of whole urban area, more then 50 percentages (Tab.3). The residential areas occupy 27 percentages but its rate is still growing. The most vulnerable lands to build them up are agricultural ones. Their rapid vanishing has continued for last 12 years, and has been caused by fast urbanisation process. Green open spaces cover 36,3 percentages of total Warsaw area, according to inventory made in 1997 and updated in 2001 (Tab.4.). There dominate three categories of greenery. Forests, municipal and national, cover about fourteen percentages of Warsaw surface area, parks municipal as well as owned by communes, occupy six percentages of the city and similar size has other greenspace without precisely formulated functions.


The ecological and environmental functions of Warsaw's greenstructure

The crucial ecological and environmental performance of greenstructure in urban area is out of question. It directly and positively influence air quality, climate and microclimate condition, water circulation, matter and nutrients flow, quality of the other abiotic components like soil, surface and ground water, relief features (microforms) among others. Very detailed information about the strength of those influences required precise and constant research. In Warsaw, the number of different studies have been conducted for years, but since the acceptation of the ecological theory into understanding urban nature performance they have been organized in more complex ways. There was huge program conducted by number of environmental specialist at the first half of 1990s and sponsored by government. Almost every component was examine to find out its specificity in urban ecosystems, to investigate its role in creating condition of urban nature and to recognise its capacity in purification of contaminated water, air and soil. Those studies were organized simultaneously, what gave a possibility to point out some relationship and dependence between components, processes and phenomenon (Tab.5). They had strong practical orientation mostly for ecological system protection and conservation, but also some attempts were done to use them in planing and design of residential areas. The plan of a new commune in Warsaw agglomeration was elaborated at the beginning of 1990s. The results of the physiographic studies were fundamental for land use development, even for building structure design. Unfortunately, it has never been built. That research began more advanced studies of the urban nature, but because of lack of money only some of them have been conducted or only some features monitored.

The information base on greenstructure ecology

The Warsaw environment, abiotic as well as biotic, has been an object of the surveys for years. Firstly, they were done separately and did not cover whole Warsaw surface area, only some spread points of interest. Simultaneously to the urban ecology development some complex approach has been worked out.

The first comprehensive mapping of the real vegetation communities of Warsaw were done at the beginning of 1980s and next updated in 1998 (Koz_owska 1999). It was the first Polish attempt to mapping of the contemporary real vegetation of the big cities at a large-scale 1:20000. The second aim of that survey was to examine spatial structure of vegetation within the city (Chojnacki 1991). It has become one of the basic documents of Warsaw development as well as source of the key information for nature conservation and protection. According to them about twenty-five percentages of total Warsaw area is covered by natural and seminatural vegetation, which is highly phytosociologically diversified. Sixty percentages of the total number of identified associations occurred in that type of vegetation (Chojnacki 1991).

Forests and brushwood dominate spatially, they cover more then twenty-four percentages. Examining the naturalness of them, there are only few patches of the remnants of natural forest (from pre-urbanization period) and most of them are communities resituated within the first half of 20th century. Those both groups create the framework of the Warsaw natural system.

Synanthropic vegetation accurse at seventy-five percentages of Warsaw surface area and among them therophyte communities are dominants (Chojnacki 1991).

This detailed database gives vast possibilities of analysis needed for proper city nature management like, degree of heterogeneity, direction of communities changes because of habitats eutrophication (nitrophilous or calciophilous), xerotrophication and still growing inflow of the alien species. It enables to control the sequence of vegetation communities, from inner city, where they relate mostly on land use type to Warsaw suburbs where still natural condition determined the vegetation pattern. The result of that survey has pointed out some problems. They should be studied in more detailed way and more frequently like the dynamic of the communities, the succession of vegetation and more precise phytosociology of some vegetation type, especially forests and subspontaneous communities within urban greenery (Chojnacki 1991).


