“There is a revolution in transport coming”, An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar proudly pronounced this week as he launched the Government’s latest ‘sensible’ and ‘pragmatic’ Climate Action Plan to ‘nudge’ people to make the right decisions to reduce carbon emissions over the long-term. I guess he didn’t fully get the memo. Perhaps twenty years ago such slothlike incrementalism might have been appropriate, maybe even auspicious. However, in the midst of the seriousness, scale and absolute emergency of our present planetary arson, such a chary level of business-as-usual lethargy is an irretrievably misconceived and delusive policy goal.

In his book, After Sustainability, John Foster describes three types of denial. The first, ‘literal denial’, is the type we’re all familiar with. The second, ‘interpretative denial’, accepts the facts but rejects the meaning, interpreting them in a way that makes them more benign to our personal psychology, in what Norwegian psychologist Kari Norgard calls the social ‘construction of innocence’ (e.g. Ireland is too small to make a difference; What about China?; If we stop producing beef, it will be produced elsewhere etc.).

The third form, ‘implicative denial’, which Foster argues is the most pernicious, is where we accept the facts and the interpretation but suppress the psychological, political and moral implications that would logically follow. For Foster, implicative denial is rife in our contemporary culture and is why so many of us, politicians and campaigners included, can continue to talk about how important climate change is without ever seriously confronting its reality and actually doing something about it.

An instructive example of this is the continued exaltation of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in Irish climate policy. This fixation with technologising ourselves out of our runaway transport emissions through ‘clean and green’ private mobility has been assiduous feature of all recent government policies, with each failed strategy being accompanied by ever more dizzying targets.

The original target was 250,000 by 2020. The National Development Plan, published last year, proposed half a million EVs by 2030. The latest strategy goes all out with a plan to increase the total number (currently less than a few thousand) to somewhere north of 800,000 by 2030 i.e. in 11 years. By way of comparison, there are around five million EVs currently in existence worldwide.

The heedless assumptions at the heart of the EV technotopia was laid bare in a recent open letter by Professor Richard Herrington, Head of Earth Sciences at the UK’s Natural History Museum, which explains that, for the UK alone to meet its 2050 EV targets, it would require two times the current total annual world cobalt output, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, 75% of the world’s lithium production and at least 50% of the world’s copper production. If that analysis was extrapolated worldwide, global output in all of the abovementioned rare earth metals and other scarce natural elements would have to grow to implausible levels.

All of the elements used in battery production are finite and in limited supply. Scarcity of cobalt is already threatening the production of EVs, with over half of the world’s supply mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and regularly linked to reports of child labour exploitation and horrendous environmental destruction. There is also currently no environmentally safe way of recycling lithium-ion batteries. And that is before we get to the thorny issue of where all the clean renewable energy, grid infrastructure and accompanying resources required to power EVs and the complete electrification of society will come from?

Add in the fact that Project Ireland 2040 proposes an aggressive strategy to double the size of the economy in the next 20 years, increase the population by over a million people and the current predilection for promoting Ireland as a location for data centres, which are projected to account for as much as 31% of Irish electricity demand by 2027, and all of this starts to become very far-fetched very quickly. EVs also do nothing to resolve chronic traffic congestion, road investment requirements, sedentary lifestyles and all of the other pathologies associated with excessive private car use.

It is often said that politics is the art of the possible. It should therefore come as no surprise that, given the complete dereliction of judicious spatial planning policy over the last three decades, the resultant sprawling development patterns and path-dependent carbon lock-in, the impulsive political instinct is to passively appeal to technological quick-fixes.

According to Foster, this is how we let ourselves off the hook, “quasi-intentionally not following up on the uncomfortable implications” of what we know and thereby suppressing any real discussion on changing the way we live, such that nothing really has to change. It is a truism, after all, that capitalism can never resolve its environmental contradictions, only move them around. 

In reality, only a drastic reduction in private car use through bold policies to promote public transport, walking and cycling, with the balance of travel demand accommodated through electric car sharing schemes, will give renewable energy any chance of meeting the energy requirements of the transport sector. That’s what a transport revolution looks like. Unfortunately, imagining a post-car future is paradigmatically rejected as a violent encroachment on personal freedoms, which is ultimately the ideological rock that all meaningful climate action flounders upon.

One of the most progressive policies in recent years, ‘Smarter Travel – A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009 – 2020’ which, contrary to utopic hyperreal EV futures, actually included defined targets for reducing travel demand, travel distances and private car ownership. This strategy committed to 500,000 more people taking alternative means to commute to work to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%; walking, cycling and public transport would rise to 55% of total commuter journeys; and eliminating long distance commutes.

