Urban recycling – an idea of the past, or the shape of future?

Urban recycling is a process of a physical, social and cultural transformation of a city.

Urban recycling – an idea of the past, or the shape of future?

Urban recycling is a process of a physical, social and cultural transformation of a city. The goal is to improve living conditions of city residents and preserve or revive the memory of the city or its individual parts. The phenomenon of urban recycling has been known to architects for centuries. In the old days it would assume bringing new life into rundown urban structures. It affected dysfunctional and decaying areas and optimized them with regard to their social, economic and cultural potential. The contemporary idea of urban recycling differs from the twentieth-century assumptions that aimed at restoring the original condition of a given area. Today, when private entities are the main investors, existing structures are more frequently adapted to modern cultural and social requirements and new emerging needs arising from dynamic development and social changes. The contemporary urban recycling is intertwined with investments associated with transportation and telecommunication infrastructure modernization, the use of alternative energy sources and energy efficiency. Individual facilities and sometimes also whole city districts are developed with sustainability rules in mind. Urban recycling is gaining popularity especially in big agglomerations, where the shortage of land for new investments is evident.

“The present day urban recycling are mainly activities that consist in retrieving the full potential of land or a facility. In case when an existing facility does not meet applicable requirements, such as the ESG policies, the process of urban recycling may mean its demolishing. At present, the ESGs – environmental, social and corporate governance factors – are particularly vital indicators that help companies report the activities that are impossible to be directly translated into typical economic indicators. Such facilities may be outdated industrial installations, dormient commercial and industrial facilities or residential and office facilities built decades ago. At INWI, we can identify the right way that an investor should follow – whether a given facility can be modernized and its function restored, or rather some more radical steps should be taken. Thus we deliver to our customers the solutions that are tailored to their needs”, says Michał Niczewski, an INWI architect.

Besides regular urban recycling, processes related to land revitalization are emerging:

  • Land recycling – reusing abandoned, empty or unused land for revitalization purposes. We can distinguish between grey recycling and green recycling. Grey recycling takes place when typically urban facilities, such as buildings or transportation infrastructure, are transformed by way of alteration and adaptation. We can talk about green recycling when green facilities, such as grassland, urban parks or sports facilities, are created.


  • Land densification is defined as the management of the premises that takes place within the boundaries of functioning city blocks with the maximum use of existing infrastructure instead of building on the areas that have so far been undeveloped. The phenomenon can be observed within housing complexes built in 1970s and 1980s. Such management of the premises is also part of the assumptions of the 15-minute
    city, also known as the compact city.

Land recycling includes both land densification and recycling as such. And thus land recycling is understood in a broad sense and encompasses three elements: building a compact city as well as grey and green land recycling. The level of land recycling in relation to the total land use is shown by the so-called land recycling indicator. The total land use is understood as all land use processes.

There are a few ways of applying urban recycling processes. One of them is the adaptation of vacant buildings, whose presence in the urban fabric has increased (for example in Katowice and Łódź, respectively 17% and 20% of vacant office buildings were recorded in 2021) and continues to stay on a high level. Obviously, some vacant buildings are to be demolished, although the process is not economically optimal. More and more frequently the adaptation of facilities to completely new purposes is being considered, which contributes to their value increase.

A great example of urban recycling activities is the French developer Novaxia. In 2022, Novaxia purchased real property assets that may potentially undergo recycling into residential units within a short-, mid- or long-term perspective. The total amount allocated for that purpose by the company amounted to nearly 550 million EUR. France is one of three European countries, following Finland and Malta, with the highest rate of land recycling.

“At INWI, we have been paying attention to sustainability and sustainable construction since the very establishment of the company. Our mission is to initiate ambitious projects in order to facilitate the development of the city and improve the living standards of its residents. We combine business with social, cultural and historical values. We appreciate the needs of urban residents and communities that we take into consideration in all of our business activities. At INWI, we identify risks – but most of all opportunities, for which we find place in the investment process. Urban recycling and land recycling are notions that we have been managing for years. We find new, more beneficial functions (in business terms) for localizations that have lost their original significance. We give new applications to such facilities, setting the previously inaccessible capital free. Our experience in land and facilities transactions enables us to identify the opportunities I mentioned and thus we can maximize profit and offer satisfactory benefits to our customers,” says Daniel Radkiewicz, the CEO of INWI.