Despite the mapping of real vegetation the other program, relating to Warsaw green space was invented by the Bureau of the Warsaw City Board in 1996. The Program of Protection and Development of Green Area was elaborated to identify, evaluate and valorise each green space (Lisicki 1996). The first stage of it, the greenstructure inventory for whole Warsaw has been done since then. The constructed database (GIS) provides detailed information about each greenstructure element and become a basis of its protection, conservation, development and management.

Simultaneously to Warsaw vegetation surveys the research of zoocenosis have become a point of interest. The history of fauna investigation within Warsaw area and its vicinities reaches back to the end of 19th century when the survey of mammals was done (Luniak 1990). Last thirty years have presented the most intensive and detailed research on this topic. The best information has been gathered for avifauna and mammals. In Warsaw, there are 207 species of birds (breeding birds, wintering birds are included) and forty-one species of mammals (only twenty-two ever-living, nine rarely occurring). Very detailed research has been done to examine the relationship between biotops and existing species. As a result their refuges have been identified, for Central Commune area and the other valuable landscape like Warsaw Escarpment.


The System of Constant Diagnosis of the Warsaw Natural Environment invented in 1993 is, on one hand an idea of gathering detailed and comprehensive information about components and processes of the Warsaw environment, but on the other is a proposal for its monitoring (Matuszkiewicz 2000). The assumptions of that program have been tested for one patch of forest until now.


Greenstructure planning and protection

Warsaw greenstructure planning, take place within the procedures of spatial planning. However, Warsaw as the association of eleven communes works according to its own rules. Each commune has in duty to work out planning documents independently. These are Strategies and Programs of development, Studies of Conditions and Development Directions and Local Plans, only one legally binding document (Fig.9). The role of the Warsaw City Hall is to control and co-ordinate development of the key city structures, greenstructure among others. The main instrument to achieve this goal is the Capital City of Warsaw Development Plan containing the Obligatory Guidelines for the Warsaw Boroughs. Each Local Spatial Developments Plans ought to consider those guidelines in elaborating process (Uchwa_a Nr XXXVIII/492/2001 and Krajobraz Warszawski on the New Spatial Policy).

The latest version of the Plan, accepted in 2001 regulates pattern and function of greenstructure for the whole city by written appropriate guidelines for the urban natural system and green open spaces among others.

Three key zones have been indicated in the plan as a result of considering the urban natural system concept. These are Ecological Zone, Ecological Zone- Auxiliary System and Air Ventilation and Regeneration System (Fig.10).

The Ecological Zone has been divided into four categories, protected areas, recreational, recreational and residential, and others. Each of them has their own provisions formulated, according to particular environmental value, ecological, historical and social. The provisions are written as prohibitions or recommendations. The first of them relates to this kind of development, which can cause deterioration of environmental values, while the second one formulates the best proposal for the ecological zone development with minimum impact of the environment.

The main role of the Ecological Zone &endash;Auxiliary System is to keep connectivity between spread green areas or to be a buffer zone of the most natural landscapes. Thus, to achieve these aims the provisions indicate green belts with minimum wideness established (along streams, creeks and roads). Next, percentages of the greenery at each investment unit, located in this zone, are set up to minimize negative influence onto the valuable remnants of the natural landscape.

The third zone, the Air Exchange and Regeneration System is to protect areas, which create proper climatic condition in Warsaw. It partially covers the ecological zones, mentioned above (forests and parks), while wide wasteland, railroads and highways create major ventilation passageways. The obligatory guidelines formulated as the prohibitions relate to two aspects, building any part of this zone up and location of any kind of the pollutant emitter there.

These indicated ecological zones base on key Warsaw landscape structures. The Vistula Valley with remnants of natural hydrological system creates specific axis of the system. The Warsaw Escarpment and open spaces, kept thanks to the first concepts of 'green fingers' provide still seen linear structure, important for ecological as well as ventilation systems. The remnants of natural forest located mostly on the Warsaw edges, south, north and east connect system with major regional open spaces.

