Back in 2009, at the height of global financial crisis, John Lovering in a hard-hitting editorial in International Planning Studies declared that, finally, it had happened.

The recession marked ‘the end of planning as we had known it’. There was no going back. The neoliberal model of urban policy-making, “it’s inequities, it’s harmful social and cultural effects, it’s disastrous impact on the environment and its economic unsustainability” was dead.

Except of course, like previous crises, it wasn’t.

Phoenixlike, the strange non-death of neoliberalism emerged unfazed. The Irish planning profession, anxious to deflect from its complicity in the Celtic Tiger and unsure of what else to do, slavishly followed along as every manner of idiotic mass tourism hotel, student housing scheme, build-to-rent apartment development, co-living unit and high-rise office block was approved, each testament to the parasitic power and private fortunes of international capital wrapped up in some Orwellian supply-side doublespeak of what is good for us.

Fast forward ten years, and there has been much talk again recently, in light of the COVID19 crisis, of the urgent need for a deep structural change in the planning and organisation of our urban environments. We have seen some promising signs in this direction as cities across Europe, including Dublin, seize the opportunity to repurpose streets from private cars to pedestrians and cyclists – initiatives long held back by reactionary interests – and a greater acknowledgement of the real value of green spaces, clean air, noiselessness, social cohesion and nature in urban liveability. These may be temporary, but demonstrate what is possible.

The pandemic has also laid bare the recrudesce of a planning system that has once more been reduced to a reactive, short-term and opportunity-driven activity which is likely to see the our cities littered with overcapacity and stranded assets.

The economic impact of COVID19 is, as yet, unknown but projections suggest it is likely to be severe and turbulent. As in 2009, the planning profession is about to be again sharply thrust up against what is probably its chief intellectual weakness – what to do when the land market is rendered largely inoperative? In such a situation the pattern of land-use will have to be determined administratively, but planning, as a body of knowledge, offers no ideas as to how this might be done. Paralysis ensues.

Like all cultural shocks, the COVID19 disruption presents liminal spaces, moments of cultural rupture, to rethink and do things differently, and to listen to alternative voices from outside the mainstream proposing hitherto unthinkable solutions – but who are almost always ignored – that radically challenge our take-for-granted worldviews in ways that is impossible through incremental change.

In order to make the best of this opportunity, planners will first have to wake up to the inexorable socio-ecological realities and discontinuities that will transform their identities in the 21st Century and recognise that, as Lovering advised, the best place for many of the policies pursued over the past decades is in the bin.

First to go should be the speculative, pseudo-planning ‘compact city’ doctrine and the much-purported groupthink amongst developers and urban growthists that urban regeneration needs to be hyper-densified in order to be sustainable, but which has thus far failed to regenerate much beyond the bottom-line of the property developers, financiers and consultants.

Alternative pathways abound, leaning on insights from the peripheries of orthodox received wisdom. The City of Amsterdam, for example, has recently adopted a new holistic strategy for transformative urban action based on the pioneering ‘Doughnut Economics’ of British economist, Kate Raworth.

The Amsterdam ‘City Donut’ presents a long-term planning policy vision which seeks to supplant the growth-orientated and competitive commodification of the city with ‘a thriving, regenerative and inclusive city for all citizens, while respecting the planetary boundaries’ to tackle climate breakdown and ecological collapse. To this end Amsterdam has joined the Thriving Cities Initiative (TCI), a collaboration between C40, Circle Economy, and Doughnut Economics Action Lab, which works with cities pursuing such a transformation.

Such dissident thinking, which has long been ‘beyond the pale’ for Irish policy elites, resonates with the open letter, signed by more than a thousand academics and experts from more than sixty countries, calling for Degrowth – a democratically planned yet adaptive, sustainable, and equitable downscaling of the economy – to be put at the centre of the COVID19 response, to build a more just and sustainable society and prevent further crises.

The Degrowth urban manifesto seeks to give the city back to its people, radically reorganise transport and mobility, (re)naturalise and decommodify the city, and, rather than densify, significantly increase space dedicated to green space, tree cover; biodiversity and urban ecosystems; and public housing, with a focus urban mobility on cycling, walking and public transport. These ideas reflect new ideas emerging from ‘post-growth’ planning thought which emphasises, solidarity, wellbeing, connectedness, empathy and a lifestyle based on principles of sufficiency.

Supporting growth and an irrational belief in ever rising asset values has, of course, always been the primary and unquestioned motivation of urban planning. It shall come as no surprise that, just as it was in the aftermath of the 2009 crisis, embracing new ethics and post-materialistic values will be stringently resisted by the old order who, as long as there are no viable alternatives, will engage in predatory delay insisting that the solution to the crisis is to work even harder at business-as-usual. Neoliberal urbanism has, after all, demonstrated extraordinary asymmetric capacity to crimp and contain disconfirming alternatives .

However, these are ideas whose time is coming. Nature is foreclosing our culture. To return to Lovering’s exhortation, planners will not be leading the action here, however “if they can shed the myopic habits of recent years and recapture the broader social and ethical inspirations with which the very concept of planning in modern times began, then planning might once again become worthy of the name”.

We cannot afford to waste the opportunity of crisis once more. Resigned realism is the best way to ensure the least transformative outcome.

Gavin Daly

@gavinjdaly @irelandplanners

*This blog has also been posted on Planners Network Ireland. If you wish to add your voice to other progressive planning voices, please sign-up!

Prof. Kath Browne, School of Geography, UCD.

Coronavirus is geographical: It moves transnationally, has national responses, and provokes local ramifications. It directly influences our everyday lives and how we move—or don’t move—through space in ways that many of took for granted. Already, geographers across Ireland are responding, to name just a few (and there are many more!): Dr. Gerard MacCarthy and Dr. Padraig MacCarron using RIP.ie to map death notices; Dr. Gerald Mills used mapping techniques to pinpoint the location and growth of cases in Ireland; Dr. Niamh Cherry-Moore and the Greening Dublin team, exposed inequities of access to green space and the relevance of green space for health and well-being; Dr. Bradley Garrett’s work on bunkers and preppers having massive resonances, Prof. Rob Kitchin and team creating the Cornovirsus dashboard and currently, Dr. Niharika Banerjea, Leela Bakshi and I are pulling together a reflection on liveability and COVID19 for a special issue of Dialogues in Human Geography. This short piece will focus on some starting points that I have been considering in linking Coronovirus and some themes in Critical geographies, linking it to further work under preparation around liveability and the ‘New Ordinaries’ of COVID19.

Making Lives Liveable

Whereas liveability in geography has been addressed primarily in terms of availability of cultural infrastructure, amenities, and economic opportunities (Florida 2004), liveability is a pressing contemporary question. Our work on the project Making Lives Liveable, interrogated what makes life liveable in ways that understand where we are as crucial to these liveabilities (see for example Banerjea and Browne, 2018; Browne et al., 2017; 2019; McGlynn et al., 2020). What makes life liveable is now a key question, as governments both under lockdown and those seeking to emerge from it, work to maintain a compliance with restrictions that save lives. Yet, whose lives matter has also been a key preoccupation of considerations of liveability. Whose life matters is an inherently political and geographic question, with thousands dying trying to get to Europe and into the USA; a lack of counting of the death tolls in some populations due to war (Butler 2016). Discussions of liveability have addressed whose lives matter, who is expendable, who is less than human, questions that relate directly to Butler’s consideration of livable lives (Butler, 2004; 2016). Reactions to COVID19 demonstrate that those with ‘underlying conditions’ and the elderly, can be spoken of in ways that make people expendable, as if their lives mattered less. Nonetheless, precarity, health wise, but also economically, socially and through our mental health, is more widespread affecting more than those whose lives have been considered less worthy of life.

