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“Polish mother pees in the bushes.”  Highways worth billions and sidewalks are ruined

“Polish mother pees in the bushes.” Highways worth billions and sidewalks are ruined

Is it possible to change a baby’s diaper on the train? How to wait in line with a preschooler? Can a child cool down in a fountain in hot weather? How to cross snow-covered streets with a stroller? Are Polish cities child-friendly? Monika Pastuszko tries to answer these questions in a joking, but also serious tone. We are publishing a fragment of the book “Polish Mother Peeing in the Bushes”, which will be released on May 15.

Time for a walk. I push the stroller through the park. I pass other people with strollers. One woman sings a lullaby under her breath, like a mantra that her child has no chance of hearing. I look at the leafless trees against the sky, listen to the city. The baby is sleeping. I am part of an underground care circle that disappears before Warsaw residents leave their offices at 5 p.m. and get tired into the subway cars. I’m probably invisible to people in offices. We live in different space-times. We become separate, alien tribes.

There are areas I would like to avoid if possible. But it’s not possible. You have to cross a three-lane road to get to the second park. The noise may wake up the baby, and there is nowhere to sit. If he wakes up, I might have to carry him in one hand while pushing the stroller with the other, because there isn’t even a bench here.

Cars roar and we wait and wait. Finally green, but what kind of green is it if cars turning right in both directions pass through the crossing? They don’t even stop. This is a place where accidents occur with such frequency that they should be described by a word other than “accident”, which means an accidental and unpredictable event. A few times I stop on the road and do not step into the car’s path until I make sure the driver sees me.

I’m too slow with the stroller to count on jumping out of the way.

While it’s winter, I rarely go far from home. I wander around parks, watching ducks and pigeons. The walk goes from feeding to feeding. I come home to breastfeed. Cafes, libraries, clinics – all this doesn’t work, it’s Covid winter. I won’t tie a scarf over a thick winter jacket either. A scarf or a breast are the only lifelines when a baby cries outside the home.

That the quality of life of people like me depends on the quality of the immediate surroundings, says Eva Kail from the Vienna City Hall. She has been involved in gender city planning for years. I’m reading an interview with her when I finally catch Covid myself and can only move my eyeballs. “We should pay a lot of attention to open public spaces and green areas, because the weakest groups rely on them the most,” he says. The weakest groups, i.e. children and their caregivers and the elderly.

Near my house I have a park with a pond and constantly pissed off coots. Coots are black ducks with a white patch on their foreheads, very belligerent. A forest with wide dirt roads with crunching snow. The second park with beautiful views. The third one with a playground. There is a clinic with nice pediatricians and nurses, a shop and a bakery. Between the old blocks of flats – lots of greenery, several squares. I have somewhere to go.

Monika Pastuszko Marcin Klaban

Otherwise Alice. We met at three in the morning in the maternity ward, each of us had given birth a moment earlier. We write a lot to each other in the first winter months of motherhood. Alicja lives in Białołęka: it is a suburban district of Warsaw. There are many new blocks of flats, but there are no parks, kindergartens or schools. Alicja almost never goes for walks with her son. She tells how her husband once went out, but a jar almost fell on his head from a balcony. He crashed right next to the gondola carrying their son. Since then, they haven’t been willing to even try. There is nowhere to go, there is only a patch between the blocks, which they call the walk. Where there is greenery, you are afraid to venture: there are stories about exhibitionists. They spend time at home, it’s good and safe here.

When her son grows, Alicja organizes half-hour free classes for mothers with children. They meet on the lawn between the blocks of flats. This is the only space where you can sit in a circle. Alicja shows the little ones instruments, and the mothers can get to know each other. “But one day a woman came out of the block and said she would call the police. Because the residents don’t want children’s music played under their windows at noon. It’s only half an hour, after all, it sometimes happens that renovations are going on behind the wall, and can be more burdensome. But well, I ended this initiative.”

Eva Kail claims that everyone in the neighborhood should have high-quality greenery and space that will allow them to relax. “It’s important to talk about it, because if you’re a workaholic, you get up at the crack of dawn, go to work and come back after dark, you may not even notice how important a good neighborhood is. Before my children were born, I was a workaholic myself. For ten years I passed by every day. a small park on the way to the subway, almost without noticing it. And it was only when my daughters were little that I appreciated its great importance. We spent a lot of time there, I got to know every tree and every bench. I couldn’t imagine life without it.

The quality of the neighborhood is also a chance to get to know your neighbors. I know my people because our block is small and has a gallery. The gallery is an external corridor, a communal balcony, the sun shines here and you can hear the birds. It’s nice, so sometimes we stop to talk. There are a dozen or so families living here, we know each other.

However, a work-focused perspective is also adopted by advertisements for apartment sales, on the basis of which people choose a place to live. They show the interior: rooms, fittings, room layout. Lemons arranged on the kitchen table. When I look through these ads, I get lost: they don’t answer my most important questions. I will change the lemons and replace the fittings, but will there be flowers and trees growing near the block? Is there anywhere to walk?