Smarter Travel, which as far as I am aware, still remains official government policy, has been quietly abandoned to the peripheries such that it received just one insipid mention in the Climate Action Plan. A Department of Transport report in 2014 concluded that its targets were impossible. The fact that such policies are considered impossible while the blind optimism of the aforementioned EV targets are somehow considered plausible, says a lot about the irrational hyperstistion of our current zeitgeist. Paradoxical is too weak a term for this.

Climate change demands a politics of the impossible, made possible. A politics which problematises climate change in purely technical terms is simply a project to sustain and defend socio-economic structures that are well known to be unsustainable. The reality is that the chances of now remaining below two degrees of global warming are slim to none. Life this century is therefore likely be accompanied by a significant deterioration of humanity’s physical, social, and economic environment and, for much of the planet’s population, will become increasingly precarious.

The actions we must be calling for to negotiate our climate changed future are, not reactionary techno-managerialist platitudes, but real political asks for systemic change such as an abandonment of the arbitrary fetishisation of GDP growth as the dominant benchmark of societal progress and wellbeing (as recently in New Zealand  and Wales), land reform, basic income and natural climate solutions all of which are conspicuously absent from the Irish climate change debate.

It’s not my intention to be unnecessarily churlish and despairing of the Climate Action Plan, which does repeat many long-standing and worthwhile progressive policy measures, but as Foster puts it: “willed optimism, kept afloat by denial, is not an alternative to despair but a form of it”.

Gavin Daly

 

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PN

Invitation to planning practitioners, academics, geographers, students, environmentalists, community activists and individuals to establish a Planners Network Chapter for Ireland.

The Planners Network – the Organisation of Progressive Planning – is a community of professionals, activists, academics and students in North America involved in physical, social, economic and environmental planning in urban and rural areas, and dedicated to ideas and practices that advance radical change in our political and economic systems, through planning.

Since its inception by Chester Hartman in 1975, it has been a voice for progressive professionals and activists who believe that decisions about how land is used, who benefits and who loses, matter profoundly, and that planning should be used as a tool to eliminate the great inequalities of wealth and power in our society, rather than to maintain and justify the status quo. Working with an eclectic mix of other progressives; including those with an interest in environmental justice, community development, housing, and globalisation; it seeks to be an effective political and social force to inform public opinion and public policy, and to provide assistance to those seeking to understand, control, and change the forces which affect their everyday lives. The network hosts regular events and has amassed a wealth of publications, including the wonderfully titled ‘Student Disorientation Guide‘ which should be required reading for all planning students. Outside North America, a Planners Network has been established in the UK who have produced their own manifesto for planning and land reform. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an equivalent in Ireland.

Over the past ten years, contributors to this blog have documented the central role of planning in the pell-mell urban growth of the Celtic Tiger and the ensuing ruinous property crash, and offered a counterpoint to neoliberalism’s dominant status as political ideology in responding to the crisis. These were heady times, when the fallout from the crisis was visceral and raw and, from within the moment of economic wreckage, there was time, space and inspiration to write and debate transformative alternatives to mainstream urban planning. True to form, however, the economic recovery has been accompanied by an ideological ‘circling of the wagons’ and the swift resurgence of uncritical pro-market, pro-development discourses, inducing reassuring stimuli that the underlying structural problematic in the political-economy has been durably resolved. As blog contributor Cian O’Callaghan wrote back in 2014, for many of us it has been dispiriting to see the collective zeal of post-crisis grassroots civic action dissipate, which seems only likely to set the stage for the next inevitable crisis, with perhaps far worse impacts.

With the publication of the Project Ireland 2040 and the associated Draft Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, the ideological continuity of neoliberalism has resurfaced more powerfully than ever. Meanwhile, the mainstream professional representative bodies, such as the Irish Planning Institute, have remained comfortably conformist despite a supply-side deregulatory onslaught and the emergence of a powerful, and largely unchallenged, YIMBY sophistry. In a sense, this is unsurprising, as it has never been the prerogative of planners to dwell on planning’s deeper ideological nature and their own political agency, preferring instead to view their role as neutral and routine that transcends politics in pursuit of the ‘common good’. As economic historian Karl Polanyi wrote: “Laissez-faire was planned, planning was not”. Meanwhile, the symptoms of neoliberalism and the irreversible damage inflicted by the politics of endless growth are increasingly writ large in spiralling homelessness; housing unaffordability; longer commuting; inadequate public services; uneven spatial development; rising inequality; growing rates of obesity; political alienation and, above all, climate change and the unfolding global ecological emergency.

If, like me, you believe that there is a renewed need for a platform for forward-thinking progressive voices, or ‘radical planners’, to work together along the lines of the principles of the Planners Network and speak out against the hidden planning rationalities that increase inequalities and injustices, and that contemporary planning practice in Ireland is in need of a thoroughgoing introspection which fundamentally questions its very purpose, get in touch. Such an endeavour may be a hopelessly naïve and quixotic call to arms, and may become more of self-help group, but optimism of the will and all of that!

