The new heart of Łódź

Continue attracting investors, grow but avoid spillovers, cope with unfavorable demographic trends, and carry on bringing impressive improvements in the city center. These are the goals for the city of Łódź in the coming years.

Where do we – figuratively speaking – find Łódź today? It is a city finally making full use of its assets. Its central location, supported by great transportation links, makes it a popular choice among the logistics and manufacturing industries. Łódź itself and the region at large already boast Poland’s third largest warehouse market, and the activities of the local government are aimed at ensuring that this sector continues to grow. Companies can count on CIT or PIT exemptions and public aid for the implementation of new investments or jobs creation. In the case of large enterprises, such aid can go as high as 35% of eligible investment costs or two-year employment costs.

In addition to the manufacturing and logistics industries, Łódź prioritizes the modern business services sector. BPO / R&D / SSC / GBS and IT centers already employ over twenty six thousand people, and according to estimates, about seventeen hundred new jobs will be added over the coming months.

Demography is one of the main factors influencing the shape of the 2030+ strategy, which is currently being developed. Łódź has shrunk by more than 150,000 inhabitants over the last three decades, and the forecasts are not optimistic. Hanna Zdanowska, the mayor of Łódź, gave an interview in the Around the City in 8 Questions series organized by ULI Poland, where she pointed out that the municipal authorities' estimates (based on of various calculations, including cell phone data or water consumption) show that there are approximately 750,000 people living in Łódź at the moment, however this number could plunge to a low of 550,000 by 2050. It’s not all doom and gloom though as the city hall has managed to reverse the unfavorable migration tendency among its young residents. Until recently young people were leaving Łódź in favor of other cities – both in Poland and abroad. It’s different today.

We achieved a positive net migration in the 18 to 28 age group and there are definitely more young people moving in rather than leaving Łódź – says Zdanowska.

The city center is viewed as an attractive residential location. The city hall puts a lot of effort and resources into investments that promote living, working, and spending time downtown. The flagship project of the local government in Łódź – New Łódź Downtown (in Polish NCŁ) – was designed to attract people to the revitalized city center. And it does its job! Both business and residents now want to move there. We see a great demand for downtown apartments and we want to meet it. Therefore, we proceeded to amend local zoning plans in order to enable a greater share of this type of development in areas where the office function was set to dominate up until then – emphasizes Hanna Zdanowska.

There are around eleven thousand apartments being built in Łódź right now. The city hall also plans to build new council flats utilizing the public-private partnership formula. The tenants of old tenement houses are to receive apartments in new buildings, and the vacated real estate will be developed by investors.

We started with 500-700 new apartments. The sheer number of applications from interested companies was impressive’ – says the mayor of Łódź. – Modernization of historic workers' houses built by Izrael Poznański is yet another venture we want to implement in partnership with private capital. Right after Manufaktura, this is going to be the largest project at Ogrodowa St., bringing together almost all the commercial functions known on the market. In March this year, the City of Łódź Office announced a tender for the revitalization of three famułas at Ogrodowa St. The three workers' houses have a total usable area of thirty thousand m2. The project also includes plots of land where multi-storey car parks can be built. We anticipate that negotiations with our partners will conclude this year and then the renovation works will kick off – announces Zdanowska.

New Łódź Downtown covers an area of approximately 100 ha, which was ‘recovered’ by the city due to, among others, location of a railway line underground. Originally, the plans assumed that the vast majority of this area would be earmarked for office development, but recent months changed these assumptions. The current vacancy rate in Łódź office buildings stands at approx. 16%, which makes it the highest vacancy rate among the largest Polish cities. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to such a high level by bringing in the remote or hybrid work model at the expense of on site work. The city authorities, taking into account the current situation and trends, took another look at the purpose of the area covered by the NCŁ and decided that the balance between office and residential functions in the renovated heart of the city should change in favor of the latter.

Green areas and care for the natural environment are set to play an important part in the reurbanization and revitalization of the city center. Creation of parks and public squares, tree planting on streets and urban squares, as well as the development of an ecological public transport are of key significance. Urban means of transportation are gradually being upgraded to less emission-intensive ones, and the pro-ecological effect is strengthened by infrastructure, for e.g. the crosscity tunnel, dense public transportation network, availability of city bikes, and shared transport. Łódź is constantly investing in green areas. Only between 2018 and 2020 the city hall spent PLN 17m on the restoring the Sienkiewicz Park and the Moniuszko Park. By 2023, restoration works will be carried out in the Staromiejski Park (its cost is estimated at PLN 18m), the Helenów Park (PLN 6.2m) and the Legionów Park (PLN 4m), bringing the total spent to more than PLN 28m.

Sustainable development of urbanized space requires the implementation of an entire package of long-term solutions. Model city development strategies emphasize space transformation in accordance with environmental and ecological principles and increase the quality of life – says Dorota Wysokińska-Kuzdra, senior partner at Colliers, CEO at ULI Poland, and a member of the ULI Europe Executive Committee. – The New Łódź Downtown project is in line with these trends. The railway line and the Łódź Fabryczna train station are located underground – this freed up a significant amount of space which will be developed by creating a new part of the city. This development may, in turn, position Łódź as one of the best-designed cities in Europe. It is important to note that Łódź engages in a whole variety of activities and plans with the local community in mind – she adds.

Łódź wants to grow, but wants to avoid the spillover effect; and in order to do that, it requires local zoning plans. So far, only 28% of the city area is covered by zoning plans; however, Hanna Zdanowska is quick to emphasize that this represents a significant improvement compared to the state of play just a decade ago when an area ten times smaller was covered. The three pillars of the spatial planning policy in the coming years are: developing plans for economic activity areas; creating protection plans covering the outer city zones, which are to prevent uncontrolled expansion; and continuing to supplement the metropolitan area with plans enabling the reurbanization and revitalization of the city center.

This article was prepared on the basis of an interview with Hanna Zdanowska, the mayor of Łódź, in the Around the City in 8 Questions series.