Town Planning in the Polish Kingdom at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Between Urbanism and Administration

von Makary Górzyński

While exploring history of the Polish cities I was astonished by how many town planning proposals were developed at the turn of the twentieth century. Why almost all such plans, sometimes complex and metropolitan, remain in obscurity of architectural histories?

It is especially true of the administrative and industrial centres located in the Russia-ruled provinces of the partitioned Poland, since 1815 forming the Polish Kingdom, in the second half of the century known as Warsaw general-governorate of the empire1. Benefiting from the commercial and industrial boom of the late nineteenth century, several towns of this East-Central European region on the borderlands of empires have multiplied their populations, increased tax revenues and monetary markets. Attracting thousands of peasants from the rural provinces, by the 1900s only a few Polish urban communities have become metropolitan areas – to mention Warsaw (of ca. 700.000 inhabitants), Łódź (of ca. 300.000 inhabitants respectively) or fast-growing industrial towns of Silesian borderlands like Częstochowa or Sosnowiec2. Boom in real estate, especially in multifamily residential types, have resulted in thousands of new tenement houses, more or less densely packed in new urban grids. By incorporating suburban vicinities and taking part in transactions of real estate markets, social actors coming from the local or international industry, commerce or gentry have dramatically altered urban landscapes. Their actions resulted in changing attitudes toward town planning and regulatory practices, but also coincided with reframing of social and cultural milieus of the multiethnic and the multilingual populations. Soon, the urgent need to establish proper town planning was recognized by the local and imperial administration. Most of its cities, at the turn of centuries rapidly growing in population, industry and construction markets, prepared ambitious plans for urban expansion that remain almost completely omitted by the Polish urban histories3.

My ongoing study, supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, under research project “Town Planning in the Polish Kingdom at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Between Urbanism and Administration” is focused on historic reconstruction of those late nineteenth century masterplans, especially their administrative and political background. I will try to open comprehensive discussion on urban planning techniques and the role that masterplans played in conflicted relationships between municipal administration and imperial governance over the Polish Kingdom’s cities. Following recent studies on the Russian imperial politics towards Poland (f. e. Malte Rolf’s approach4 or Kamil Śmiechowski’s accounts5 and growing interest in urban planning of the period6 I will try to map networks between administration, urban management, politicians, developers and conflicted societies of the Polish cities, exploring plans agency and their political significance. I will compare official planning scheme authorized by the imperial administration and the competing initiative developed under the leadership of Polish intelligentsia. Proposals of urban modernization offered by the latter developed especially in the 1905-1907 Revolution and during the following decade and related to the struggle to grant Polish cities autonomous, elected municipal councils and administration.

A Metropolis of/on Paper. Case study Częstochowa

1. The 1901-1902 map of Częstochowa with annotations by Author, showing existing streets, railways, squares and public gardens, delineated by Karl Brandtner, printed by Kohn & Oderfeld, Częstochowa 1902. Courtesy State Archive in Częstochowa.

By the 1890s provincial Częstochowa became one of the leading industrial Polish towns after Warsaw and Łódź, tripling population in two decades and reaching 50.000 inhabitants7. Częstochowa consisted of a small Old Town established in the Middle Ages, which in the 1820s was connected to the Pauline sanctuary of Jasna Góra by the axial boulevard with the Saint Jacobs square in the middle, where the new town hall was located. By the turn of centuries, the main boulevard had become the “main street” of Częstochowa with modern tenements, shops and hotels located alongside. Also, the prestigious investments of the local Jewish and Roman-Catholic communities were located next to its eastern outskirts, in the Old Town area, while the western part remained dominated by the historic monument of the Paulites sanctuary. Rapid development of industry since 1870s resulted in establishment of several textile factories and modern ironworks, forming a vast cluster south of the town, poorly integrated in the street system.