If interested in collaborating contact me at: gdaly@liverpool.ac.uk and put ‘Planners Network’ in the subject line. You can also leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter.

Gavin Daly  

 

Empty occupy

The Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin, is seeking a geographer with solid urban background to undertake a project on the significance of activist occupations in understanding the role that urban vacant space plays in the capitalist city. The PhD will be supervised by Dr. Cian O’Callaghan.

NOTE: The deadline for receipt of 1st phase applicants is March 22 2019.

Project description:

“Empty? Occupy!”: Filling the void of vacancy in the service of housing justice

Activist occupations of vacant properties in Dublin and other cities have highlighted the contradiction of buildings lying empty at a time of spiralling homelessness and problems of housing affordability. Such practices are indicative of the growing visibility and politicisation of urban vacancy following the global financial crisis. Urban vacant space has emerged as an important site in these transformations, being at once a site of politicisation, civic possibility, policy intervention, and market reengineering.  In Ireland, policy solutions to more effectively measure and tackle vacancy have been rolled out at national and local levels. Yet, despite academic and policy attention, urban vacancy remains an under-researched and often misunderstood topic.

The central premise of this project is that bottom-up responses to vacancy, including activist occupations, have the potential to propose fundamentally new ways of understanding, and engaging, urban vacant spaces to solve wider urban challenges. The aim of the research project is to examine the practices, actors and dynamics involved in occupations of vacant spaces in a number of case study cities, critically examine the ways in which they make vacancy visible, and interrogate their transformative impacts and potential. It will

  1. produce cutting-edge empirical research on new urban social movements that respond to pressing housing crises,
  2. use the conceptual lens of occupations to analyse theoretical gaps regarding vacancy.

The project will develop case studies in two-to-three cities: Dublin, Ireland, another European city (Barcelona, Spain, Rome/Naples, Italy, or Lisbon, Portugal), and potentially Sydney, Australia, and employ mixed-methods incorporating policy and discourse analysis, stakeholder interviews, and ethnography. The final selection of case studies and methods used will depend on the expertise of the PhD candidate.

The provost Scholarship Project Awards:

This new TCD Ph.D scholarship is intended to provide up to 24 hours/month in research support to the TCD Professor.

The award includes:

  • Fees for a Ph.D in TCD: €7,013 (EU); €13,768 (non-EU)
  • Annual stipend: €16,000 for 4 years
  • Research Fund: €2,500 (from Dr O’Callaghan)

 

Applications

You are applying for a highly competitive 4 year fully funded scholarship.

You must have no barriers to international travel.

Phase 1:

Send preliminary applications to: Dr Cian O’Callaghan (ocallac8@tcd.ie. Please place ‘Provost PhD application’ in the subject line of the email.

Attach a single PDF Document that contains the following:

  • A cover letter: Your letter should clearly set out your suitability and motivation for this PhD with reference to your past relevant experience and achievements. PhD start date can be either 1 September 2019 or 1 March 2020. Please state your preferred start date in your cover letter.
  • A CV that includes your relevant experience, undergraduate results and postgraduate results (if applicable), and contact information for 2 academic referees.

Phase 2:

Successful Phase 1 candidates will proceed to Interview.

The successful candidate will then be invited to submit a full application to Trinity College Dublin.

Poor Shane Ross. Offered the chance by Richard Boyd-Barrett to begin moving Ireland’s transport policy into the 21st century, he blew it with a short-sighted, idiotic answer to a parliamentary question. Boyd-Barrett asked if Ross would undertake a cost-benefit analysis of free public transport. Did Ross think long and hard about it? Apparently not. His answer was ‘no’ and for evidence he rolled out the notion that it’d cost the exchequer an extra €600m. Game over? It shouldn’t be.

Consider:

(1) Free public transport is a matter of inclusion, well-being, and happiness. It works for those using the Free Travel Scheme. It permits movement; grants access to the city, the country, to friends and family. Extended to everyone, free public transport would give a massive happiness boost to everyone who wants to get out and about. Inclusion and well-being should be the main argument for free public transport. It’s about ‘the right to the city’ (and the country).

(2) Free public transport – albeit with extra investment (in electric buses; trains fuelled by hydrogen; [gasp!] an underground metro) to deal with rising passenger numbers – would further reduce carbon emissions. We need climate action and Shane Ross, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, should be taking the lead, not obstructing things with daft arguments. He needs to get a grip and realise what we’re dealing with. The sooner we get people out of cars, onto bikes, onto buses and trains, the better. Let’s go.

