Pioneer in focus: Słupsk, Poland - Bridging the Baltic Sea with Water Democracy

Słupsk Municipality in Poland participated in the Baltic Sea City Accelerator. We take a deep dive to learn about the city, its Blue Vision and their work in the Accelerator programme. This article was originally published in our Baltic Sea City Accelerator magazine

Located in north-western Poland, the city of Słupsk is about 20 km from the Baltic Sea and draws tourists on their way to and from the coastline. Słupsk is rich in natural water bodies; the river Słupia runs through the city and there are more than twenty ponds - mostly former meanders of the Słupia - within city limits. By engaging with its citizens to focus on sustainability and improving water quality, Słupsk aims to raise the overall well-being of the local population, create new jobs, and strengthen its profile as a “green city of the new generation” - a model for the region and an attractive destination for citizens, businesses and tourists.



Water Democracy is Core

To work toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals and contribute to a healthy Baltic Sea, Słupsk has recognised that its citizens must be at the heart of their city’s actions and projects. Through participatory decision-making, the citizens of Słupsk play an active role in developing their local water community and implementing their Blue Strategy, which Slupsk developed during their work within the Baltic Sea City Accelerator Program.  The strategy is founded on the concept of “water democracy” and has been incorporated in the city’s newly adopted City Development Strategy 2017-2022.

By initiating and promoting different ways of engaging citizens in water action and decision making,  Słupsk aims to re-build citizens’ relationship to water - and by extension the Baltic Sea. Dariusz Szwed, advisor to Słupsk Mayor Robert Biedrón, has been the city’s representative in the Baltic Sea City Accelerator programme.

Dariusz connects water democracy to the building of a Baltic Sea citizenship.

“We can’t deal with environmental problems if we allow borders between our countries and our cities to keep us from cooperating. It is very important to create the sense of a Baltic society among cities and municipalities situated around the Baltic Sea. This will not only give us a common understanding of the Baltic Sea, but it will also inspire us to use the sea as a bridge - a bond - to reconnect our citizens and our societies.”
— Dariusz Szwed, advisor to Słupsk Mayor Robert Piedrón

In addition to encouraging participation in decision-making, Słupsk is developing a guidebook for water democracy with best practices and tools for communities all around Poland to increase “water participation” among its citizens.


Słupsk's blue strategy

Through participatory decision-making and water democracy, the citizens of Słupsk play an active role in developing their local water community and implementing their Blue Strategy.


Historical Water Roundtables

Water is at the top of Słupsk’s political agenda and at the city’s initiative water roundtables, which are the first to be carried out in Poland. Looking to Sweden as a model, the first roundtable, held in spring 2017  in Słupsk, brought together the Słupsk Water Company, the Mayor of Słupsk, and the Mayor’s advisors responsible for sustainable development and external relations. Some 30+ stakeholders from local water companies, nature protection institutions, town departments for environmental protection, regional water authorities, regional inspectors for environmental protection, and NGOs participated in this interdisciplinary water dialogue.  

Everything starts around the water roundtables. People meet and discuss how to work together up the stream or down the stream, whichever way we go.
— Dariusz Szwed, advisor to Słupsk Mayor Robert Piedrón

The topics discussed ranged from boosting civic engagement to capturing economic opportunities:

  • Providing high water quality versus price of service

  • State of local streams in terms of re-naturalisation, wildlife corridors, reintroduction of salmon

  • Revitalization of Słupia River

  • Bathing lakes in cities

  • Cooperation between various institutions and citizens

The next water roundtable is planned for late 2017 to discuss stormwater management, renewable energy, and energy plants.