Meanwhile, Robert, during his walks with Henio, begins to test a form for examining the quality of pedestrian space. He did it together with people who, like him, are interested in sidewalks. Checks: Is there a bench in sight? Is the sidewalk separated from the road by a green belt, or do cars whiz by right next to you? How many cars are there? Is it possible to talk without shouting? Are the curbs lowered and the sidewalk even? Are there cars, lamps or obstacles on the sidewalk that you have to avoid? Is it crossed by a bicycle path? Is it clean? I write the answers to these (and about twenty other) questions on a piece of paper. Then he gives points to the answers and the questions have their own weight. The result is an answer to how friendly (or unfriendly) a street is to pedestrians.

– There are cities that have examined their entire public space in this respect. For example, London or Amsterdam, Robert tells me. – Thanks to this, we know which places to tackle first, we know what to repair, so that people are more willing to come to a given street and, for example, use service premises more often. And someone who comes from outside knows where it’s worth going for a walk. There are many maps in Warsaw. You can check where it is noisy, where there are flood areas, and what the city looked like from a bird’s eye view fifty years ago. And there is no place where you can walk comfortably, where there are stairs, benches, drinking fountains. Our streets are designed by engineers trained to construct appropriate roadways. Is it comfortable to walk in? Is our city suitable for walking aimlessly, for pleasure? We don’t check it.

Indeed: I lack a map that would tell me where the elevators in the area work, where they are broken and where they are not. Where are the large toilets and where are the cars parked so that I can’t pass? Where there are long stretches of sidewalk without benches. Where it is noisy and where it smells of exhaust fumes. Where the surface is good – but every high curb and every bump is a risk that the baby will wake up and have to be fed, rocked and lulled again. Most maps show car and bicycle routes, bus routes, and travel destinations. As if the primary goal was to leave a given place as quickly as possible, and not to spend time there.

Robert applies for funding for a project to examine Warsaw using a tool to assess pedestrian friendliness and expand it. The project is lost. And then again, and again. He puts the idea on the shelf.

Tuesday, nine forty-five, we’re leaving. Purpose: visit to the clinic. This is a change in our days with their own rhythm, the pulse of which is distant from morning traffic jams and crowds in the subway. Our plans are usually determined by the sun, rain, smog, well-being, i.e. what I previously ignored when commuting to work at eight.

Monika PastuszkoMonika Pastuszko Marcin Klaban

We are usually unoccupied. Today, however, we are in a hurry. The bus arrives at the stop, I hop on. I’m buying a ticket. I pay and get off. I just wanted to go one stop, now I have a twenty-minute ticket in my hand, although I would need a two-minute ticket. Stupid.

Our journeys are too short for twenty-minute tickets and too infrequent for a city card – solutions designed mainly for commuting to work and the city center. Sometimes I want to come back from the market with some shopping, sometimes I want to come back from a walk faster. I pull up a stop or two. I don’t go outside the district. There is no tariff for us.

An unknown number is calling: I have been accepted into a regular support group for mothers. I will go to town every week. To the city. No baby. I don’t know what to wear. I used to wear a dress, but now I only wear hoodies. I finally put on a sweatshirt, even though I feel like I’m going to a job interview in my pajamas.

At Plac Defilad, where I expect the parking lot to be empty, a hangar for the future museum has been built. An unprecedented, huge traffic jam on Jana Pawła Street, crowds on the bicycle paths. There are nicely dressed women on stylish single speed bikes, an old man with a cane on a bicycle (he placed it lengthwise on his frame), a guy carrying a ladybug net in his hand, a teenager with a guitar on his back. It changed! Just two years ago, the typical cyclist was a man, often wearing a reflective vest or Lycra.

I am surprised, I stop, I take photos like a tourist in her own city. And then I set off, overtaking cars stuck in a traffic jam. I still enjoy cycling around the city, but my life is elsewhere now.

One day I stayed all evening with Henryk. Robert goes to a meeting of the working team that will talk about the development of the Warsaw metropolis. When he returns, Henio is already asleep. So we sit in the kitchen and Robert says:

– I was in an expert working group on transport. There were seven men in the room and only one woman, an official who represented the organizer. So I played the role of a guy who speaks on behalf of women and children, he laughs. I reminded that pedestrian traffic is also transport. And that we know little about local pedestrian traffic, about walking within half a kilometer of home. That metropolitan transport will not improve the situation of a mother who has difficulty getting to the clinic with her child or going for a walk, or of an elderly person who cannot go to the store because there is no bench or toilet on the way. We don’t see any local foot traffic. Then my friend said: well, we built highways worth billions, we built high-speed railways, but what about sidewalks? No change, fucked up.

Polish mother pees in the bushesPolish mother pees in the bushes press materials of Agora Publishing House

Source: Gazeta

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