2006-11-17 Amy Drozdowska
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Lodz gets a makeover

In the aftermath of World War Two the Polish capital of Warsaw undertook the largest renovation project in the history of Europe – the reconstruction of its Old Town. Now the industrial city of Lodz has embarked on the second largest project of this kind. For years Lodz has been economically depressed and nearly forgotten under the soot and grime of its Industrial Revolution era-heyday. Even though it’s Poland’s second largest city, it’s usually absent from the to-do lists of tourists. Now it’s getting some attention again with its renovated factory complex Manufaktura . One of many malls in the world declaring itself to be more, Manufaktura is making a good argument for itself. Amy Drozdowska of Radio Polonia has more.

The heart of Lodz is beating again. So say the advertisements for Manufaktura - the city’s latest project for revitalization. It’s also Poland’s largest renovation project since the 1950’s reconstruction of Warsaw’s Old Town. The one hundred and fifty-thousand square meter Manufaktura is said to be the biggest cultural, business and amusement center in Europe. And for residents like Antek, Lodz has been longing for something to brag about:

I mean, I think it fills an incredible vacuum. People in Lodz tend to be negative about their city and this is something that they’re proud of. It’s big, it’s clean, it’s modern, it makes them feel more worldy.

The core of Lodz contains an impressive sprawl of mammoth red-brick factories and tall chimneys. The problem is they’ve been out of use for a long time. Including the ones owned and run by one of Lodz’s richest and most powerful industrial magnates - the Izrael Poznanski family. The extensive complex of huge neo-Gothic warehouses embodies the city’s past. Sylwia Djaczynska – who’s been working with the Manufaktura project from the start - explains:

Manufaktura is the old factory of Izrael Poznanski is very close to the heart of every inhabitant from Lodz, because in the best times of the factory, Izrael Poznanski employed 12-14 thousand people, so almost everyone from Lodz has had someone from his family or from his friends who was working here. It makes a lot of emotions when you are coming here after a few years and you see Manufaktura, something which is very modern, very beautiful but it is not a factory any more.

Djaczynska works for the development firm Apsys Polska. In 1999 Apsys was hired by the city of Lodz to create a new life for the group of factories - and for Lodz.

Manufaktura is set to house over 230 shops, a cinema with 15 screens and an IMAX 3D theater, a Science Museum geared toward children, a modern art center, a discotheque, a fitness center, a conference center, an office block, and a four-star hotel.

The cultural hub of the complex is the huge Rynek, or market square – it’s a space measuring over thirty-thousand square-meters. Stretching from one end to the other is a 300 meter-long fountain. If you’re overwhelmed by the long walk across the square, there’s a free trolley waiting to let you be lazy.

Around the square, signs feature Manufaktura’s 3 main themes: Shopping, Entertainment, and Museums. For lots of visitors though, shopping is the main reason they’ve come to Manufaktura. The thousands of people passing through Poznanski entry gate are no longer coming here to create textiles. Now a lot of them are here to buy the finished product at some of Europe’s most fashionable clothing chains.

Michal: I’ve come here to buy some things, some clothes, some books from Empik.
Sayeed: It’s fantastic, really nice, all the facilities, all the shops, nice layout.
“Have you visited any other parts of the complex?”
Sayeed:What else is there?

Sayeed’s not alone in wondering. A lot of the more cultural attractions like the museums are still under construction; opening dates keep being delayed. So for some visitors, especially on an ordinary weekday when there’s no concerts or festivals filling the square, Manufaktura can feel less about culture, and more about consumerism.

It is too bad that they couldn’t use it somehow more culturally positive, to make people aware that the city that they live in has a place not just in the history of itself, but in the history of the world.

It’s still hard to say what the final form and feel of this historic factory complex will be. But in the meantime, Manufaktura’s created over three thousand five hundred jobs for Lodz residents and even opportunities for young artists.

And I think that Manufaktura is a chance, a chance for Lodz, a reason that people will come to Lodz.

Residents and tourists will have to decide whether the heart of Lodz will be housed in Manufaktura. But whether the heart of the city or an incredibly decorative appendage, the place is certainly alive.

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