Interview with Ewa Janowska, Gdynia’s city liaison and coordinator at Sendzimir Foundation

The REACHOUT series of interviews aims at collecting more personal views from colleagues developing and applying climate services for urban adaptation and resilient development, get more insight on the state of knowledge, the main ongoing discourse, and get a more concrete view of what their work encompasses. A sneak peek, so to say, behind the jargon and throbbing sentences used in policy documents and research proposals. Throughout the project, team members will complete a round of interviews. One colleague will interview another, and the interviewed colleague then conducts the following interview of the next team member and so on. As each member interviews and gets interviewed in this manner, all topics will be covered over the duration of this project. 

Read our latest interview featuring Ewa Janowska, Gdynia’s city liaison and coordinator at the Sendzimir Foundation in Warsaw, Poland interviewed by Jenny Tröltzsch, Senior Fellow at Ecologic Institute and Climate Adaptation Expert.

Hi Ewa, We met some weeks ago during the REACHOUT General assembly in Milan. What did you appreciate the most during the meeting? What were your highlights?

Jenny, certainly one of the nice moments, was our chat at the first dinner! It’s a great pity that I found out from an interview with you that you were learning Polish. It would have been a super opportunity to practice the language.

I think meeting all the partners in person in Milan was very fruitful. And I wasn’t the only one who got that impression! I think I especially appreciated the discussions in small mixed groups during several workshops. They gave me the best ‘food for thought’. This direct sharing of experiences probably brought all the participants together the most. We were able to get to know each other’s challenges, but also the specific problems everyone is facing in the process of developing tools and climate services. Even though we are so different, these problems turned out to be quite universal. Certainly, after a year of the project, it was valuable to look at how the tools are developed, it also allowed us to better understand how they work. I appreciate that the officials came alive, it was a good opportunity to network!

You are one of the city liaisons within the REACHOUT project, being the contact person for the city hubs and connecting them to the research team. What is especially important for you in the cooperation with Gdynia city?

I think several aspects are important. The city of Gdynia is one of the leading local authorities in Poland that sees the need to act in terms of adapting the city to climate change. Gdynia sets itself realistic goals and implements them. They recently counted their carbon footprint as a city and want to continue monitoring it, aiming for climate neutrality soon.

Moreover, they are innovative in their management. The city’s mayor meets every month with a representation of officials to make decisions right away. Therefore, it is an honor for me to be able to work with Gdynia.

On the other hand, it is very interesting to observe the implementation process of the climate tools at the interface of many municipal departments and potential users of the tool, which has to fit into the city’s policies and meet different needs. I think that observing and participating in this process is a very fruitful and interesting experience for the future.

You have quite some experience working at the science-policy interface with a focus on climate change, spatial planning, and nature-based solutions. What do you see as main challenges for implementation of adaptation activities in European cities? How could they be overcome?

I don’t know if I am an expert when it comes to urban issues at a European level. I think this is a good question to discuss and share experiences within our consortium. Certainly, in Poland, we can see two opposing trends when it comes to the spatial adaptation of cities to climate change. Large agglomerations have increasingly better-educated officials who are aware that implementing nature-based solutions is one of the best tools in adapting a city to climate change, as well as the most financially viable. To give an example: in Warsaw, where I live, new trees are constantly being planted, the grass is rarely mown and turning into urban meadows, impermeable surfaces are being stripped and one of the banks of the Vistula river remains semi-wild – you will meet rare birds and wild animals there. This green trend can also be seen in the number of projects submitted in the civic budget by residents. Officials and civil society in large agglomerations go hand in hand in this trend.

On the other hand, there are smaller towns and cities where, for a few years now, we have been observing a worsening phenomenon – let’s translate it literally – as ‘concretosis’ (concrete sickness). Old squares and alleys are being stripped of their trees, impermeable surfaces are increasing. There is no awareness of the fact that NBS provides ecosystem services, easily convertible into money.

Cities are also obliged to adopt local development plans, but these are implemented very tardily. Hence, for example, areas that should be left free of infrastructure because they are in floodplains are being developed and, as a consequence, the river (i.e. nature) becomes a danger to people and is also perceived as a threat in general. Or uncontrolled urban sprawl, which is not good for mitigation or better adaptation to climate change.

So, I believe, at the core, as always, is education. Both of the public, so that they understand the need for change, and of officials so that they are brave enough to innovate.

As you are interested in scientific communication and already developed scientific exhibitions and such, what is the role of climate tools and services as a format for communicating scientific results for you? How are your experiences on interesting communication channels and formats targeting citizens and the broader public?

Yes, I am a science communication enthusiast, I worked in a science center for many years. Scientists don’t have time to present the results of their research to a wider audience. For that, one should be able to talk about scientific results in simple language, to use meaningful simplifications. This does not come easily to everyone. On top of that, scientists specialize in very narrow fields. Hence, science needs translators! Also to put specific results into a broader context.

Science communications can be understood and realized on many levels and through many channels, from well-cut infographics, sound science journalism, to art. It is also important to involve institutions that have contact with mass audiences e.g. science centers. I don’t know if I have my favorite communication format, or if there is a universal one that better appeals to the general public. I am enthusiastic about anything that brings people credibly to science and in particular the issue of climate change.

I believe that climate services are a very important format that will grow rapidly! At Reachout, we are creating tools and products that integrate and facilitate the interpretation of climate data for a very important group – decision-makers and officials. They are the ones who create local urban adaptation policies. The well-being of city dwellers now and in the future depends on their informed and courageous decisions and actions.

In addition to tools aimed at very specific users within Reachout, a story map is a great communication tool that can reach a wider audience. With an engaging story, it provides a simple way to imagine the place we live in 20 or 30 years from now. It presents data and climate predictions in a simple way, giving them to the user on a plate that he or she would probably not have bothered to go to the source for themselves.

Ewa, thanks a lot for taking the time for this interview. Can you tell us who will be the next person to interview and what would you like to find out from that person?

Thank you too, the pleasure is all mine! Staying on the topic of science communication, I would like to hear from Sophie van der Horst, adviser at Climate Adaptation Services, who creates climate story maps, and collects and visualizes data within Reachout. I would like to take a look behind the scenes of her work.