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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?

 

Urbanising Sandyford Business District: Game On!

Niamh Moore-Cherry UCD School of Geography

The sprawl of Dublin into much of the mid-East has been pre-occupying planners and policymakers both during the boom years and currently in the post-crash return to growth. Controlling the rapid extension of Dublin’s functional urban area is an important policy priority for a range of reasons not least of which is halting growing regional inequalities,  but how best to turn the juggernaut of continued urban sprawl is no easy feat. The new National Planning Framework advocates in general for more compact urban growth, contained as far as possible within the existing urban footprint. In the case of Dublin, that means identifying locations for consolidation and densification. The new Metropolitan Area Spatial Plan for Dublin identifies five strategic growth corridors within the metropolitan area (all of South Dublin, Dublin City, Fingal, Dun-Laoghaire-Rathdown and parts of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow). One of these corridors is the Metrolink-LUAS green line axis from Swords to Cherrywood. Along this corridor, Sandyford is identified as a core location for enhanced mixed-use residential use and higher-density employment. But transforming the old Sandyford Industrial Estate and a collection of smaller business parks, recently rebranded as Sandyford Business District, into an ‘urban’ neighbourhood requires more than just new construction.

Site awaiting redevelopment, Sandyford

While light industrial activity was an early feature of the area from the 1970s, during the Celtic Tiger boom years Sandyford evolved into one of the largest secondary business districts (SBD) within the metropolitan area. Today, the area contains approximately 3.5 million sq.m. of office accommodation including some significant global players such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as smaller-scale and more local enterprises. The area represents about 8% of the total office accommodation in Dublin county, a share well in excess of many European counterparts such as Canary Wharf in London or Zuidas in Amsterdam.  Given the need to consolidate the urban footprint and meet growing demand for quality living as well as workspaces, how office parks such as these can become more ‘urban’ is a key challenge. Across Europe in cities like Luxembourg and Frankfurt policymakers and planners are grappling with the transition from mono-functional land uses (usually office based) to more mixed-use neighbourhoods.

One primary concern is usually enhancing accessibility and connectivity. In Sandyford, the Luas green line, as well as the M50 extension, have been central to the development of the business district but capacity is becoming a critical issue. Even before the new developments at Cherrywood come on stream relying on the same transport infrastructure, some stakeholders believe that within 18 months, transport infrastructure serving Sandyford will have reached peak capacity. Ensuring connectivity within the area is also a concern. At present, mobility options within the district are primarily restricted to car use but simple solutions such as a more extensive bus and bike network could be brought to the table alongside more complex options, such as an underground or monorail system.

‘The Sentinel building, Sandyford’

Turning a business park into a vibrant and living urban district crucially relies not just on enhanced mobility and residential units but also on the creation of a high-quality urban environment. The legacy of the crisis remains highly visible in Sandyford with the 14-storey landmark Sentinel building still vacant since the developer went bankrupt in 2010. It was purchased in late 2017 for €850,000 by an offshoot company of the Comer brothers with the intention of constructing 294 office suites and 28 meeting rooms. However recent publicity from the developers suggest they now plan to construct over 1300 apartments in the building. Earlier this year, two further development sites were purchased by other developers close to the Stillorgan Luas stop and there is planning permission for more than 1,000 new apartments between them. It would appear that all of these developments are taking advantage of new (reduced) apartment size guidelines and a loosening of building height restrictions. Within this context of ever-increasing density, the creation of a supportive and attractive public realm and provision of social infrastructure is needed more than ever.

The potential of green infrastructure to support broader sustainability goals is significant. Positive documented benefits of greening on air quality, drainage, and physical and mental wellbeing are central to why the Sandyford BID company have identified a ‘greening strategy’ as a key element in their vision of how the district might be transformed from its current wind-swept and fairly bleak appearance. Small-scale interventions are underway, but the biggest potential lies with the proposed Stillorgan Reservoir upgrade. As part of this upgrade, Irish Water will cover over the former reservoir and complete a 15-acre landscaping strategy. This is a major opportunity to create a new public park and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council granted planning permission for the project, in line with their green infrastructure goals on the basis of this condition. Irish Water subsequently filed an objection to An Bord Pleanala who upheld their view that the ‘park’ cannot be used as a public amenity for safety reasons. A local campaign is underway led by the local BID company to reverse this decision and have the area deemed a public open space available to the 40,000 residents and 25,000 employees in the area.

Greening Sandyford

On the surface, Sandyford is a business district undergoing physical change, but the story is much more complex. Ironically, it has fallen to a business lobby group to advocate on behalf of local residents and tenants with a semi-public utility company, for access to an enhanced public realm. The county development plan and its green infrastructure objectives have been undermined by a planning appeals board in favour of a semi-state utility company. And the reaction of developers in the area to the liberalization of apartment size and building density guidelines means Sandyford is likely to very quickly become a model of high-density urban living, without the broader infrastructure needed to support it either being in place or of sufficient capacity. Urbanising a former office park is not just a matter of constructing new buildings, but requires a more integrated approach from the range of public stakeholders and a broader conversation about the kind of urban environments we really want to live in.