Besides the provisions written for each ecological zone, plan separately formulates groups of prohibitions and recommendations for particular structural elements of Warsaw landscape. These are green open spaces, Warsaw Escarpment, sport and recreational system, and additionally flood zone (Uchwa_a Nr XXXVIII/492/2001). The first groups of provisions relates to carefully indicated 108 objects - parks, gardens and valuable waste areas (mostly natural lakes and their vicinities) and 27 allotment gardens with recommendation for changing their function into public green open spaces. These objects are protected against any kind of inappropriate investment and changing their size and status.

The Warsaw Escarpment considered as one of the most valuable elements of natural and cultural landscape has their own specific provisions. They equally regulate a protection of natural geomorphologic form and processes, natural or seminatural vegetation, historical objects and landscape pattern, and aesthetic values.

Some additional provisions, which refer to ecological function of greenstracture are written for the flood zone. They strictly control its land use pattern. Thanks to them the natural riparian forest and bushes are protected as well as sandbars and other form created by the Vistula River processes.

Despite the Capital City of Warsaw Development Plan the other documents, related directly to greenstructure development are elaborated by the City Hall. The latest one is the Strategic Program of Warsaw Green Open Space Development. The short and long term aims have been formulated to achieve proper greenstructure protection and development.

Separate rules of development and management are written for legally protected areas, Nature Reserves (eleven indicated until now), historic parks and gardens, flood plain areas within flood embankments. Each of them has appropriate legally binding acts, which are basis for elaborating the protection plan. The Nature Protection Act of 1991refers to nature reserves, the Culture Heritage Protection Act for historic parks and gardens and Water Law Act of 2001 for the Vistula flood plain areas within flood embankments.

Some conclusions: How have ecological goals been set out to influence the planning, design and management processes? Is there any evidence, that these goals have effectively influenced the planning processes within the study area?

The fact of delineation of the urban natural system in the Capital City of Warsaw Development Plan should be considered as achievement and opportunity. The provisions elaborated for these areas give guidelines for their development or even for protection against any changes of their function. However, the same plan generates the threats in the light of greenstructure planning. Green areas, missed in the plan, because of too general scale or inappropriate methods of the system identification can be lost.

Each commune takes cognisance of planning and management of that 'lost' by plan, green open spaces, what results often in changing their function into housing or residential zones.

The plan elaborates only general rules of the city greenstructure development. It is up to planners and the communes' authorities how the rules will be applied into detailed land use plans, worked out for particular part of the urban natural system. Open interpretation of the provisions, written as prohibitions or recommendation, bears unexpected fruits, mostly negative. Sometimes green roofs are considered green space where provisions dedicate a certain minimum percentage for such areas. As an effect, instead of greenery associated with residential areas, densely built up blocks appeared with green roofs.



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Working Group 1A - Warsaw case study

May 01- notes

30 Oct 01

June 02 - notes








Sheffield - to be added


UK - benefits of nature




List of figures

Fig. 1. Warsaw &endash; geomorphology

Fig. 2. Wilanowka River

Fig. 3. Old Town Escarpment

Fig. 4. Green Escarpment

Fig.5. Warsaw &endash; regional context

Fig. 6a. Saska Axis

Fig. 6b. Saska Axis

Fig. 7. Warsaw 1945 &endash; destruction

Fig. 8. Warsaw 1945 &endash; plan

Fig.9. Planning system of the Capital City of Warsaw

Fig.10. Warsaw Ecological Zone



List of Tables

Tab.1. Changes of the Warsaw population



Tab.2. Changes of the Warsaw surface areas



Tab.3. The land use type of Warsaw



Tab.4. Type of greenstructure of Warsaw


 Tab.5. The main objects and goals of urban nature studies




Working Group 1A - Comparison of Case Studies


Other papers relating to people/ ecology interface





Belgium - benefits for people

Sheffield to do




Ceské Budejovice

Comparison of case studies

UK - benefits of nature

Click button to return to:

updated July 2003