Population Compliance and Self Surveillance

The boundaries of individuality are contested by a potentially deadly virus that moves between us. The relations between us are also central to the response. The strategies adopted by numerous governments, pertain to the prevention of the transmission via population compliance to physical distancing (for those whom this is possible).  Whilst this can be achieved through sanctions and policing (as I listen to the surveillance helicopter fly overhead) and the variations on this vary state to state, there is also an important connection between self-surveillance and compliance. A relative having been shouted at for going for a walk in Brazil with her family, a practice which is not officially illegal, now no longer leaves the apartment with her family. Applying Foucault, self-surveillance is created through fear of state sanction, but also produced through social norms that inform what are ‘appropriate’ and socially sanctioned behaviours, and where these are allowed and prohibited.  These behaviours are policed between ‘us’ ‘keeping an eye’ on each other. Yet, in considering adherence and compliance through policing or forced compliance, we cannot overlook the productive relations of care that are also apparent in various societal responses.  Care work is also keeping people at home, out of public spaces, away from relatives and groups.

KB post pic

Micro-Resistances

As with all norms there will be resistance, including through official routes such as the court cases taken against laws that prohibit movement, but perhaps more impactful are those resistances that take place in everyday spaces, what might be termed micro-resistances. Compliance and adherence will be spatial, there will be different levels of adherence to public health measures, in different places.  This will depend on a variety of factors, some of which cannot be predicted in advance, but in Ireland, it might be related to proximity to for example other people/shops, notions of respectability, engagement with authorities and the state, factors around housing, including overcrowding and access to green space, and safety within and outside the home. These are not uniform across the country, within different regions, or within different cities/villages/towns. In turn they will have different effects, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Geographies from the global to the home matter in understanding the implications of COVID19.

Power and social difference

There is also much to be said about how policing others in person and through social media, as well as other ways of seeking to create compliance by social disapproval creates vilification, reiterates problematic assumptions of for example young people, those who are economically marginalised, as well as other marginalised people, such as travellers. As has long been shown, these marginalisations are both spatial differentiated, and also create places often within good/bad binaries.  These hierarchies also creates an us/them, good/bad in ways that reiterate social polarisations. There are undoubtedly there are multiple and diverse power relations that will need to be unpacked both in the here and now of living with COVID19 and in the ongoing ramifications of social, political and economic upheaval. Currently, with others in the UK/Ireland, I am working on an ESRC/IRC networking bid to consider these ‘New Ordinaries’ and the potentials and inequities of COVID19- using theorisations of sexual and gender politics in the 21st century to conceptualise seismic social and cultural shifts that offer both potentials and losses.

In considering how COVID19 has altered the potentials of contemporary life there are potentials and losses. The question of what makes life liveable is pressing, both in how we make lives under lockdown liveable in equitable ways and also as an opportunity to think about how we create new models of liveability through exploring how ‘best to live’ (Butler 2016).  As isolation becomes a social norm not previously envisaged, critical geography helps us understand our ‘new normal’ and the different ways in which we live and create these normal. At its heart, critical geography is about how we can create more liveable lives by exploring the power relations that make lives less liveable, precarious and expendable. As we face hugely uncertain times and paradigm shifts that both connect and disconnect us, our social worlds are fractured and remade. These power relations become more apparent with governments creating bans on everyday activities, friends imposing shared restriction on their usual social events; and the market price-gauging immediate necessities.

Imagining New Futures

How we make sense of the current normal, and decide which elements to move forward, is interlaced with power. There have been moments where change was possible, but unachieved, in Ireland the 1916 rising promised social equalities, globally the financial crisis of 2008 provided an opportunity to realise a paradigm shift.  Yet in both cases social and capitalist norms were reinstated or even strengthened.  But there were other potential futures, and there are again new possibilities of shifts in social and economic equalities. To realise these potentials we need to identify them, value them and believe in the possibilities of fluid and unpredictable worlds. Reflections on how we navigate this time period and how we progress after Coronavirus, requires more than political, economic and media responses.  We need responses that engage with the social in ways that centralise how these are created in places and differentiated geographically, that work with communities, and that offer possibilities of restructuring lives in ways that now might be unimaginable. It is time to imagine new worlds, new futures. Critical Geographers are well placed to engage in this endeavour which requires nuanced analysis of power, society and space.

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dr. Carla Kayanan for her generous feedback and comments on this piece and all that she brings to geography in UCD and beyond. Thanks to Cari Burke for her reading and support, and for encouraging this blog to happen! Thanks to Niharika and Leela for working with me on the liveabilities research, and to all now working on the ESRC/IRC grant.

 

References

Banerjea, N. and Browne, K. (2018). Liveable lives: A transnational queer-feminist reflection on sexuality, development and governance. In Mason, C. (ed), Routledge Handbook of Queer Development Studies, (pp. 169-179). Routledge: London.

Browne, K., et al. (2017). “Towards transnational feminist queer methodologies.” Gender, Place & Culture 24(10) (pp. 1376-1397).

Browne, K., Banerjea, N., McGlynn, N., Bakshi, L., Beethi, S. and Biswas, R. (2019). The limits of legislative change: Moving beyond inclusion/exclusion to create ‘a life worth living’. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654419845910

Butler, J., (2004). Undoing gender. Routledge: London

Butler, J. (2016). Rethinking vulnerability and resistance. In J. Butler, Z. Gambetti & L. Sabsay (eds.), Vulnerability in resistance, (pp. 12–27). Duke University Press: Durham, NC.

Florida, R. (2004). The rise of the creative class;and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.

McGlynn, N., Browne, K., Banerjea, N., Biswas, R., Banerjee, R., Sumita and Bakshi L. (2020). “More than happiness: Aliveness and struggle in lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer lives.” Sexualities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460719888436

 

 

2KM from home

This is an image of my main cycling route that I have been using to try and keep my distance up during the lockdown since mid-March. It is about 15km all in all and I have varied it little over the weeks. (I find myself dreaming a lot about cycling much further and linear distances lately.) When I am out cycling, I am as careful as I can be in terms of distance from other road users, others on bikes and pedestrians. In the first three weeks of the lockdown, people seemed happy to walk on the road, taking wide arcs to avoid other pedestrians. We were getting used to these new metrics of public life: 2 metres, 2 kilometres. We walked languidly across main roads once filled with fast-moving cars and vans. More people feeling like they can walk at a human pace on Finglas and Glasnevin roads is a good thing. What was also noticeable was how few vehicle drivers minded this. There was an accommodation based on the frequent reminders that ‘we were all in this together’ and how we are all working to ‘flatten the curve’.