(3) Free public transport makes the overall transport system more efficient and kinder. It could reduce the dwell time while buses wait for passengers to alight: no more hanging about as everyone taps their Leap card or pays the driver. Buses and trains could eradicate spending on the hardware and software used to collect fares. No more barriers. No more lines of tired people at the Dart station while they wait to tap off. And no more fines on the Luas for the unaware tourist who didn’t realise they needed to tag on. In short, the system would be more efficient and less authoritarian. Staff on the Luas or Irish Rail could spend more of their time helping people. What are we waiting for?

(4) Free public transport can make Ireland’s cities better places to live, or at least work. Congestion costs a fortune and is exhausting. It also stinks, pollutes the air, and causes asthma. For the thousands of workers who can’t afford to live in urban areas, moreover, free public transport to their job in the city puts more money in their pocket to be spent on what they care about (kids, eating out, holidays, whatever).

(5) Finally, Ireland’s tourists spent €4.9bn in 2017. 13% was spent on transport. That’s €637m, although of course some of this covers taxis. Free public transport permits tourists to spend (OK, some of) that money in restaurants or visitor attractions. Jobs. Happier tourists. A more balanced tourism market across the country. And if we made free public transport a cornerstone of Fáilte Ireland’s marketing campaign, surely more tourists would be tempted to visit. If nothing else, the country sends a message: come and move around; you’re welcome. Here is (at least a big chunk of) the €600m that blind-sided Shane Ross.

Can we just get on with making this country better now?

Alistair Fraser

This is a longer version of a talk given at the Developing Dublin event as part of Trinity and the Changing City Lecture Series

Introduction

It is a necessary and a timely moment to take stock and reflect on the transformation of Dublin’s built environment.This is not something we do very often. Indeed, with the exception of the period following the 2008 crash, Dublin has been redeveloping faster than we can critically reflect on these changes.

One of the themes we are asked to reflect on here is the juxtaposition of new development with persistent areas of vacant and unused buildings and land. As I will discuss, vacancy became visible and politicised in the period after the crash. A range of different actors have proposed interventions and solutions, which reflect different development priorities. However, over the last number of years, levels of development have once again accelerated – large areas of undeveloped land have been intensively redeveloped. But in doing so, a lot of the possibilities for rethinking what makes Dublin a liveable city have been diminished. And we are once again in danger of reducing the city centre to a commercial space.

I want to briefly discuss here is how looking at debates about vacancy and what has happened to vacant sites in Dublin over the past ten years can tell us about how development priorities have been shifted over this period.

I want to outline three main points here:

  1. Firstly, to discuss some of the reasons why urban vacancy became visible and a priority for different sets of groups after the crash, but visions for solving this problem presented very different urban futures.
  2. Secondly, to argue that we need to move away from simplified views that see a dichotomy between urban space that is in use (or being redeveloped) and space that it “unused”. Rather we need to consider the ways in which vacancy is part of urban property markets and move towards understanding the reasons why buildings and land remains vacant and how it transitions to what is seen as “appropriate” use.
  3. Finally, to suggest that the set of actors involved in planning and development and their priorities have dramatically shifted since the crash. And that urban policy may no longer be able to deliver on its objectives in the same way, and therefore requires some rethinking.

The challenge and opportunity of vacant spaces

Vacancy was a major part of the narrative about Ireland’s crisis. The ‘ghost estate’ was perhaps the most iconic image representing the crash of the Celtic Tiger property bubble. But the discussion soon extended to the vast tracts of vacant land in Dublin city centre. This included the very visible ruin of the Anglo Building in Dublin’s north docks. Anglo’s role in the banking and property crash is well known and many identified the symbolic potential of this prominent ruin as a site to memorialise the collective failures that led to the Celtic Tiger’s crash. With hindsight, it is easy to forget how much of a shock the crash of the Celtic Tiger was in 2008. This was not only economic but also deeply social and psychological collapse of meaning. As a symbol of the property crash, unfinished and vacant developments became a site from which the public could reflect on the policy failures of the development system, while also presenting an opportunity to rethink how we might do things better in the future. Proposals for the Anglo building included those by architect Paschal Mahony to create a vertical park out of the shell of the building – intended to reclaim a symbol of speculation and greed as a public civic space. This didn’t happen. The Anglo ruins were ultimately built upon and became the new home of the Irish Central Bank.

The Anglo Ruins

This example is indicative of the trajectory of vacant spaces and development priorities over the past decade – the possibilities to use sites of vacancy to produce new public spaces, cultural and social activities, and plan for housing affordability gave way to the reassertion and deepening of highly commercial development objectives.

