March 2017


Eoin O’Mahony, UCD and TCD.

I have been working for a while now with the data produced by the InsideAirBnB project. I teach students how to map and analyse these kinds of datasets when they are learning to use geographic information software. The data are really useful to understand how the city changes, how urban unevenness plays out and what can be done to undermine the ‘sharing economy’. That last phrase in particular, the sharing economy, is very pernicious. Sharing usually involves me giving you something and, maybe, you giving me something. In the case of AirBnB, money is given over for a space to sleep and eat.  That doesn’t sound like sharing to me but old fashioned marketised social relations. The same goes for the gig economy: the last time I went to a gig, I wasn’t asked up on stage to pound out a few tunes with The Unthanks.

This morning, I read that Dublin City Council have finally published their report on the impact that AirBnB is having on Dublin City’s housing. One of the more significant reported findings is that there are many individual people renting out multiple short lets. Downey’s report for the Council (which I have yet to read) recommends that two Council committees work together to figure out a way to “tackle the issue”. While we await the Council’s prognostications, let’s examine some of the impacts that the most recent batch of data (February 2017) points to. This is a kind of geography of AirBnB in Dublin, a way in which to help analyse the current housing crisis. This is the housing crisis that Coveney would like to solve part of before June, you know, after winning the leadership race of his party. Priorities, right?

Firstly, within the City Council area, there has been an increase in the number of listings between August last year and the February scrape. In August, there were 4,931 listings for the city area – the vast bulk of all Dublin region listings. By February, this had increased to 6,729, an increase of 36%. There must be few other things in the city that have increased by this amount in this period, except perhaps seagull droppings.  There has not been a 36% increase in the output of social and affordable homes in the city over this period. There is clearly a number of people out there who have apartments in the city who know that if they rent the spare room or the whole apartment they can make some money. Short-term lettings like these allow people the flexibility to rent some weekends and not others but also to pay a mortgage on a second (or fifth or eighth) rental property they just happen to have lying around. It beats having long term tenants it would seem. Perhaps significantly, the proportion of listings that rents the whole property out (as opposed to a room) has remained stable at 47% of all listings.  So where are these listings located?

One of the really good features of a geographic information system (software that allows for spatial analysis) is to be able to see patterns across the city. I conducted a point-in-polygon analysis of the data from the February 2017 listings dataset. As the name implies, this counts the number of listings within each predefined area, in this case electoral divisions (EDs). There are 162 EDs in the DCC area. Location information for these listings are anonymized by Airbnb so any scraping process encounters the following spatial constraints:

    • the location for a listing on the map, or in the data will be up to 150 metres from the actual address.
    • listings in the same building are anonymized by Airbnb individually, and therefore appear “scattered” in the area surrounding the actual address.

I would be interested to see how Downey may have compensated for this in his report for the Council. Any point-in-polygon analysis is therefore compromised by these two constraints. Knowing this, what spatial patterns can we see? The average number of listings per ED is about 34. In the first map below we can see the distribution of listings below, around (±10), and above the average.

Edit: dynamic map is now available here.

number of listings per ED

 

The parts of the city that have above average listings include the docklands, the north inner city around Mountjoy Square and near Stoneybatter. By the far the largest concentrations of listings are seen south of the river, particularly in the south docklands and around Temple Bar. Focusing on those EDs with 100 or more listings, it is clear that the areas south of the river have many more listings than those north of it. This may point to a greater availability in these areas.

EDs with 100 or more

 

Interestingly, the gap between in the southside of the map above contains the areas fancifully known as ‘the Georgian core’. The sabre-shaped ED known as South Dock has well over 300 listings. This takes in an area including the south docklands as well as the area immediately to the south and east of Trinity College. In and around the City Council building on Wood Quay is an area of high concentrations. Thanks to a suggestion by Martin at NCG, I then normalised these listings data by the number of housing units per ED from the 2011 Census. This gave a slightly different geography to the listings data. The average per area is a little under 2% of all housing units. Again, I classified the normalised listings data by below, around and above average but have not displayed the below average areas. We can note a number of differences, as is clear from the final map below.

as a percentage of

 

13% of the units in south inner city are listed as AirBnB-available units. About 9% of the units South Dock are. The Georgian core comes back into play. The heaviest concentrations of listings are therefore found in the south inner city, heading west. I would like to read Downey’s report on this before I do any more work on these data. What’s not clear to me of course is if the Council is going to take any concrete actions to at least curb the power of property to yield profits in the middle of the city’s worst housing crisis.  As Lorcan Sirr has indicated recently, some in control of this city have a strange relationship of denial with data. Action would require the Councillors to push back against the primacy of private property so you know…..not much will happen unless we organise like they’ve done in Barcelona and elsewhere.

The Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework (NPF) currently under preparation, is tasked with providing a ‘framework for future development and investment in Ireland’ (Issues and Choices Consultation Paper). The consultation document makes clear that the NPF is intended to provide a high-level strategic policy document, working to coordinate the spatial aspects of a wide range of sectoral policies concerned with ‘housing, jobs, transport, education, health, environment, energy and communications’. The potential of strategic spatial policy to be provide a frame for the coordination of broad-scale policy objectives such as quality of life, prosperity and environmental sustainability and the development of place-based policy is explicitly addressed. It is evident that the NPF is intended to provide more than a reformulation of the politically-sensitive issue of balanced or effective regional development. It is also evident that it is not to be understood as ‘national plan’, prescribing where development should take place, as discussed previously on this blog here). Whereas the NPF will hopefully provide a central guiding framework for planning authorities, informing their decision-making and placing their work in a wider strategic context, this should not be understood as its primary function.

The NPF is asking to be taken seriously as cross-sectoral overarching framework for investment, rather than treated as a national plan to be ‘implemented’ by local authorities. These strategic cross-sectoral policy coordination policy coordination objectives are to be welcomed. The current context of Brexit-induced uncertainty calls for open dialogue, cross-sectoral communication and strategic stakeholder engagement, as Ireland-UK and by default, Ireland-EU and North-South relations are simultaneously re-ordered and re-worked. Indeed, this period of uncertainty calls for spatial public diplomacy. The NPF can play an important function in this context providing in particular a framework for working out island-of-Ireland perspectives and reaffirming existing commitments to cooperation in matters of spatial planning and regional development on a North-South basis.

The experiences of Wales and Scotland with strategic spatial planning furthermore demonstrate the potential of spatial strategies with strong cross-sectoral ambitions. The Scottish National Planning Frameworks build on a strong Scottish tradition of strategic planning and have played an important role as part of a broader ‘national conversation’ post-devolution. More importantly, they have served to focus policy attention on key projects of national importance and ‘spatial priorities for change’. The Wales Spatial Plan similarly was designed from the outset as an over-arching cross-sectoral framework, placing the work of the then newly established Welsh Assembly in a strategic spatial context and supporting joined-up thinking at a sub-regional level.

In order to be taken seriously and to have relevance as a framework at a strategic policy level outside of the Department of Housing, Planning Community and Local Government, however, the NPF needs to be explicitly linked to public sector investment decision-making. The National Spatial Strategy was of course, designed to give spatial expression to the National Development Plan with the Gateway Investment Fund as the bridge linking spatial and capital investment planning. Unfortunately, the GIF was one of the first items to go when budgets were cut and the decentralisation fiasco characteristically served to make the worst out of a bad situation. We should nevertheless expect and demand that the NPF contain explicit commitments regarding major infrastructure projects of national and regional importance, aligning the spatial framework with national transportation policy and other key sectoral policies. Debate on the NPF should focus on concrete substantive issues of strategic spatial significance such as outstanding commitments under Transport 21, sustainable energy and climate adaptation policy and the future of the border region in a time of uncertainty. NPF scenarios could focus on the spatial development implications of infrastructure investments and policy choices, providing informed insights into possible regional development dynamics in Ireland 2040. This of course is based on the perhaps naive assumption that the Irish Government is prepared to commit public funds to strategic investment projects rather than relying on private sector investment.

The NPF might also be expected to make funding commitments to support innovative regional development initiatives emerging from the bottom-up. It is possible to envisage a scenario where local authorities, business and community stakeholders could apply for capacity-building or small-scale investment funding on a competitive basis from funds administered by the three regional assemblies. Projects would be required to support the objectives of the NPF and to cross local authority boundaries, working with ‘functional territories’ in order to ensure strategic regional importance. Lessons can be learnt from urban-rural partnership programmes organised on a similar basis in Germany which have challenged metropolitan and rural districts to identify potential synergies and means of working together. Closer to home, the experiences of three Border Area Networks and work of ICLRD in developing common projects and strategies on a cross-border basis demonstrate the potential of this approach in the Irish context.

It is time for a mature debate on the substantive issues the NPF can and should address on a cross-sectoral basis, and time for the Government to commit to public investment aligned with national spatial policy.

Reminder: Submissions on the NPF consultation can be made until this Thursday 16th March (12 noon).

Cormac Walsh

To make a submission about the proposed NPF go to the website and follow the instructions provided; or email npf@housing.gov.ie; or write to:

NPF Submissions, Forward Planning Section, Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Custom House, Dublin, D01 W6X0