In the last fortnight though, things have changed. As some workplaces are adjusting and opening up and with the weather became more tolerable outdoors, we can note an increased weekday volume of car and van traffic. It means that the interaction between this motor traffic and other road users has reverted to what it was before mid-March. Pedestrians are back running across poorly designed vehicle entrances into rows of neighbourhood shops. Pedestrian lights are again being used and the kerb parking is back; we are conceding to motorised traffic again. When we talk about ‘a return to normal’ and ‘flicking a switch’ we have to remember that pedestrian and bike users will go back to normal first. Not because we are complacent or lacking in awareness but because we intuitively know two tonnes of metal, plastic and glass is being driven incautiously near us again. But this post is not about bikes versus cars.

In the last week or so we have seen the city council in Dublin making some concessions to pedestrians and commuting cyclists. A contraflow on a single street is an easy win, even if it took three decades to get done. The council is asking residents to make suggestions for alterations in public spaces to allow for physical distancing across the city. They are going to have a lot of work to do. Dublin’s footpaths are crowded and poorly bordered with road space. At every crossing in this city, pedestrians are hemmed in by barriers and bollards, a reminder that the city streets do not belong to us. Beg buttons dominate. Some are celebrating a bucolic urban age dawning: lower emissions, better quality air, the return of this thing called nature to our cities. All the other nice things we seek cannot be far behind: greenways for all, last mile supply chains springing up. As welcome as these concessions are, we cannot forget that power concedes nothing without a struggle. Car park owners are threatening legal action over the most minimal of plans to allow people to use more active travel modes. Their fear is that the car and their supposed wealthy owners will stop buying things they don’t need from shop workers increasingly threatened by a virus we still know very little about. Our food landscape is dominated by multiples, not craft butchers. We still do not have enough primary health care centres in this city but we have lots of empty hotel rooms.

Occupy May Day 2015 (17150201729)

We should be clear though that widening footpaths and making more temporary bike lanes does not mean that a deep well of communitarian values lying dormant is now being drawn from. These changes impact different groups in very different ways. Like the car users of suburban Dublin, normal daily life is being re-asserted in small places and in minor ways. We have seen how the CIF is pushing for building sites to be opened again supposedly to ‘complete the housing which we all need’. Their sudden appreciation for the housing that is not being built arises from a shrinking bottom line. They spent the last few years building hotels, student accommodation and luxury flats that cannot now be sold. If the first few days meant the appearance of a ‘new normal’, the last few days have seen significant changes to bring about the return of the old order. That this is being driven by the city’s most powerful actors (building developers, employers’ representatives) should not a surprise under the current way we go about creating things in this city. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by suburban customer rage and a growing sense that Nature is Healing (response: “we are the virus”). Our urban activity cannot be that passive that we watch things unfold before us. It is not wrong to want a cleaner city with more active modes of mobility but they are not adequate substitutes for an examination of what drives city development. To me and others, these are the very things that made a pandemic like this arise in the first instance. The old order conceded something called Sustainability and made us feel bad about not recycling correctly. The way we travel, eat and work is shortening our lives and killing others. Any new dispensation has to be thought up using the democratic tools and social and economic power at our disposal. This includes making more, not fewer, and radical demands of our elected local governments, officials and elected representatives. It means challenging extremely powerful actors in how the city changes. It cannot be done within the existing ways.

Eoin O’Mahony, UCD.

In July 2017, I posted a piece on this blog, arguing that the exit of the UK from the European Union constitutes a critical moment in Irish geography, with far-reaching consequences for the island of Ireland. I was (and continue to be) convinced that there is a strong spatial dimension to Brexit which is often overlooked in the mainstream academic and policy commentary. Brexit is fundamentally about territoriality. Brexit does not simply have geographical consequences; the act of the UK leaving the EU ruptures our taken-for-granted understandings of the position of Ireland within Europe and, in relation to the UK and, perhaps most North-South relations on the island of Ireland. Brexit is metageographical. The future of ‘European space’ is at stake. All of this makes, I believe, a persuasive case for a critical and sustained engagement by geographers and other spatially inclined thinkers with the phenomenon of Brexit and its implications, both in a critical, theoretical sense, in terms of how we understand territoriality in Europe, and in an applied in sense, in terms of addressing the challenges posed by this geopolitical moment (see also Boyle et al 2018).

Image source: The Irish Times

Since July 2017, things have of course moved on. Yet the fundamentals have remained the same. The UK formally left the EU on 31st January 2020. Yet, Brexit continues to have a Beckettian quality. ‘Leaving’ is a gradual process (as Jim was fond of reminding us) and there continues to be much uncertainty concerning the end of the transition period as a substantial agreement on the future relationship seems as far off as ever. Meanwhile, the current public health crisis has prompted a return to hard borders within Europe and restrictions on movement that few would have thought possible, just a few short months ago. Once again, the ideals of the European project are tested by a crisis of existential proportions. Much depends on the willingness of EU Member States to effectively demonstrate solidarity within Europe.

In May 2018, Gavan Rafferty (Ulster University) and I convened a session at the Conference of Irish Geographers in Maynooth focused on the implications of Brexit for cross-border cooperation and spatial planning on the island of Ireland. This session drew on the expertise of the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) in engaging with planners, policy-makers and other stakeholders at local, regional and national levels concerned with regional development and spatial planning in the border region, North and South, in the period since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The papers from this session subsequently formed the backbone of a Special Issue of Irish Geography, which has been published online just this week (official publication date November 2019). The papers explore the process and practice of creating spaces for cooperation across the Irish border, pre- and post- Brexit. Drawing on both critical theoretical debates on territoriality, soft spaces and spatial imaginaries as well as applied practical experience, the papers in the special issue highlight the scope for, but also the challenges of working with the ‘island of Ireland’ as a ‘soft space’ in the context of Brexit. It is argued that soft forms of public policy, working under the radar, in the shadow of territory should continue to play a significant role post-Brexit, but that sustained institutional and political support will be required to support these informal practices.

It is hoped that this publication will foster further critical reflection and engagement on the issues it raises as the implications of Brexit for the North-South and East-West relations become clearer.

Cormac Walsh (University of Hamburg and ICLRD)

The individual papers in the Special Issue are available to download (open access) from the Irish Geography website.

From 2013 to 2017, I lived and worked in Ireland. At University College Cork, I undertook my doctoral research project on the consequences of Ireland’s harsh austerity policies on youth living in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods (van Lanen, 2017). I employed qualitative methods, predominantly interviews with young adults, to investigate their encounters and experiences of austerity. Thus, I spoke with youth aged 18 to 25 in Knocknaheeny (Cork) and Ballymun (Dublin). These two neighbourhoods are among the most deprived locally and nationally, due to a combination of low educational achievements, high levels of unemployment, low incomes, and several other indicators. With this project, I aimed to understand how austerity is experienced in everyday life by a group that is vulnerable to the negative consequences of crisis, recession, and austerity.

Ireland is one of the countries that implemented a severe austerity package after accepting an external assistance package from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. I picked Ireland for my research into everyday austerity because its population predominantly speaks English rather than Greek, Spanish or Portuguese. Although sharing a language with youth from Ballymun and Knocknaheeny, I experienced some hesitation in establishing contacts and recruiting research participants in these neighbourhoods. A sudden awareness of my positionality regularly stopped me when I was about to call someone, start a conversation, or attend an event. Differences in social identity and status made me fear that youth from these neighbourhoods would not take me seriously. The Knocknaheeny population was Irish, was sometimes stigmatised, and regularly with low income and lower educational achievements. I was a highly educated, financially-secure foreigner working at University College Cork. I feared this difference was too big, and this fear was so overwhelming I would freeze.