The Dublin City Council Development Plan suggests that vacancy is both a “challenge and an opportunity” for the city. This reflects, on the one hand, the problems of vacancy identified by planners, while on the other hand, it responds to a set of bottom up responses that emerged following the crash. These were diverse in nature – including the use of vacant land for urban agriculture and community gardens, empty buildings given over to cultural uses for cheap rents, and more explicit temporary use projects such as pop-up parks. But what they had in common was a desire to use the resource of vacant spaces for activities ordinarily not possible within a highly commercial city. Moreover, these projects often sought to lead by example and show how alternative forms of urban living were possible.

Policy makers responded in turn to these bottom-up activities by promoting the vibrancy of temporary use activities and creating soft policy measures to encourage such projects. It was proposed that re-using vacant spaces would add to the cultural and social life of the city in the absence of wider development. At the same time, DCC pioneered the vacant land levy as a way to combat land hoarding and kick-start redevelopment. From this perspective, alternative projects to re-use vacant spaces were seen as a mechanism to reignite the entrepreneurial approach to urban development. The assumptions of this policy approach are that, through a combination of good planning and urban design, the local authority can work with the private sector to redevelop the city in ways that promote economic growth at the same time as creating vibrant places.

However, at the same time as this was happening the financial policies responding to the crisis – in particular the setting up of NAMA – brought in a whole new set of development actors to Dublin. As bottom up responses were piecemeal creating alternative visions of the future of Dublin, and DCC were aiming to incorporate these initiatives into their policy approach, these new actors were laying the ground to dramatically transform the city at an unprecedented speed. These financial actors also had a vision for vacant space, albeit very different from the others.

When the loans from the major Irish banks were transferred to NAMA, the agency ended up controlling significant amounts of empty buildings and vacant development land. In the docklands SDZ, for example, NAMA controlled around 85% of development land. This vacant land was synonymous with “distressed debt” and was transferred from NAMA at a heavily discounted price to international private equity funds, Real Estate Investment Trusts and other financial actors. Vacancy for these actors represented an opportunity to resolve the property crash by connecting local real estate to international finance. As has become apparent from the character of new developments in the last number of years, these financial models are dependent on maximising rental yields. Consequently, more marginal cultural uses, often those adding vibrancy to areas in the interim period, have been squeezed out.

NAMA, through its receivers, for example have been instrumental in removing such cultural spaces as the skatepark Mabos in Grand Canal Dock and The Complex Theater in Smithfield – both projects promoted by DCC for the cultural vibrancy they added to their respective areas.

In this way, as the property market returned the possibilities of vacant spaces have diminished as increasingly commercial demands are put on space. But what this also shows, is vacant space presented very different challenges and opportunities for the different sets of groups. The contestation over the future of these sites was indicative of what kind of city Dublin would become.

 

Vacancy is part of urban property markets

Discussions about the “problem of vacancy” often tend to frame the issue in simplified ways. “Vacant” buildings and land is juxtaposed to land that is “in use”, giving the impression that these buildings and land are simply abandoned by their owners. As vacancy has become more visible, responding to the problem has become central to policy at the local and national level. But these policy interventions have suggested that we do not understand vacancy and the reasons for it very well.

The discussion from a policy perspective is often around overcoming barriers to bringing vacant spaces back into use. However, urban geographers – particularly those researching gentrification – have long shown how vacancy is an integral part of functioning urban and markets. Vacant buildings and land are used as part of investment strategies that can have shorter or longer time horizons. In this regard, it is not simply about what is “in use” or “not in use” – rather the underlying development pressures on urban land markets may heavily determine what are “appropriate” types of use.

Activist campaign highlighting vacant buildings

Landowners may be keeping land vacant to speculate on future price rises or to put together the conditions for a larger, more ambitious, development. Similarly, there are numerous reasons why houses might be vacant. Alternatively, in secondary cities vacancy may persist because of a lack of investment opportunities. However, buildings and land are rarely simply “not in use”. It is not sufficient to seek to put vacant spaces into use through urban regeneration. This leaves us with blind-spots in two respects:

Firstly, it fails to acknowledge the kinds of social uses that under-developed land and buildings might already be fulfilling, and it fails to ask questions about what kinds of social uses these spaces will provide following regeneration.

Secondly, it fails to account for the ways in which vacant land and buildings are already in use in an economic sense – that vacancy can be an investment strategy. It therefore fails to grapple with the real causes of vacancy and its relationship to the types of urban transformation taking place.

Addressing these questions may offer a more nuanced way of considering what our development priorities should be. The need for such an approach is clearly illustrated by the trajectory of post-crisis developments in the city.

The new urban growth machine

Dublin’s economic recovery has been highly unequal. The city is facing a range of problems. Two of these are in relation to housing and cultural spaces in the city.

