Przegląd Geograficzny (2022) vol. 94, iss. 3

“Revalorisation” of the city centre: location trends among microscale technology companies as exemplified by Warsaw

Maciej Smętkowski

Przegląd Geograficzny (2022) vol. 94, iss. 3, pp. 351-371

The main objective of the work detailed in this paper has been to analyse the spatial distribution of technology companies in a city, as well as to identify factors influencing their locations. Warsaw, which can be regarded as a metropolis with a relatively well-developed startup ecosystem, was used to illustrate the changes occurring across cityspace as a result of the fourth technological revolution. The research used a database elaborated specially for the purposes of the work on tech companies dealing with technologies such as: a) artificial intelligence, b) machine learning, c) big data analytics and d) cloud computing. The database in question integrates a number of sources of information such as the Crunch database of tech companies, tech jobs portals, tech industry conferences and Poland’s official REGON database of business entities. After several stages of verification, the research included 319 business entities located in Warsaw, and considered to be the tech companies dealing with the highlighted technologies.

The research showed that the development of the digital economy expressed in dynamic growth in the number of new enterprises in industries related to new technologies should be conducive to the transformation of the city centre. Warsaw-based entities involved in the production and implementation of new technological solutions – and especially those established in the last decade – are more likely to choose the central part of Warsaw in which to locate, as opposed to peripheral districts of the Polish capital. This is particularly evident in the case of such intangible business service sectors as software production or professional services. In addition, software technology companies are more likely than IT companies in general to choose central locations. In general, business districts prove most popular among technology enterprises, including those located outside the central area (i.e. Mokotowski and Jerozolimski). Alongside the western part of Warsaw’s Central Business District the latter prove to be most specialised in terms of the locating of technology enterprises. In general, the change in the preferences of technology businesses as compared with the earlier period can be taken to constitute a ‘revalorisation’, i.e. an increase in the attractiveness of the city centre in line with a change in location factors.

Our analysis of the location factors for technological enterprises in Warsaw was carried out using an indirect method that entailed examination of their locations across the cityspace, and characteristics of those locations; as well as selected business relations. On that basis, it proved possible to note, as key factors, characteristics of the buildings constituting seats of the said enterprises. In particular, where technology companies were concerned, the availability of co-working spaces was important, especially those located in the most modern office buildings. The example of Warsaw confirms trends observed around the world rendering similar the locations of the headquarters of large technology corporations and technology start-ups. This is facilitated by a process by which the supply of office space is adjusted to the location needs of the companies in question. This has become particularly evident in the last decade, with new technological entities clearly more willing to locate in city centres. This coincided with the development of co-working spaces, which appeared in Warsaw in 2008, three years after the implementation of this form of offering space for business operations in San Francisco. At the same time, it should be noted that some technology companies used other space for their activities, in particular residential buildings of various types, or older office buildings. This may indicate that space with lower rental costs was being sought by these companies (as also applies to leading technology firms, as evidenced by DocPlanner’s locating in Kolejowa Street in the post-industrial and still neglected part of Warsaw’s Wola District). At the same time, such locations were in a position to provide access to appropriate services, inter alia the close proximity of cafés. The importance of the attractiveness of the surroundings of the place of business as a location factor may also be evidenced by relatively proximate locations of green areas. However, on the basis of the conducted research it is not possible to state unequivocally state that these factors were taken into account by technology enterprises as they made their location decisions. Nevertheless, the preferences gain partial confirmation via the analysis of the location factors of technology enterprises in relation to office space actually available. In particular, the attractiveness of those parts of the Central Business District that are characterised by a diverse urban fabric (i.e. the southern and eastern parts in the case of Warsaw) is evident. Moreover, these results are in line with the preferences technology companies show as they seek to take advantage of urbanization effects associated with a specific urban environment characteristic of central districts (as studies in other European metropolises, such as Barcelona or Ostrava, make clear).

Preferences in terms of transport accessibility may also help account for changing location patterns displayed by technology firms. In particular, close proximity to Warsaw’s Metro stations may be an attracting factor. However, only about 40% of the enterprises analysed were actually within 600 metres of such a station – the recommended distance for there to be any real impact on employees’ transport behaviour. This means that a significant proportion of the companies surveyed may also be competing for employees in terms of good accessibility via individual transport (especially car), or other means of public transport. Equally, where external accessibility was concerned, there was no confirmation of the importance of the airport as a factor underpinning locations of Warsaw’s technology companies. This could reflect a lack of difference to the structure of sales markets, including the importance of the foreign market, between technology companies and Warsaw-based companies in general. Likewise, the proximity of customers failed to show as significant to the locations of companies. In regard to both the location of the airport and customers, agglomeration effects were deemed to be of a city-wide nature, more than being related to specific micro-locations.

Keywords: przedsiębiorstwa technologiczne, czynniki lokalizacji, ekosystem startupowy, metropolia, Warszawa

Maciej Smętkowski [], Uniwersytet Warszawski, Centrum Europejskich Studiów Regionalnych i Lokalnych