Previously, Claire Mansfield (2011) also conducted research in Knocknaheeny. In her thesis, she writes that she felt an outsider in the neighbourhood because of her differing clothing style, accent, and because she was unfamiliar in the area. Fiona Kelleher (2013) was from Knocknaheeny and investigated teenagers in the neighbourhood. She established contact with local youth smoothly as she was familiar with Knocknaheeny and its inhabitants. However, the fact that she was conducting research clearly influenced her interactions with local youth too. I feared that, if Cork researchers were experiencing difficulties to be accepted and respected, this would be further amplified for a complete stranger.

In Body and soul, Loïc Wacquant describes his fieldwork as a white French academic in a black boxing club in Chicago. Wacquant argues that his French background made it easier to establish contacts in an American ghetto. He writes

‘(…) my French nationality granted me a sort of statutory exteriority with respect to the structure of relations of exploitation, contempt, misunderstanding, and mutual distrust that oppose blacks and whites in America. I benefited from the historical capital of sympathy that France enjoys in the African-American population […] and from the simple fact of not having the hexis of the average white American, which continually marks, if against his or her own best intentions, the impenetrable border between the communities.’ (Wacquant, 2004, p. 10)

Now, Cork is not Chicago, and youth from Knocknaheeny do not possess a different skin colour than me. However, I still found solace in this paragraph. And indeed, in Knocknaheeny, my ‘Dutchness’ proved valuable as it facilitated contact, and both youth and older inhabitants were quickly interested in my presence.

During Cork Culture Night 2014, I was the only ‘unfamiliar’ visitor at the Knocknaheeny hip-hop event. A Dutchman interested in the neighbourhood was received enthusiastically by the present youth. During the whole evening, I was approached by some and introduced to others. Like in the situation described by Wacquant, my ‘Dutchness’ reduced the sometimes tricky and charged relationship of misunderstanding and mutual distrust between Knocknaheeny youth and other areas of Cork city because I was an obvious outsider. Furthermore, especially male attendants were interested in the liberal Dutch attitude to recreational drugs or shared enthusiastic stories about their trips to Amsterdam. The Dutch drugs image thus provided a form of what Wacquant describes as ‘capital of sympathy’.

Ultimately, my status as an outsider, as a highly-educated Dutch qualitative researcher, did not hinder my research project. Perhaps, it even assisted me. Nonetheless, my insecurities never entirely disappeared. Simultaneously, others, like Marielle Zill, have shown that outsider-identities can also frustrate research and access to participants. Personal contact is in the nature of most qualitative research, resulting in a situation where various spheres of personal and academic identity influence the relationship between the researcher and their participants. It is impossible to bridge these differences in identities entirely. Still, it is essential to be conscious of their potential impacts on the relation with participants. Qualitative researchers should carefully consider how we position ourselves, what questions we ask, and how these impact the practice, analysis and results of our research. While this is not always easy, it is essential for high-quality, in-depth qualitative research.

Sander van Lanen

References

Kelleher, F. (2013). Place, teenagers, and urban identities: A new social geography of young people in Cork. Cork: University College Cork.

Mansfield, C. (2011). Social sustainability and the city: An investigation into the environmental geographies of two neighbourhoods in Cork. Cork: University College Cork.

Wacquant, L. (2004). Body & soul: Notebooks of an apprentice boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

van Lanen (2017) Youth and austerity in the city: geographies of precarity in disadvantaged urban areas in Ireland. Cork: University College Cork.

 

 

 

In political struggles for publicly funded housing in Ireland since the 2010 crisis, the word ghetto has re-appeared. When proposals for social and public housing are put forward by activists, unions and others, one of the ways they are opposed, whether it be via mainstream media, or elsewhere is by the deployment of the word ‘ghetto’. Opponents of a massed public housing investment programme raise the spectre of the ghetto if we were to invest in a housing programme that meant more than a handful of public housing units in the same place. In this blog post I want to trace the birth and development of this use of the word ghetto in a public housing context in Ireland, not in a theoretical but an empirical way. This provides some evidence for a paper I am returning to again having put it to one side in late 2018.

The use of the word ghetto has been a feature of the story of local authority housing in Ireland since the 1980s. To understand the ways in which ghetto has become identified with public housing, we need to trace its origins. There is not a simple and defined correspondence with the use of the words ghetto and housing in Ireland. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, the word ghetto appears closely aligned with public housing in the newspapers of the time. To show how this alignment occurs, I have analysed the content of a range of articles, features and editorials for the period 1960 to 2015 where the words ghetto, housing and Ireland appear together.

While initial usages in Irish newspapers were concerned with the sectarian housing policies in Northern Ireland, later usages of the words show significant concern among policy makers and others for the potential and the reality of social housing to become like a ghetto. It is evident that ghetto emerges as a euphemism for housing segregation based on class. It is also more than a euphemism, as I will show. A wide variety of individuals, from politicians to government officials to members of the public, cite examples of concentrations of public and social housing in Irish towns and cities as something to be avoided in any new programme. Usage of the terms ghetto and housing together from about 1992/3 in particular onwards implies that mistakes have been made in the past in concentrating public housing because it leads to undesirable, yet unspecified, social problems. My content analysis shows how the development of public housing and planning problems are represented from this time as attempts to avoid ghettoization. Content analysis is a way in which to draw out significant themes from a corpus of text across time periods and can be used to show how specific ideas are represented together (Limb and Dwyer, 2001).

The Irish Newspaper Archive found the phrase ‘ghetto’ near ‘housing’ in 316 results in the period 1920 to 2018.  An Irish Times Archive search for the words ‘ghetto’ and ‘housing’, confined to Ireland, for the period 1960 to 2018 was also done. This second search yielded 243 results. In both databases a shift in usage over time is apparent. The word ‘ghetto’ alongside housing only appears with any frequency from the 1960s when it was used to describe the housing of nationalists and Catholics in the sectarian state of Northern Ireland. Discounting this particular usage and its usage to describe historical events in other parts of the world, a number of themes emerge from this brief overview of their usage together. The first theme identified in my analysis is that housing planning by local authorities, by its very house building activity, has created ghettoes. A selection of these usages shows a close association with public housing in particular. It is important too that such usage is found across a wide range of actors from across political parties. As early as 1972, aspiring Labour Party candidate (later minister) Ruairi Quinn wrote about Ballyfermot as a “poor community, a working-class ghetto with a high factor of crowding” (Mar 1 1972) having earlier described it as “a gross distortion of normal community in our society”. In 1976, a new private housing development in the Kildare town of Celbridge was offering a “mixed community within the development” in which the developer “anticipates the end of the ‘ghetto mentality’ that has disfigured many other Irish housing developments” (April 9 1976). When the 19th century housing at Mountpleasant in the south Dublin suburb of Rathmines was demolished in 1979, locals blamed the Corporation’s own policy for turning it into a ghetto through neglect (Mar 5 1979). In 1985, in the Donegal News, Fianna Fáil Councillor Bernard McGlinchey was recorded as warning that the town of Letterkenny could have social problems like the Dublin suburb of Ballymun unless “there is a rapid rethink on housing policies”. He sought the Council’s plans for the Ballyboe area of the town to be re-examined for fear that “The Council [would] site more houses in the area when the next allocation comes” and that it was “frightening that we are creating a ghetto in that area”. A total of 59 Council houses were planned alongside some private houses in a nearby site.