In the 1890s local municipal administration, supervised by the Russian county and governorate officials, commissioned a new survey of the town and its environs. The aim was to decide on enlarging the boundaries of Częstochowa and preparing a comprehensive planning scheme required by the building code of the Empire and by the local, Polish regulations. In 1901 the mayor of the city created a special commission of magistrate members, county administration representatives and governorate technicians8. Their proposal, partly published in 1902, was based on the premise of booming industry and offered a vision of a city of half-a-million, with grids of rectangular blocks, monumental squares, and a few public parks, connected by five major boulevards of 35-40 metres width and electric cable-car lines9. Also, the poor and densely populated historic Old Town was to be reconstructed by several street extensions and demolitions. Regarding the planning techniques, plan was based on the modern urban sanitary engineering needs favouring regular blocks and wide streets suitable for laying sewers and waterworks network. It also offered a comprehensive tool for unification of the existing city and its suburbs or industrial clusters, enabling proper infrastructure for the capitalist circulation of workers, dwellers and goods within the metropolitan boundaries and access to modern-standard blocks for dense urbanization. A few spacious public squares would have been suitable for erection of monumental Russian Orthodox churches representing imperial governance or other public buildings and market halls. Its comparison with masterplans produced similarly for other provincial towns across the Polish Kingdom shows similar approach to planning based on Russian imperial schemes from the period, to name a few examples of Piotrków and Płock, but also to nineteenth century expansion planning in many other areas of the world, to name America only. But this ambitious plan was soon stuck in bureaucratic procedures of governorate and central administration. It remained unapproved, mostly due to lack of funding necessary for its implementation.

Towards Urban Discourse: Town Planning and Self-Determination

2. The 1901-1902 urban regulation masterplan for Częstochowa, reconstruction based on the 1902 map by Brandtner. Section with city centre as proposed in the masterplan, with Jasna Góra sanctuary on the lef and the old town on the right. Residential areas marked in red; industrial in purple; railways in brown; parks in green, all projected towards the street grid with squares. Proposed electric cable-car line in yellow. By Author.  

This ‘paper city’ contrasted sharply with the chaotic development of Częstochowa in the 1900s and aroused criticism in the Polish press complaining over lack of proper waterworks, sewers or paved streets10. Local administration was accused of negligence, but also the entire system of Imperial governance was contested as inefficient. Surprisingly, the 1902 plan was not even discussed in detail by the press. Similar planning proposals were soon rejected by the West-oriented Polish professionals who criticized “inefficient and monotonous system of regular blocks like in American cities”, never mentioning Russian urban models as a background for planning in Polish Kingdom11. They opted for the Garden City or the German Städtebau approaches12. Also, the scheme for Częstochowa as resembling official planning for Russian cities was deemed to be insufficient by the Polish politicians, architects and doctors who simultaneously tried to develop local, autonomous discourse on urban modernization as political offer for urban population. They established the local branch of the Warsaw Society of Hygiene13. This institution was the leading Polish group promoting ‘scientific’ technologies of urban management, sanitation and modernization of governance in industrial towns. Their greatest success in Częstochowa was the national Exhibition of Industry and Agriculture in 1909. Forms of major pavilions merged the technology-oriented currents of the ‘modernist’ architecture with the École des Beaux-Arts compositions. The Polish ‘national style’ proposals were also present on the ground, utilizing vernacular patterns and cottage-style ideas of ‘modern’ home. For one of the leading organizers, physician Stanisław Nowak, the event offered a vision of the “European” city that “Częstochowa would have been” if the Polish professionals were in charge of its development14. Exhibition, with its vast landscape garden was portrayed nationwide as a manifestation of the Polish industry and culture development15.

3. The 1901-1902 masterplan of Częstochowa placed against the 1930s topographic map showing suburbs and villages around the city. By Author.

The 1909 success was contrasted by the press with the ‘pre-modern’ state of developing Częstochowa governed by the Russian administration, despite metropolitan ambitions and modern architecture, represented by a few pre-1914 investments. This conflict remained unsolved until the Great War. If the leading message produced by the Polish national movement was discourse of the Western-oriented urban modernisation and political self-governance, the official planning based on the ‘Russian’ schemes had been rejected as ‘pre-modern’ already before the Great War. It was not only because the failure of their implementation or insufficient urban solutions, but also because of their connection to Russian models and the Polish reformers ambitions to develop autonomous urban planning. To understand deeply this historical situation, I will also research emerging town planning discourse on theories and practices of urban expansion and renewal that attracted several Polish activists, politicians, and engineers.

