Among the Mutants

For general health reasons I try to walk for an hour or so as many days as I can manage. I get tired of the same surroundings so I go to different parts of the city. These walks brought home to me just how much things have changed for the better in Poland over the last 20 years or so as the walks have brought me to parts of town I hadn’t seen in years and they almost always look much better than I remember them.

Today I decided to really put this to the test and visited a neighborhood I hadn’t been in since… I don’t even remember the last time.

The reason is that it’s inconvenient to get to. One one side there’s a river and the runoff area for when the river gets very high. On another it’s blocked off by the main East-West railroad tracks. While railroad tracks run throughout the city in different places this is the only neighborhood I think of as being ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’. The residential area is also bordered by a semi-industrial area with garages, wholesale warehouses, small and larger scale workshops and the like and it’s bordered on the final side by the largest cemetery in town. I used to have to go to the neighborhood (using a crosswalk over the train tracks) once a week or so to catch a bus for a weekly side hustle which I gave up because it was too much effort for the return.

It was easily the most depressing area I’d seen in town.It wasn’t dangerous (there is hardly anything like a real dangerous neighborhood in Poland by American standards) just loud (from trucks) and rundown and ugly as a mud fence. Some friends referred to it as ‘Mutanty’ (mutants) because of the backward vibe it gave off.

I went to today to see if it had been touched by the general improvement in the city. The verdict was mixed. A lot of it seemed like going a bit back in time (maybe 10 or so years) with empty storefronts and old neglected buildings. On the other hand there were hints of gentrification with new apartment buildings around the edges, an ethnic restaurant (Armenian) and signs of ongoing restoration here and there. There were also…. elementy (literally ‘elements’ but a way of referring to lower class men of the kind of who used to hang out in front of stores drinking at 9 in the morning). They weren’t… prospering but they weren’t destitute either and at least they were hanging out in courtyards rather than in front of the new Lidl (a German supermarket chain that has greatly expanded in recent years in Poland).

If Mutanty is showing signs of improvement that’s real progress. I’m not sure how much recent governments are responsible vs being a member of the EU (and exporting the unemployment problem to Western Europe) vs being incorporated into the supply chain for the German manufacturing sector. The oncoming recession will be telling but I do hope that Mutanty can continue to make whatever progress it can.

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