In 1986, with a new surrender grant scheme in place, Ray Burke TD, then a Fianna Fail spokesman, warned that the £5,000 given to local authority tenants to purchase a private house out of their own area was “creating a ‘ghetto’ in a Dublin housing estate”. He claimed that this policy resulted in higher unemployment and poverty in the district of West Tallaght. Other opposition deputies pointed out that only tenants in employment could avail of the grant and so those left behind were “becoming more concentrated with the unemployed, and an undesirable demographic imbalance was taking place.” This concern was echoed in a later report on house building activity during an upper house debate on small business (April 18 1986). The implication here is that the Council was creating concentrated areas of poverty by following national policy. Before 1990, the ghetto is used in an anticipatory manner, something to be avoided but only sometimes discernible as a problem.

The second theme identified is that public policy needs to avoid the ghettoes created in the past. By the mid-1990s, ghetto was being used in a near-historical framework as is clear from a 1996 Irish Times series entitled The Roots of Crime. The journalist frames the problem of crime as one of definition: “we are no longer defined by our green fields, but by urban ghetto areas which [police] call ‘hostile territory’” (Jan 22 1996). Later that year, a conference for local authorities heard how some of these authorities “use housing estates to hide rural poverty, creating ghettos on the edge of towns”. These council-established areas “had been, to some extent, ghettoised by virtue of their location outside the central areas of small towns” said consultant Trutz Haase. While this refers to much smaller urban areas than Dublin, the identification of an unspecified ghettoisation caused by public housing itself is evident. More especially, ghettos are identified by their own nature and characteristics rather than via their relationship to other policy measures of class formation.

In 1999, the Tuam Herald recorded that the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute (IAVI) had expressed concern that the Government’s new Planning Bill would hinder the development of affordable housing because it encouraged building by local authorities to shorten their housing waiting lists instead of making private housing more affordable. Their statement, broadly in support of the bill, felt that “ghettos may be created within future housing developments with ‘affordable housing’ being segregated by a high wall from the main site and accessed independently…”. “Quality residential enclaves” in these areas would undergo price increases because they will not have the social housing element of the mooted bill nearby. The concern of the IAVI was for (private) first-time buyers and the lack of flexibility in densities envisaged under the bill. By 2000, a new Fingal Council plan to expand the older suburb of Blanchardstown was written about by the Irish Times’s environment correspondent as “littered as it is with ghettoised low-density estates, both public and private” (Nov 23 2000).  Other accounts from the 1990s show how the phrase ‘mixed tenure’ came to dominate discussion of large new housing developments at the edge of Dublin.

In the period 2002 to 2006, about 300,000 new houses were built in Ireland. Like the word ‘ghetto’, the term ‘mixed tenure’ is a code word used to describe mostly private housing with some element of social and/or affordable within a scheme. Both terms obscure the class relations that are materialised within urban space. Fears of “ghettos in the making” are allayed by building developments with a majority of private housing with some element of affordable and social housing. This bracketing of public within large private developments came to dominate home building in Ireland (through policy instruments of an increasingly centralised state) until the debt-laden crises that began in 2008. There is evidence then to suggest that the word ghetto is used in newspaper reports of housing policy in two ways: firstly that local authorities, through policy instruments not always of their own making, created ghettos in public estates. These areas are unspecified but identified invariably with public housing. Secondly, and as the 21st century begins, that new housing developments (all tenures) need to avoid the mistakes of the past where public housing ghettoes were built. In a feature on the new suburb called Ongar on Dublin’s north-west fringe, concern was expressed that higher densities would bring about ghettos (December 2 2006). Later-expressed fears about ghettos are not exclusively related to public housing but to newer suburban forms and populations that are seen not to be integrating with other communities. Where public housing is aligned with the fear of a ghetto aids the expansion of private housing over a longer time frame. The Planning and Development Act 2000 in particular instituted a defined proportion of each new housing development to be designated as public housing. This housing tenure’s marginalisation as time goes on solidifies the place of public housing as a small part of housing provision more generally. Furthermore large concentrations of public housing become strongly associated with ghetto-creation in a way that was not evident before the 1980s.

Eoin O’Mahony (@EducGIS)

Connolly Quarter

Densification. It’s all the rage. Everywhere, everyone agrees we must densify, “build up, not out!” the now familiar slogan goes, upzoning and compacting our urban footprints, all in the cause of increasing housing supply, boosting competitiveness and avoiding sprawl. Influential apostles of this mantra, such as David McWilliams and Ronan Lyons et al. (typically, always economists), effuse that our cities must go ever higher, easing restrictions on building height, while the populace must simply accustom itself to living in smaller housing, if it wants housing at all.

And it’s certainly working. Following Minister Eoghan Murphy’s diktat on building heights, we have seen a preponderance of new development proposals across our cities of such perpetual sameness, branded and bland homogeneity, a form of ‘Zombie Urbanism’, where the dull compulsion of economic and political space merge toward the elimination of all differences.

The new ‘Connolly Quarter’, for example (pictured above), proposed by Ballymore Group on lands owned by state body, CIE, in Dublin’s North Inner City proposes 741 build-to-rent apartments in towers of up to 23 storeys, including  228 studios, 256 one-bedroom, 251 two-bedroom and just 6 three-bedroom units all aimed at the “upper end of the private rental market”.

Here in this rationalised, functionalised and, above all, ideologically planned and designed space everything will look nice and urban, but in terms of social and community life, it’s monotonous, sterile and dead. Elite tenements where you literally live to work. I guess we are supposed to just count ourselves lucky that ten percent of these units may eventually trickle down as social housing or, that by providing high-end housing, it will free up supply for the poor. All hail the supply gods.

It was not so long ago that the North Inner City was in the news for other reasons. The Mulvey Report, commissioned by the government in response to a string of gangland violence, concluded that “there was a strong and deep local community sense of being ‘left behind’ during the Celtic Tiger period in relation to the IFSC/Docklands developments and the ‘false promises’ given and a real and genuine concern that this will be repeated” including “the possibility of further ghettoisation in the area between centres of affluence along the Quays and the ‘legacy’ areas of urban/community neglect and deprivation.” (p.13).

Mulvey recommended a carefully planned and integrated strategy to overcome the widespread and perceived sense of inequality and of a divided city epitomised by the stark contrast between the “modern architecture, world leading businesses and high worth residences within hundreds of metres of a large concentration of social housing with little or no business activity within the community” (p.13). The plan was to carefully link the ‘place’ and ‘people’ aspects of the local area to improve social cohesion and wellbeing, through the bottom-up and grassroots harnessing of community and heritage assets.