Rents in Dublin have risen by 65% since a low point in 2010. Combined with a lack of new supply and an intensification of the commodification of housing, this has resulted in a homelessness emergency driven by evictions from the private rental sector. Figures from Nov 2018 had 1296 homeless families (with 2816 children) in emergency accommodation in Dublin. Neither does this include the many more people living in insecure housing conditions due to the volatility of the housing market and the lack of public sector intervention.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern among the cultural sector about a serious dearth of arts infrastructure in the city. Spaces of cultural production, which could support and nurture new graduates as well as established artists, flourished following the property crash. But these spaces have been progressively squeezed out. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where these spaces can be fit into new types of redevelopment. Without more formal and sustained interventions, the city will become a desert incapable of supporting cultural and artistic life.

Both of these problems can be seen as the outcomes of opportunities lost in the response to the crisis. The crisis presented a fundamental challenge, but it also offered an opportunity to reflect on and rethink our approach to development.

Given the role of property and housing in particular in the Celtic Tiger bubble, there was an opportunity to learn from those mistakes and rethink our approach to development. Despite clear failures of a market-driven approach to housing delivery, we have continued down this path. Moreover, NAMA as the biggest landowner in Europe at one point, was an opportunity for the state to create a strategic land bank, which could be used to deliver housing and other key infrastructures.

Likewise, the bottom-up potential demonstrated by the cultural spaces that flourished after the crash both showed the extent to these activities had been excluded during the property boom and the vibrancy that they could add to places and communities. But despite the recognition of this by policy makers, there were very few measures put in place to enable these activities to be sustained beyond an interim period.

These problems can be understood with regard to two interrelated factors.

Firstly, the set of development actors in Dublin has shifted substantially following the crisis. NAMA became a major new player in property markets, reducing the role of the local authority. And through the sale of their portfolio, the agency has overseen a huge transfer of development land to a new set of international financial actors. This has both concentrated land ownership and changed the way developments are financed and how they are expected to perform.

The model of these international financial actors is to ensure a growing rental stream to satisfy shareholders and investors. This puts increasing commercial pressure on the use of urban space. And it makes it more difficult to include uses like affordable housing or cultural space – neither of which generate the desired profits.

Secondly, what these problems show is the failure of existing policy approaches to adapt to these changing conditions. The basic assumptions of the entrepreneurial model that has guided urban development since the 1980s is that by combining good planning and design with private sector partnerships, we can create vibrant new urban landscapes. But there is increasing gaps between policy objectives and the types of development that is occurring.

Dublin City Council’s development plan, for example, puts great emphasis on cultural activities. But an area like Smithfield (which had been identified as a cultural hub) has lost much of its cultural vitality in the most recent phase of redevelopment. Artist groups, worried about the scale and speed of redevelopment, have been lobbying for state agencies to intervene to ring-fence land and buildings for arts infrastructure.

The SDZ for the docklands was presented as an opportunity for “joined up planning” and aimed to be “a model of sustainable inner city regeneration incorporating socially inclusive urban neighbourhoods”. This included an emphasis on making it a neighbourhood for families to live. However, as was reported in the Irish Times last week just 26 social homes have been provided “out of 1,178 apartments granted permission to date”. And the oversight body expressed serious concerns that there would be a drastic shortfall on the statutory minimum of 10% required.

New developments in Grand Canal Dock

Conclusion

In the Dublin of 2019, development is once again happening at a rapid speed. We rarely reflect on the scale of transformation and what can be lost in the process. But we need to do better at this. The lessons that we can learn from the debates about vacancy following the crash and the trajectory of the city’s vacant spaces can help us see the causes of current problems and intervene to mitigate those that are coming down the line.

The gap between policy objectives and development realities shows the need for more serious and targeted forms of intervention. There is a clear argument for public land being ring-fenced for public uses in the context of current development pressures – for housing, for culture and other common goods. Left to the market these common goods will disappear and we will be left with a lucrative but unlivable city.

But there are opportunities to at least stem the tide of such changes. We can really learn from the mistakes of the Celtic Tiger period and reassert the role of the public city.

Cian O’Callaghan

Make no little plans, once wrote American modernist architect and planner Daniel Burnham, as “they have no magic to stir men’s blood. Twas ever thus. National planning has always been the political terrain of narrating a grand hegemonic fantasy of an ideology that is never clearly expressed. With the publication of ‘Project Ireland 2040’, jointly comprising the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan (NDP), Ireland’s recrudescence as a neoliberal vassal state is reaching towards its apotheosis. No longer a ‘society’, we are now a ‘project’ and there is no doubt as to what the project is about – growth! In fact, a stupendous 1.1 million additional people, 660,000 new jobs and 500,000 additional homes in the next twenty-two years.

It is perhaps testament to how normalised growthism has become in colonising the national consciousness that these quixotic projections were near-universally greeted as a deterministic fait accompli. Their provenance, or desirability, has caused not even a ripple of debate or discussion amongst the national commenteriat, planners or academics. On the contrary, with remarkable consensus they have been largely hubristically hailed as a self-congratulatory and entirely logical consequence of Ireland’s post-recession economic renaissance and prospects, and even, by business lobby groups, as far too conservative.