Research Scope

4. Official town planning schemes for one of the governorate capitals of Polish Kingdom – Piotrków (now: Piotrków Trybunalski), as prepared in the 1870-1880s and in 1911. Section, showing city centre with Author’s annotations, marking areas not covered by direct archival sources. Residential areas marked in red; industrial in purple; railways in grey; parks in green; cemeteries in rose; military areas in brown, all projected towards the street grid with squares. Graphic work by Author, on the cartographic material by State Archive in Piotrków.
5. Official town planning proposals and regulation initiatives for Warsaw, 1870s-1914, merged in a graphic work by Author, based on the carthographic material – the 1912 Plan of Warsaw from the State Archive in Warsaw.

In my study I would like to shed new light on the especially Russian Poland early twentieth -century initiatives to manage urban planning. Sanitation, urban development plans or efforts to make Kalisz, Czestochowa or Lodz “towns of gardens” were part of the larger political discourses of Polish middle classes, that aspired to take primary position in governance over provincial and major cities. It needs to be stressed, that the 1900s political discourses of the Polish public sphere in the Russia-ruled Polish Kingdom were based not only on critique, but also on exclusion and omission of existing urban management bodies and their actions. Contrary, such planning not only existed within the system of imperial Russian governance over Polish provinces, but many urban regulation schemes had been produced in the second half of the nineteenth century and in the first decade of the following one. Last but not least, municipalities across the Polish Kingdom often invested considerable amounts of money and time in preparation of land surveys and expansion planning documents for their towns, not only for expanding industrial metropolises like Warsaw, Łódź or Częstochowa but also for governorate capitals and provincial centres to mention Kielce, Piotrków or Włocławek16. Although a detailed study is yet to be conducted, it may safely be assumed that fiasko of efforts of their implementation, along with the already mentioned contemporary development of the unofficial, „Polish urban planning” discourses have resulted in a fall of the administrative planning into almost a complete oblivion of historical narrative.

Biographische Notiz

Makary Górzyński holds a PhD degree in art history from the Institute of Art History, University of Warsaw (2019). His research interests focus on relationships between politics, modernization, urban planning and nineteenth-century architecture, including their perceptions in East-Central Europe. He is currently a research adjunct at Office for Regional Studies, Calisia University in Kalisz.

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makarygorzynski (2022, 4. April). Town Planning in the Polish Kingdom at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Between Urbanism and Administration. Stadtgeschichten. Abgerufen am 25. Juni 2024, von

