At the T-junction on Barrow Street, or as the locals call it “Google Street”; looking down the road to the right, we see the old and the new emerging Dublin. Google’s 67-metre tall building of steel and shiny glass, (I have to admit here the magpie in me loves the shiny steel and glass construction), with its three pronged ‘hyperlink’ bridge, towering over the small pebble dash cottages.
The dwarfing of the inner city communities’ homes by the prevailing industry is not a new sight, the old industries such as Boland’s Mills, the gas company cylinder, and the ESB red and white power towers on the Shelly banks, were once the dominant structures in the Dublin sky line.
However, the new industries unlike the old do not provide much employment for the local community. Without a local labour clause in the regeneration of the Dublin Docklands this trend looks likely to continue as the government implements the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) for the docklands area, promoting Dublin as a creative city. The SDZ is being held up as the only way to restart the regeneration of Dublin city after the property crash and the international financial crisis of 2008.
The fast track planning through the SDZ in the interest of economic growth has meant a change from the process of planning taking three years, with the freedom of third-party planning appeals, to being completed in 18 months now without an appeals process. This change along with the deliberate mapping of the zone to exclude the local residential areas of Ringsend, Pearse Street, Sheriff Street, and East Wall, will remove all obligations on developers to consider local community needs in spite of the language of “integration” and “community involvement” that is in the document. In earlier developments, under the older planning provisions, there were some gains which, while few in number, gave hope and aspiration to the local area, a promise of real investment, a commitment to lifelong education, and a promise of a sustainable community and real job opportunities.
To be clear, I don’t believe that the responsibility for sustainable communities should be dependent on the private market yet without proper planning and investment, in schooling, housing, adult education/retraining, the low socio-economic cycle and high unemployment associated with these areas of inner city Dublin will continue and allow pockets of deprivation to be hidden in the statistics, as the middle class population of Dublin increases.
The Government’s stated urban policy is to create a social mix, to bring families back into the city, yet there is no indication of any real commitment to the investment—in local schools, suitable accommodation, and the development of the necessary public social gathering spaces, such as parks with seated areas not exclusively associated with cafes—needed to achieve this goal.
There is one example where there was an attempt to create this open public space with the development of the small Chimney Park beside the Bord Gais Theatre. Yet, there was supposed to be a number of these parks and with the crash these projects were dropped and we can see an example of this failure in the large area to the north side of the Samuel Beckett Bridge which was supposed to be a public park but now has been left as an un-landscaped flat green space.
The present main social gatherings spots in Dublin docklands area are of consumerism, expensive restaurants, coffee shops and bars, sitting in to have your coffee will cost upwards of €5 making it an expensive commodity for everyone other than a small privileged group.
This group are the people able to afford to live in the high rent apartments, to go to the expensive bars and restaurants and to avail of the Bord Gais Theatre and the Three Arena. These are the “creative” class that work in the multinationals of Google, Facebook, and Airbnb and in the legal and financial sectors. These people do bring much needed spending power to the area but they are a more transient group and can leave if economic factors, for example, corporation tax, dictate that their firms have more favourable conditions elsewhere.
There is a clause in the SDZ to preserve local culture and heritage, but this goes little further than the adoption of street-names such as “Blood Stoney Road”, in the case referring to the nineteenth-century engineer responsible for the construction of the South Wall.
A more progresive approach might have been to have adopted some vernacular placenames; for example, the MacMahon Bridge is known locally as the Iron Bridge. This care given to street naming is a truly only a minor element of local culture and certainly there are more vital cultural institutions under threat. For example, a Paddle Group formed to support cancer survivors worries about the risk of eviction from its home in a concrete storage unit in the underdeveloped end of the basin.
If we want a living city, economic growth cannot be the sole focus of urban policy. For our cities to be sustainable they need to places where parents can and want to bring up children. Our social fabric needs to include high-quality integrated schools, parks and recreational areas and residents should comprise a diversity of incomes, cities for the many not the few.
Mary Broe, PhD student