It is true, of course, that, if the past was a reliable guide to future events, demographic change actually exceeded the growth scenario selected in the NPF’s predecessor, the National Spatial Strategy, rising by 844,662 between 2002 and 2016. This primarily occurred during the rapid pell-mell expansion of the Celtic Tiger era and driven chiefly by natural increase.  This time, according to the ESRI population and economic projections which underpin the NPF, population growth will be principally propelled by sustained in-migration as a consequence of “a relatively benign scenario which would see Irish GDP grow by 3 per cent or more each year until 2040.” (p.5). In other words, the NPF projections are fundamentally tied to the immigration patterns that would arise from this very optimistic economic trajectory, which, it is accepted, exceeds that anticipated for most international economies.

This magical growth rate of 3 per cent has become something of a fetishised article of faith amongst economists in recent years and fits with the conventional wisdom that it is the minimum acceptable level for ‘sustainable’ economic growth. In fact, the current mid-range ESRI econometric model runs only to 2030, so the last ten years in the projection horizon were simply linearly extrapolated forward to 2040. It is worth mentioning that a compound growth rate of 3 per cent per annum to 2040 would see an approximate cumulative doubling of total Irish GDP over this period.

Despite repeated caveats in the ESRI report which heavily emphasises that “the projections should not be taken as a forecast, but as a scenario that might arise given a set of assumptions and unchanged modelling parameters” and “subject to significant uncertainties” (p.15), these population ‘projections’ have now been unproblematically transcribed into ‘targets’ for an additional 1.1 million people (25% greater that the ESRI baseline) which the NPF, at a minimum, shall aim to achieve. A number of alternative sub-national ‘macro-spatial’ options were evaluated in order to allocate the regional distribution of this growth, albeit the headline national population target was considered a non-negotiable point of departure i.e. consideration of alternatives was permissible so long as they remained fully circumscribed within the clearly defined parameters of what was open for discussion. Notably, in a separate study, quoted extensively in the analysis underpinning the NPF, three hypothetical population scenarios were examined, whereby the difference between the ‘Low’ and ‘High’ scenario was over 800,000 by 2030. Regardless, and without much justification, the NPF discounted such options and selected a high growth scenario, apparently on account of [t]he lack of fully worked alternative scenarios at the national level that might encompass higher and lower growth than the baseline” (p.4).

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 12.23.04Alternative Population Projections in Wren et al. (2017)

The inadmissibility of genuine alternatives and the pensée unique of a ‘growth first’ approach to spatial development has, of course, long been recognised as a core feature of planning. In this view, ‘Project Ireland 2040’ is simply the latest attempt of an unquenchable political desire to capture and reorientate planning, and its associated geoinstitutional architecture, to provide for a new ‘spatial fix’ of collective consumption and to re-establish the self-fulfilling conditions for sustained capital accumulation. In order to displace political tensions, the resurgence of the inveterate growth agenda has now being wrapped in the soothing banner of a renewed national imaginary of harmonious balanced growth and parity, despite the sustained evidence (even, most recently, from the World Bank) that acute socio-spatial disparities are increasing globally, and will continue to increase, despite all territorial policies to the contrary.

The inherent contradiction of this ideological commitment is laid bare in the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Statement accompanying the NPF, belatedly published over a month after its launch. Climate Change is touted as one of the central pillars of ‘Project Ireland 2040’ with an aggregate reduction in emissions of at least 80% targeted by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels) in line with binding international obligations. Due to its exalted status, agriculture has been effectively exempted, with all the burden of reduction efforts now to come from the electricity generation, built environment and transport (the so called ‘EGBET’ sectors). Greenhouse gas emissions in these sectors is currently running at 31.8 Mt CO2eq (c. 6.6 t CO2eq per capita) and, if population targets were to be achieved, by 2040 emissions would need to decrease to 11.8 Mt CO2eq i.e. a wholly implausible 2 t CO2eq per capita. By 2050, per capita emissions in the EGBET sectors would need to be further reduced to less than 1 t CO2eq per capita, assuming there is no further population growth targeted beyond 2040 (For reference, this is the approximate emissions per capita of most ‘developing’ countries e.g. Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Angola etc). To date only economic recession and mass emigration (c.2008 – 2013) have been proven to be effective in achieving the scale of emissions reductions required to meet our 2050 trajectory.