  1. This paper was originally prepared for the SAH’s Annual Conference in Glasgow (2017), later discussed also at the EAHN’s Board Meeting in Warsaw (2018). The following version has been expanded and altered for publication. I would like to express my gratitude to PhD Małgorzata Popiołek-Roßkamp for her kind invitation. The study described in this article was supported by the National Science Centre, Poland, under research project “Town Planning in the Polish Kingdom at the Turn of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Between Urbanism and Administration” (NCN Miniatura 5, decision number 2021/05/X/HS2/00340). []
  2. Compare, f.e.: M. Nietyksza, Rozwój miast i aglomeracji miejsko-przemysłowych w Królestwie Polskim 1865-1914, Warszawa 1986; W. Pruss, Ludność Królestwa Polskiego 1864-1914, (edited posthumously), Warszawa 2019. []
  3. For classic studies on the nineteenth century town planning (mostly focused on the first half of this century) see: K. Dumała, Przemiany przestrzenne miast i rozwój osiedli przemysłowych w Królestwie Polskim w latach 1831-1869, Wrocław-Warszawa-Kraków-Gdańsk 1974; K. Dumała, Miasto nowoczesne w Królestwie Polskim, w: A. M. Drexlerowa, red., Kultura miejska w Królestwie Polskim, part 1, 1815-1875, Warszawa. Kalisz-Lublin-Płock, Warszawa 2001, s. 307-322. []
  4. M. Rolf, Imperiale Herrschaft im Weichselland: Das Königreich Polen und das Russische Imperium (1864-1915), Oldenburg 2015. Polish edition: Rządy imperialne w Kraju Nadwiślańskim. Królestwo Polskie i cesarstwo rosyjskie (1864-1915), transl. W. Włoskowicz, Warszawa 2016. []
  5. K. Śmiechowski, Kwestie miejskie. Dyskusja o problemach i przyszłości miast w Królestwie Polskim 1905-1915, Łódź 2020. See also: K. Śmiechowski, Searching for the better city: urban discourse during the Revolution of 1905 in the Kingdom of Poland, “Praktyka Teoretyczna” 2014, no 3 (13), online; []
  6. E. Kiecko, O kilku problemach u początków nowoczesnej „budowy miast” na ziemiach polskich, in: M. Getka-Kenig, A. Łupienko, eds., Architektura w mieście, architektura dla miasta. Społeczne i kulturowe aspekty funkcjonowania architektury na ziemiach polskich lat 1815-1914, Warszawa 2017, pp. 29-55; A. Łupienko, Wkład ruchu higienicznego w polską myśl urbanistyczną (1850-1914), in: M. Getka-Kenig, A. Łupienko, eds., Architektura w mieście, architektura dla miasta. Społeczne i kulturowe aspekty funkcjonowania architektury na ziemiach polskich lat 1815-1914, Warszawa 2017, pp. 57-70. []
  7. On the history of the town see: Częstochowa: dzieje miasta i klasztoru jasnogórskiego, vol. 2, W okresie niewoli 1793-1918, ed. R. Kołodziejczyk, Częstochowa 2005; F. Sobalski, Przemysł częstochowski 1872-1914, Częstochowa 2009. []
  8. State Archive in Łódź, Piotrków Governorate Government, sign. 2527, Files regarding the new urban regulation plan of Częstochowa, from 1898 to 1910; State Archive in Częstochowa, Częstochowa Files, sign. 2148, Files regarding the new urban regulation plan of Częstochowa, from 1891 to 1914. []
  9. State Archive in Częstochowa, Maps and Plans, sign. 1, The 1900-1901 plan of Częstochowa, published in 1902. []
  10. See A. Kuśnierczyk, Kulturowe aspekty przemian cywilizacyjnych w Częstochowie na przełomie XIX-XX wieku. Rozpoznanie problematyki, „Rocznik Muzeum Częstochowskiego” 14: 2014, pp. 92-117. []
  11. About urban planning in Russia at that time see: Gradostroitel’stvo Rossii seredingy XIX-nacala XX veka, vol. 1, Obscaja charakteristika i teoreticeskie problemy, ed. E. Kiricenko, Moskva 2001. []
  12. For more on this issue, cf. Kiecko and Łupienko, op. cit. []
  13. W. Tyras, Towarzystwo Higieniczne w Częstochowie w latach 1902-1923, „Archiwum Historii Medycyny” 29: 1966, pp. 259-267. []
  14. S. Nowak, Z moich wspomnień, part 2, Częstochowa (lipiec 1902-lipiec 1914), Częstochowa 1933. []
  15. Stulecie Wystawy Przemysłu i Rolnictwa 2009, collection of sources, Częstochowa 2009; D. Złotkowski, Wystawa Przemysłu i Rolnictwa w Częstochowie 1909 roku w świetle prasy polskiej, Częstochowa 2009. []
  16. See M. Górzyński, Planowanie przestrzenne w miastach Królestwa Polskiego ok. 1900 roku: między urbanistyką a administracją, lecture at the meeting of Kalisz Society of Friends of Sciences Board for Art and Culture Studies, 15th December, 2021, online: online, wykład na spotkaniu Pracowni Historii Sztuki i Kultury Artystycznej KTPN, 15 grudnia 2021, online: []
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