Expert Interview: Katarzyna Gruszecka-Spychala, Vice President of Gdynia As the Vice President of Gdynia, Poland, Katarzyna Gruszecka-Spychała has had a hand in many initiatives which have helped turn this seaside town into a modern hub which perfectly captures the Polish spirit of entrepreneurship. Here, in our latest expert interview, Ms. Gruszecka-Spychała was kind enough to answer several of our questions related to Gdynia’s current standing as a highly respected city with an equally high standard of living, as well as the many initiatives that helped this seaside Polish town achieve its current status. Over the past 20 years, Gdynia has consistently improved its city attractiveness and standard of living. What do you think have been some of the most successful initiatives for making this a reality? I believe that no single initiative can bring a spectacular result. The whole idea of caring for the city’s quality-of-living develops through a consistent implementation of projects, none of which alone are sufficient, but are all important. Among the most important, I would mention: An efficient health infrastructure, especially with the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainability through cleanliness of air and water (achieved thanks to a comprehensive care of the environment ranging from waste water management to rainwater to the development of a heat system that prevents low-emission dusts). Electro mobility (trolleybuses) implemented in public transport for years. Modern initiatives such as the promotion of rain gardens or green roofs. Thanks to this, the air is the cleanest in Poland, the beaches have Blue Flag quality, and tap water is drinkable and of higher quality than most waters sold in shops. A big challenge during the last 20 years was to provide support to employees after the closure of the largest employer in Gdynia (i.e. Gdynia Shipyard) following the decision of the European Commission. Thousands of unemployed people could have dramatically shaken the city's economy. Programs tailored to their needs, however, allowed them to find other alternative jobs, and Gdynia to continue its development and progress. Gdynia as a city pays great attention to those potentially excluded from public life, especially people with disabilities and seniors. This care not only allows them to be active, but also builds the quality of interpersonal relations, and thus strengthens the social capital of the city. Equally, important investments were made in the education sector - for example, a more modern school system and equipment, financing additional hours for subjects such as mathematics. The increase in the quality of life was also strongly influenced by consistent investments in culture and sport, providing residents with an attractive offer of how to spend their free time, and also building the city's brand and driving the economic situation through the influx of tourists who positively impacted the local economy. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome while implementing quality-of-living initiatives over the years? The challenges over the last 20 years have been very different in many aspects. In the 1990s, the first and most important challenge was the reconstruction of the city's economy, which was devastated by half-a-century of communist rule. The second challenge consisted of actions around improving the state of the natural environment, especially the water in the sea. It also meant leveling the disparities in development, especially in the area of infrastructure, and thus large road investments improving access to the city and the sea port of Gdynia, as well as modernizing public transport. The aforementioned liquidation of Gdynia Shipyard and mass layoffs caused by it were certainly a big challenge, as well. Currently, the city is facing completely different challenges. In recent years, the quality of life of Gdynia has definitely risen and the problem now is the high rate of motorization, which results in traffic jams throughout the city. If you could give some tips to other cities on how to further improve their overall attractiveness, what would they be? First of all, it is necessary to set a horizontal goal and apply each idea / project to it during the evaluation phase to ensure consistency. Use good practice examples from around the world as an inspiration and adapt them to local conditions and needs rather than copy them entirely. Find the city's DNA and consistently use it just as you would use a signpost. Support the leisure industries, because they are currently responsible for attracting residents and tourists which contribute to the development of the city's economy. Take care of residents who are at risk of exclusion. Above all, be conscious that the inhabitants make up the city, so you should listen to them, learn about their needs and make decisions based on the responsibility arising from your mandate. Would you agree that a city’s talent and business attractiveness tend to correlate with higher living standards? This is obvious and noticeable in two dimensions. These factors influence the wealth of the city and its inhabitants, which directly translates into quality-of-life parameters and enables investments or expenses that increase it. In addition, regardless of the objective standard of living, both factors affect the subjective level of satisfaction, which is a separate element of quality of life. What do you believe should be the main priorities for Gdynia over the next 20 years? First of all, a change in the habits of residents regarding reduction of car usage and the development of housing at prices acceptable to young people, which can prevent their outflow to more affordable towns and stimulate external migration. Further investment in the culture of the city as its brand. Many cities are implementing new technologies and infrastructures in their quest to improve their living standards. At the same time, issues such as globalization, gender parity, and diversity are all equally important components of building up a city’s quality of living. How important is this statement for the city of Gdynia? The city's community must be a place inclusive for everyone. However, declarations whether oral or written are not a method of implementing inclusive social policy. These have to be specific actions that, for example, allow immigrants to adapt to life in the city and integrate them with it. Actions that get the senior community out of their homes and allow people with disabilities to function normally in society - such examples have a real significance for the overall quality of life. Would you be able to provide a few examples on how Gdynia tackled gender parity/diversity to positively improve the living standard of its residents? As mentioned earlier, Gdynia cares about all of its inhabitants, especially for their safety. Violence against women has not been recognized as a problem for our city, but if something like this happened in the future, our reaction would be immediate. Instead, we try to explore the needs of women and meet them. This applies in particular to supporting young mothers in returning to the job market after maternity leave. Various types of workshops and meetings, such as the Super Mum Academy, University of Success, Business Women Zone, or the fifth edition of the Gdynia BusinessMam are aimed at mothers who plan to start their own business. For many years, the local government of Gdynia has also been actively working on the full integration of the disabled community and adapting the urban space to their needs, as well as the needs of all residents. There is a necessity of agreement in the city government, when taking into account investment on a wider scale, enforced on a par with the classic requirements of road workers, planners, or network managers. What other city has done a great job improving its living standards for residents over the past decade? It is definitely worth mentioning Warsaw thanks to its dynamic development in turning from a neglected post-communist city into a truly European capital. In addition, Wroclaw for its impressive economic growth and Gdańsk for a very well thought-of construction process that goes in line with the city's identity as a city of freedom. How would you summarize Gdynia today, and where you would like it to see it in the future? Today, Gdynia is a city where 89% of its inhabitants are satisfied with their place of residence and don’t see a need for change. Of course, we want this indicator to reach an even higher level and for the city to be famous for the fact that although it is not the largest metropolis, it is by far the best place to live.