This abstraction from reality is further underscored by the very latest EPA projections, published last week, which show that, following a brief downward interregnum during the recession, Ireland’s emissions have rebounded lockstep with the economic growth and, at best, an abject 1% reduction of emissions will be achieved by 2020 compared to a target of 20%. As it turns out, economic growth and emissions reductions are, as long predicted, inimical goals and, despite the mantra of ecological modernisation and ‘sustainable growth’, economic growth does not result in absolute higher returns to resource efficiency (See Jackson (2009) for a useful exposition on this). The EPA also projects that emissions will continue to grow in tandem with a growing economy and, with all existing and currently planned measures, a further meagre decrease of emissions of 1% is projected by 2030 compared to a target of 30%.

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 21.35.15

Latest EPA Projections for the EGBET Sectors (2018)

It should be noted that the current EPA projections are based on a future population in 2035 of 5.2 million, 650,000 less than the NPF 2040 targets, and do not take into account any of the policy measures included in ‘Project Ireland 2040’. However, for Ireland to achieve its 2050 emissions reduction target alongside 2040 growth targets, only the mobilisation of revolutionary policies and investment measures together with a massive technological shift on an historically unprecedented scale and scope would suffice, so as to deliver a decoupling of carbon intensity to outrun scale. Notwithstanding its superficial commitment to progressive climate measures, ‘Project Ireland 2040’ is certainly not that, and with its duplicitous promise of new business-as-usual fossil fuel dependent motorways, airport expansion, agricultural productivism and exponential economic and population growth, does not provide us, in any way, a pathway out of this dilemma.

It is often said that what is ecologically necessary is not politically feasible, which raises the spectre that our (un)sustainability conundrum is one of those problems that is simply not solvable. The subterfuge of power, politics and economism generally trump evidence-based analysis and long-term collective interest, resulting in cognitive lock-in and an aggressive shutdown of alternative perspectives. If we are to have any possibility of meeting the biophysical realities of the 21st Century planetary climate crisis, what is desperately needed is a new planning pedagogy and practice that decolonises the future, repoliticies the realm of possibilities and negates the governing fundaments of growth-orientated planning. Of-course, I realise this call to arms is haplessly naïve against the backdrop of planning profession and society that angelizes the imperative of growth as an inviolable normative goal – but from conformity to complicity is but a short step.

Gavin Daly

Professor Sharon Todd, Department of Education, Maynooth University

The idea of the slow university, as Maggie O’Neill depicts it, challenges us to rethink not only the structure of the university (its governance, funding, and regulations) but also its very purpose as a public institution and our own lives as academics within it.

For the past three decades, critics of neo-liberalism have challenged the cultures of managerialism and marketisation that have assailed our lives within universities. They have shown how neo-liberalism simultaneously exerts its privatising influence from the ‘outside’ and, in true Foucauldian fashion, shapes academic selves from within. That is, our sense of our own value and worth has increasingly followed a frantic, individualistic logic of performativity. Who we are increasingly becomes lost in what we are, defined in terms of measurable outputs and deliverables, which we then proclaim – indeed advertise – through a host of web sites and social media. Our academic ‘selves’ become entwined with the rate at which we can produce. How often do I hear colleagues confess that they are ‘slow’ writers; or that they require time to draft and redraft a paper, as if this is some shameful, dirty secret? What kinds of academic environments are we complicit in when we apologise for having to take our time and think?

The acceleration of our academic lives, however, is not merely a by-product of neo-liberal structures, but also of the demands made upon us by the proliferation of information technology and digital culture. Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, in And: Phenomenology of the End, notes a disjoint between the time of information flow and lived time. We suffer from chronopathologies, such as panic, depression and anxiety (so common amongst academics and students), because the time we live as human organisms, with our physical, emotional and cultural rhythms, can never match the constant and instantaneous flow of information that continually demands our attention. It is not merely that we feel we can’t keep up; rather, the disjuncture actually produces a contraction in lived time, where our experiences of thinking, reflection, rumination and elaboration are diminished. That is, we cannot keep up (neither physically nor emotionally), and the demands to do so drain our capacities to the point of exhaustion. As Berardi sees it, our sensibility itself becomes imperilled, along with our very ability to extract pleasure and meaning from our experience.

How do we ensure that pleasure and meaning are part of our lives in academia? It seems to me what is required is indeed a slowing down in order to revalue our very experience of university: to be able, as sensate bodies, to experience the rhythm of lived time which is required for thought and attention. The very purpose of the university has never been about extending or communicating information, but about engaging in relationships of understanding, which require idea generation alongside attention to the ideas of others. This is both its public responsibility and its personal commitment to students and academics alike. For this, we need time to think, to inquire, to question and to elaborate, as is proper to who we are, as sensate beings. Reframing the university in lived time means building ways of life that are not ciphered through endless individual demands and pursuits. Instead, it means taking seriously the educational task of the university as one that enables the flourishing of sensibility, understanding and thought. The slow university, in short, is simply a university that is fulfilling its purpose.