Sept. 30 - Owners of traditional Polish garden allotments in Warsaw are preparing for an environmental fight after the country's constitutional court ruled that developers should have the chance to build on hundreds of personal plots across the capital. Jim Drury reports.
Marie Farenhaus and her family enjoying their small slice of urban paradise - a plot in one of the dozens of allotment gardens dotted around Warsaw. But now her tract - and those of hundreds of Warsovians - is at risk, along with the flora and fauna thriving in the gardens. SOUNDBITE (English), MARIE FARENHAUS, ALLOTMENT PLOT OWNER, SAYING: "It is something that is a big luxury, I think, to be able to do that in a city, it's quite unique. I'd be very sorry to see it disappear." But, disappear it might. A recent constitutional ruling says the previously protected plots should be open to development. This site is in the heart of Warsaw, prime real estate in a city where building opportunities are limited. The allotment garden tenants are furious at the possibility of losing their rural idyll. Pensioner Krystna Pakulska says there are also environmental considerations. SOUNDBITE (Polish), RETIREE, KRYSTYNA PAKULSKA, SAYING: "We have fantastic flora and fauna here - you can find hedgehogs and I've even seen a fox here but nobody believes me." Environmentalists say the presence of lichens in the gardens results in better air quality for city residents. The gardens are home to birds, butterflies, and other wildlife which building opponents say will be destroyed by development. Local sociologist Iwona Jakubowska-Branicka says more than a million people are potentially affected. SOUNDBITE (Polish) SOCIOLOGIST, IWONA JAKUBOWSKA-BRANICKA, SAYING: "These people would have a sense of losing their property and this would be a very complicated problem." The allotment gardens were introduced by Poland's Communist-era rulers so workers could relax in their spare time by tending flowers and shrubs on their personal plots. The gardens house up to 500 individual allotments. And while the plots themselves are owned by individuals, the land beneath them is state property. Two decades after Poland threw off Communist rule, the legacy of Warsaw's green oases is now in conflict with a modern reality: the appetite of the free market.