Instead, following decades of disinvestment and stigmatisation, we are now seeing the rapid resurgence of the seemingly never-ending spread of a market-driven policy of gentrification – what Neil Smith calls ‘generalised gentrification’. As rents have exploded, private capital is flowing back to where the rate of return is highest in a systematic attempt to recommodify and retake the inner city from disadvantaged communities in the form of balkanised student housing schemes, exclusive hotels, speculative high-end build-to-rent units and upmarket offices. Islands of privilege in a sea of displaced exclusion.

In seeking to close down any criticisms, visualisations depicting the everyday life of successful, creative professionals and highly-paid millennials ambling around their trendy new cosmopolitan quarter against the backdrop of hazy blue skies, and all the resplendent transformative qualities that the development will allegedly bring to the area when completed, are increasingly being mobilised as key discursive devices, such that any objection is curbed. For who could really be against it?

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Indeed, in the aftermath of the recession, the triumphant dominance of a market-driven supply-side polemic has become remarkably effective in censoring dissent alongside an alarming rise of intolerance in national discourse of differing viewpoints or opinions in the planning system, with so called ‘NIMBYs’ habitually berated for allegedly impeding supply. To criticise is to be subjected to a form of gaslighting and routinely discredited for consigning countless thousands to a life of homelessness. After all, it is the role of ideologies to depoliticise and secure the assent of the exploited and dispossessed through the colonisation of commonsense values, ideals and priorities.

Cuttings from the Ronan Real Estate Group/Colony Capital newspaper advertisement and #growupdublin social media campaign seeking building height policy changes. 

In the process, neoliberalised public policy initiatives, so favoured by the current government, such as the ‘fast-track’ Strategic Housing Development planning process, present further restrictions on opportunities for public participation and meaningful debate. The final ideological coup de grâce is the proposed new Housing & Planning Bill 2019 which seeks to dramatically rollback public access to justice in planning cases via the courts.

None of this is to say that urban consolidation is unimportant. We have seen so much sprawl, and all of problems it brings, that it is hard to see how its malign impacts can now be reversed. In fact, despite the present emphasis on urban containment, in a parallel universe offstage from the contentious and loud debates over our city skylines, business-as-usual urban dispersion continues apace, with little evidence that the new found emphasis on density will reverse it anytime soon.

However, it is also incumbent on planning professionals to look beyond the inveterate econocratic ‘growth machine’ dogmas currently shaping our cities, and to consider the real structural dynamics at play, and who benefits, which are often beyond the grasp of their inhabitants. Like the living dead, these zombie doctrines are alive in our heads and our language, but no longer visible to us in understanding our urban realities.

In truth, the densification/supply nexus is now being usefully exploited as a ploy to unwittingly conflate the needs of society with the needs of capital so as to legitimise the conditions for maximising profit and to conquer and shape urban space for the short-run priorities of finance, of capital, of economic and political elites, of those with power, a situation which is not unique to Ireland.

A more perceptive critical understanding of present-day urbanisation is particularly important at this specific historical juncture. Our built environment is long-lived and the impacts of the urban form we create today will be multidecadal, stretching into the lives of many generations and into a future of unknown resources, pollution and unstable climatic conditions, including probable major inundations of all of our coastal cities.

One of the chief justifications for the compact city ideal is the claimed environmental dividend particularly for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through, for example, increased efficiency and use of sustainable transport modes. However, this enthralled enthusiasm for so called ‘sustainable urbanism’ is contradicted by multiple empirical studies which demonstrate that there is no such correlation.

This literature instead argues that the inured idea that ‘density is destiny’ may actually run directly counter to the problems we are trying to solve, but gains no traction in planning debates or urban conversations. Indeed, higher density urban forms are, on the whole, more, not less, consumptive of resources than medium- and lower-density development, with affluent, high-density areas dominated by small and single-person households having, by far, the highest environmental impacts.

As discussed by Brendan Gleeson in his book, The Urban Condition:  “Straightforward density advocacy has the potential to mask and distort the real geography of environmental burden that derives from unequal consumption capacities and patterns” (p.115). The fetishised hyper-densified green city ideal is therefore, in reality, an ecological fallacy, an impossible utopia, and simply the latest fix to align the elite rent-seeking interests that dominate neoliberal urbanism with the resurgent environmental agenda.

What should be at the forefront in planning debates is, not densification, but what type of city we wish to create. Most of the low-density and sprawling built environment that has evolved over the last century will still be with us at the end of this century. We are not starting from a blank slate and, even if planning could implement rapid change, it is unlikely that this could reduce emissions of the scale and urgency required, as it is largely beyond its levers to control, diverting our attention from real urban challenges.

This points planning’s purpose towards the field of adaptation. That is, to propose that new development in cities, towns and suburbs must be planned, designed and, crucially, retrofitted for people as progressive, humane, accessible, liveable, equitable, green and just spaces for downscaled consumption within planetary boundaries, and not just sites for maximised urban production and profit. Density is not our destiny. Our future should be built around a renewed ‘Right to the City’.

Gavin Daly

The following is based on research conducted in UCD School of Geography as part of the ESPON Ensure Project. The project team is Niamh Moore-Cherry (PI, UCD), Aoife Delaney (UCD), Eoin O’Mahony (UCD) and Cian O’Callaghan (TCD Geography). More details here.

The regeneration of Cork City’s waterfront has received renewed attention by central government through the National Planning Framework, National Development Plan and the availability of new urban regeneration development funding. As a result, regeneration is underway with interest from private investors and developers across three distinct land parcels (North Docks, South Docks and Tivoli Docks) each with their own narrative and timeline (see map 1).

Map 1: Land parcels in the Cork docklands Source: Cork City Council (2017)

Waterfront regeneration in Cork can be divided into three phases as seen in the table below. The first phase dates from the 1990s to 2007/2008 and saw the redevelopment of the city and Local Area Plans (LAPs) for the North and South Docks being developed. However, the first phase was interrupted by the global financial crisis and Ireland’s property crash. As a result, very little activity occurred during the years of austerity. Thus, phase 2 from 2008 to around 2015 was characterised by a few development proposals, but little in the way of delivered projects. However, phase 3 has seen activity dramatically increase, particularly in the North Docks and the transition zone between the city centre and the South Docks.  This indicates a new wave of urban and economic development in the city and a renewed focus on the opportunities of the docklands regeneration.

Table 1: Timeline of key projects and events

The vision and regeneration of the North Docks

The regeneration of the North Docks is substantially complete. Some key projects include;

  • 2015- The re-development of the area around Kent train station and the re-orientation of the train station towards the city centre. This involved a land transfer between the state transport agency Coras Iompar Eireann (CIE) and private developers.
  • 2016 -Clarendon Properties in partnership with BAM Ireland secured the development rights to a 2.5 ha waterfront site at Horgan’s Quay (HQ development also owned by CIE. The mixed-use scheme is currently under construction, including the 136-bed Dean Hotel and 37,000 sq. m of offices in three blocks and around 2,900 sq. m of retail and leisure space (HQCork, 2019).
  • 2018/2019- The developers of Horgan’s Quay have reapplied for permission to increase the number of residential units originally approved through the new Strategic Housing Development (SHD) scheme.

The vision and regeneration of the South Docks

In recent years, the transition zone of the city and South Docks has been substantially built out, while a number of large-scale land sales have paved the way for the regeneration of the South Docks itself. Nevertheless, a number of infrastructural challenges remain to be overcome before the full potential of the South Docks can be realised;

  1. Regeneration in this area is complicated due to the mix of landownership and the presence of existing businesses (Map 2).
  2. The South Docks is still an operational port area with associated uses.

Map 2 Land Ownership in south docks

  • The Elysian development (Fig. 1) on Eglinton Street comprises a 17-storey “landmark” tower, offices, retail, a new street, amenity area and landscaping. The opening of the Elysian coincided with the property crash of 2008. Thus, the tower became renowned as one of the most iconic ‘ghost’ structures in the country, with only 25 units in the complex sold by 2011. The Elysian cost €150 million to build but was sold by NAMA to global property investors Kennedy Wilson for €90 million in 2018 (Barker, 2018).

Figure 1: The Elysian Source: The Elysian (2019)

  • The One Albert Quay development (Fig. 2) is viewed as highly significant in kick-starting phase 3 of the regeneration. It opened in 2016 and is a €60 million office complex housing the headquarters for international technology companies. At the time of construction, it was the largest office complex in Ireland outside of Dublin and “the smartest building in Ireland”. Having built a reputation for office parks in suburban locations, the developers (JCD) were attracted to the city centre during the recession, acquiring a number of strategic central locations including the Albert Quay site.

Figure 2: One Albert Quay Source: One Albert Square (2019)\

The vision for Tivoli

The regeneration of Tivoli is reliant on the partial or full relocation of the Port of Cork to Ringaskiddy, but it is recognised as an area of significant potential for the wider city and metropolitan development, and already contains important infrastructure such as water and power. It is estimated that a minimum of 3,000 residential units could be constructed to house a population of 8,000 and a working population of 4,000. This would be a significant increase as approximately 300 employees currently work in the area.

However, there are a number of key interventions required to free up the site for development according to Cork City Council (2017):

  • re-location of port operation at the city quays and transfer of ownership;
  • relocation of existing businesses from Tivoli;
  • relocation of SEVESO sites (Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) importers, Flo Gas and Calor Gas Ltd);
  • remediation of contaminated land;
  • improvements to public transport infrastructure including a new train station and improved walking, cycling and road access.

Conclusion

Over the last few years, Cork has made a strong resurgence following the property crash and financial crisis. “A combination of new policy measures, investment opportunities and development proposals see the city once again on the cusp of major change through the regeneration of its waterfront” (ESPON Final report, 2019; np). The recent regeneration of North and South Docks is heavily influenced by changing post-crisis national policy measures (e.g. Fast-track planning – Strategic Housing Development) and urban development vehicles and funding (e.g. Land Development Agency, Ireland Strategic Investment Fund). Meanwhile, Tivoli Docks is still an operational port area, although a range of urban design briefs and land-use plans are currently being prepared to examine the feasibility of regeneration as primarily a location for housing.

Aoife Delaney

Dun Laoghaire: Social Change in a Historic Town

Philip Lawton, Geography, Trinity College Dublin

Dun Laoghaire town is often represented within the media through a narrative of a thriving seafront and a struggling town centre, with a long-held desire to tie the two together. Socially, it is the focal-point of one of the wealthiest parts of Ireland, yet, at the same time it also reflects the actually-existing social unevenness of its surrounding area. As a point of departure, the relationship between social change and consumption patterns can be witnessed in the landscapes of the Dun Laoghaire area, such as in the nearby smaller villages of Monkstown and Glasthule, that have been significantly remade into spaces of conspicuous consumption over the last two decades. This transformation of social space is also increasingly relevant to Dun Laoghaire town.

Mellifont Ave, Dun Laoghaire

In keeping with its long history as a port, the town is playing out through a myriad of processes that are local, regional and global in scope. The transformations taking place in Dublin since it has emerged from the 2008 recession are perhaps exemplified through the locations such as the ‘Silicon Docks’. However, these spaces cannot be seen as a single point on the map, and must be seen in the context of complex socio-spatial networks at an urban-regional scale, that connect data centres around the M50 to broader economic transformations and associated residential changes. As an historically established population centre, and by virtue of its social context, this is manifest in particular ways within Dun Laoghaire town.

Residential Transformations

A cursory glance at the CSO census data from 2016 demonstrates that recent years have witnessed a number of significant demographic and social changes within the town (map excerpts located at the bottom of this blogpost). As a starting point, in the period from 2006-2016, the population of the two Electorial Divisions’s (ED’s) that roughly comprise the centre of Dun Laoghaire town – Dun Laoghaire-East Central ED and Dun Laoghaire-West Central ED – increased by 34.18% and 32.58% respectively. Meanwhile, in the context of the construction of Honey Park on the former Dun Laoghaire golf course, the ED of Dun Laoghaire-Sallynoggin West has increased by 45.31%. While it is hard to extrapolate directly, the recent CSO data suggests that parts of locations such as Honey Park are becoming focal-points of those working in professional occupations, and are thus socially differentiated from their immediate surroundings. Furthermore, in the context of the time-lapse between 2016 and 2019, this pattern seems likely to be repeated in the newer development of Cualanor, which lies between Honey Park and the town centre. This chimes with research I was involved in on the residential preferences of workers in the creative-knowledge economy from a number of years ago where professional groups seek out greater amounts of space, yet in a manner that retains proximity to transport nodes and amenities. However, is is also worthwhile to examine the changes taking place within the town centre itself, where, in the context of new-build apartment developments, 36% and 37% of residents at the Small Areas (SA’s) scale work within professional occupations. In as much as these areas contain a highly diverse population group, they also chime with the internationalized image of the new economy. Moreover, in both the town centre and in the case of the newer developments of Honey Park and Cualanor, the shift towards higher-density living in close proximity to services and infrastructure can be seen to play out.

These current changes, including a significant shift towards residential uses in the town and associated strategies of reinvestment can be perceived as a boon for the town. These changes, however, also present significant challenges for the future questions of affordability and inclusion. Although arguing through a very different context – that of the San Francisco Bay area – geographer, Richard Walker highlights the key role of ‘growth, affluence, and inequality’ in housing crises, to which he adds: ‘finance, business cycles, and geography’. While impacts of the crisis in Dublin can be seen across the urban region, the example of Dun Laoghaire and surroundings is perhaps of particular note given the extremes in both high prices and, as pointed out by Dylan Connor earlier this week, high levels of inequality. If, in following from Walker, albeit accounting for significant differences in context, we can look at the ways in which the residential choices of the wealthy influence the dynamics of housing, then the Dun Laoghaire area presents significant challenges for issues of housing affordability and inclusion. Yet, preferences don’t just materialize out of thin air, and the intertwining of market actors, social norms, and urban form needs to be more fully understood. In the context of Dun Laoghaire, the extreme edge of this is perhaps the recent granting of Co-Living at the centre of the town, where the invocation of cities such as London, New York and Vienna has been used as a means of selling a particular notion of urban living. While these forms of transformations may take a relatively long period of time to become fully manifest, there is need for significant care in how they are considered from the perspective of promoting an inclusive approach to housing.

Commercial Vacancy and Uneven Development

Overlapping with the unevenness at work in the residential sphere, a significant level of attention has also been paid towards the levels of vacancy on Georges Street, the main street of the town. This was recently highlighted in The Irish Times, but in a manner that quickly became somewhat sidetracked by essentialist notions of other locations as frames of reference, with Puerto Banus, Spain as ‘good’, and Beirut or anywhere in the Midlands or West of Ireland as ‘bad’. This approach was furthered in the same edition through David McWilliams’ invocation of the dated notion of ‘broken windows theory’, without recourse to its draconian reality via Rudolf Giuliani. Furthermore, through the use of terms such as ‘contagion’ or ‘endemic’, it was implied that vacancy can be perceived as something almost disease-like. Fundamentally, the problem with these narratives is in the degree to which they reproduce particular myths about a place without engaging in any meaningful manner with the day-to-day realities or intricacies of everyday life that exist within.

Recently refurbished shop unit and upper floor, Upper Georges Street

Units Beside Dunnes Stores on Upper Georges Street have been vacant for a number of years

There are other ways of understanding vacancy. Debates within urban studies have long highlighted the challenges of disinvestment and reinvestment over a prolonged period of time in the context of the market-oriented dynamics of urban change. This ‘seesaw’ is not just a question of theoretical interest, but has significant implications for the lived reality of towns and cities. This can be viewed as a combination of booms and bust cycles, urban-regional economic processes, and the ongoing social reconfiguration of the town centre and surrounds. Vacancy in this regard is not an anomaly, but the social and physical manifestation of how these contradictory forces play out. The role of governance is important here, and it is crucial that debates over a main street should go beyond that of functionalist notions of ‘mixed use’, but seek to understand the role that streets play in the daily lives of people. The mantra of consumption-oriented transformations has been all too dominant in the spatial imaginary of urban renewal in recent decades, and is a limited, if not socially questionable, ideal of urban change. An approach is needed that instead seeks to understand the dynamics of the everyday life of the street in all its complex forms.

The Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

In the context of Dun Laoghaire, the challenges of the commercial role of the town are intertwined with that of the residential challenges outlined above. With the recent example of both the Lexicon library and the development of housing on Georges Place in the centre of the town, Dun Laoghaire continues a long history of providing for the public good. These are important steps that should be continued.

 

Appendix: Map Exerpts/Screenshots (Source: CSO)

AIRO Census Mapping: Population Change 2006-2016. http://airomaps.nuim.ie/id/Census2016/

Airo Census Mapping: Small Area data for Professional Occupations (1): Area encompassing Harbour Square Apartments

Airo Census Mapping: Small Area Statistics for Professional Occupations (2): Area Encompassing The Lighthouse Apartments

Airo Census Mapping, 2016: Small Area Statistics for Area Encompassing Part of Honey Park

Cherrywood – A 21st-century new town in the making

Michael Murphy, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

Amidst the ongoing housing crisis, it is noteworthy that the first apartments in Cherrywood in south Dublin – reputed to be the largest urban development project currently underway in the state – began construction in early August 2019 and are expected to be completed by the end of 2021. These are the first of a predicted 8,000 homes to be delivered in Cherrywood since development recommenced on the site in 2017. While Cherrywood is largely being built and financed by a coalition of global private equity funds, the state has played a significant role in terms of funding and granting Strategic Development Zone status.

Plans for this ‘New Town’ in Cherrywood have been in the making for well over a decade, the site has been dogged by a combination of planning controversies and the small matter of the 2008 property and banking collapse which witnessed the collapse of the property empire of the then site owner and property tycoon Liam Carroll. In July 2014, NAMA, along with Danske Bank and Lloyds, placed much of the Cherrywood development in receivership and towards the end of that year,  US property group Hines with global investment fund King Street Capital swooped to purchase the 400-acre site for €280 million – quite the bargain considering that in 2011 the site was estimated at a value of €1 billion.  The presence of these global financial actors is illustrative of the deepening relationship between real estate and finance that is now ubiquitous in reigniting Dublin’s post-crisis property market.

 

Map indicating the location of the Cherrywood SDZ. Source: cherrywooddublin.com

Cherrywood is essentially a new suburban town, located in the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown local authority area, located between the M50 and the N11, approximately 8km from Dún Laoghaire. The expected 8,000 homes will contain a population in the region of 30,000 people. The town centre which is currently under construction will have retail outlets, a cinema and 1,300 apartments. There is much to admire about the plans with good architecture, an emphasis on local employment, good public transport links, most notably the Luas Green Line which terminates at Brides Glen, however, there has been strong critiques that the town is still too car-dependent. In many respects, Cherrywood represents everything that the Myles Wright and the ‘New Town’ planners of the 1960s envisaged for Tallaght and Blanchardstown but took decades to achieve.

Cranes soar high into the sky over the emerging Cherrywood Town Centre. Source: Michael Murphy

An important factor here is the Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) status that Cherrywood enjoys, one of eleven sites around the country that includes Adamstown, two areas in Dublin’s Docklands, and Clonburris in West Dublin which is in the early stages of development. Strategic Development Zones are adopted when a site or development is considered to be of strategic importance to the state. SDZs allow for a more holistic approach to planning and many planners see them as a positive contribution to the planning system – they offer phased housing development whereby infrastructure must accompany houses and the next phase cannot be started until the previous phase has been completed. This is an attempt to avoid the infrastructural problems that bedevilled many previous major urban developments. The establishment of SDZs offer very favourable terms to development interests as they are subject to sweeping planning powers that once the objectives and contents of the strategic plan is agreed and signed off by An Bord Pleanála, the local authority, in this case, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) must grant planning permission to the planning applications that conform with the plan and there is no provision for appeal (See: Murphy, et al., 2014). The planning authority also has powers of compulsory purchase to ensure that sufficient land is available to execute development within the SDZ.  The presence of these features offers great certainty to developers – there is no other planning mechanism available within the Irish planning system that offers the same degree of certainty, hence SDZs are a very valuable spatial unit for developers in which to develop residential and commercial property. So much so that, in their 2011 paper, Fox-Rogers, Enda Murphy and Berna Grist have argued that SDZs ‘demonstrate the facilitation by the state’s legal apparatus of the desire of private interests to secure local economic investment and property development, by creating what can only be described as an inherently pro-development planning environment’. This they argue creates a significant comparative advantage for investors, particularly those in the property development sector, over the general public in the planning system.

 

Artist impression of Cherrywood Town Centre. Source: cherrywooddublin.com

The Irish state has made a significant contribution to the Cherrywood project; it provided €15 million from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) – a fund introduced in 2016 to speed up the provision of housing by removing infrastructural log jams. The state also enabled the extension of the Luas Green line at Brides Glen which is a fantastic selling point for Cherrywood and as outlined above, the developers in Cherrywood benefit from its SDZ status. In light of these significant interventions by the state and against the backdrop of the ongoing housing crisis it is perhaps surprising that only 10% of the residences in Cherrywood will be social and affordable homes as per the rules around Part V, and given that estimates for apartments are in the region of €250,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and €440,000 for a three-bedroom apartment, they will be way out of reach of many people seeking a home. This begs a question about how serious the government are about the housing crisis when the returns are so low in an area they have designated as a Strategic Development Zone?