For more on the campaign to ensure access to the reservoir park, click here

 

Cultural diversity in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire a century ago

Dylan Connor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University

Dun Laoghaire has long been a distinctive blip on the Irish cultural landscape. Not only is the area notable for its mixture of Catholics and Protestants but it remains a place of astounding wealth inequality. This is, perhaps, best illustrated by the numerous working class and publicly built housing estates situated just over the hill from the lavish Killiney residences of Bono, The Edge, Enya, and others. Speaking last year on the Ballybrack-based podcast What’s the Story?, PJ Gallagher summarized the peculiarity of the area by remarking that “every walk of life is down there in Dun Laoghaire, every kind of fucker that ever walked the planet.” Writing in The Irish Times, David McWilliams recently argued that this diversity has contributed to Dun Laoghaire being a trailblazer for social liberalism in modern Ireland. Thus, Dun Laoghaire is cast as an island of diversity and liberalism at the edge of the Irish Sea. In this post, I examine the deep roots of this distinctiveness.

Over last eight years, I have used the historical censuses of Ireland (available online from the National Archives of Ireland) to use the Irish past as a laboratory from which to examine how places affect human behavior and life chances. Understanding the deep roots of a place like Dun Laoghaire is challenging, however, as scientific data on how people think and behave (particularly for the past) are rare. I have been exploring one potentially productive avenue in this direction – how people name their children – which could shed light on the historical distinctiveness of Dun Laoghaire.

How you name your child is one of the longest lasting and most personal decisions you make in life. Unlike surnames, which are inherited, people can exercise a wide range of choice in the first names they give their children. Sons and daughters are named after well-liked friends and family members, people reveal religious inclinations by choosing biblical names, they express individualism by choosing unusual names, and often, parents just pick what sounds good in the moment. As the historical censuses of Ireland list the names and addresses of people across the country, they provide an unparalleled opportunity to investigate who was naming their children what at the turn of the last century.

Although there are over 28,000 distinct first names reported in the online 1901 Census of Ireland, 80% of the population had one of the top 60 names. The wordcloud (above) lists the most common names of children under the age of 12 in Ireland at the time. The size of the name represents popularity, and the colors indicate whether a name was mainly Catholic (green) or Protestant/Jewish (purple). With roughly one in five girls holding the name, Mary was the most common first name in the country in 1901. People, therefore, generally seemed to pick their children’s names from a short list. I investigate whether people in Dun Laoghaire a century ago were distinct in giving their children unusual names (names held by less than 100 people across the country as a whole).

In 1901, Dun Laoghaire was not the place it is today. To examine what we might now think of as the greater Dun Laoghaire area, I focused on the Dublin sections of the Rathdown Poor Law Union, which encompassed present-day Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey, Killiney, Ballybrack and Shankhill. Descriptive statistics reveal that even in 1901, Rathdown was different from the rest of the county. Only 69% of people in the area were Catholic (78% for the rest of Dublin). The barchart shows that Rathdown also had relatively large shares of both laborers and professional workers, highlighting that greater Dun Laoghaire has a history of being class diverse.

The information on how parents were naming their children is particularly intriguing. Specifically, professional households in Dun Laoghaire were over 30% more likely to choose unusual names for their children than professional household elsewhere. To add to the intrigue, the sons and daughters of laborers, irrespective of whether they grew up in Dun Laoghaire, had quite common names. Thus, professionals in Dun Laoghaire appear to have been particularly distinct from their counterparts elsewhere.

How do we explain this tendency? Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of this pattern is explained by the fact that Dun Laoghaire had more Protestants (Protestants had more distinct names on average). What is more surprising, however, is that the data show that professional Catholic families living in Dun Laoghaire also appear to give their children distinct names. Thus, the story is not simply one of religious or class differences in naming.

This naming tendency among professionals in Rathdown is evident in the household of James and Annie Hoey, who were living on Upper Georges Street in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) in 1901. James, a Catholic police constable, had a son named Herbert and daughters named Vera and Olive. As each of these names (Vera, Olive and Herbert) were quite uncommon in the city at the time, unusual naming appears to have been concentrated among numerous children within the same family.

Is this story of unusual naming broader than Dun Laoghaire? In the scatterplot, I graph the share of Catholic children under the age of 12 who have an unusual first name and a professional father. For every area in Dublin, I plot this share against the percentage of Catholics living in these same areas. This allows an assessment of whether Catholics who lived near Protestants tended to give their children more unusual names.  The strong downward relationship indicates that Catholics with Protestant neighbors were, indeed, giving their children more unusual names. Conversely, Catholics with more Catholic neighbors tended to give their children more common names. This graph illustrates this by showing places like Killiney, Blackrock, Clontarf and Rathmines to have both smaller Catholic population shares and Catholic children with more unusual names. Less than 60% of the people in Clontarf West, for example, were Catholic, and 15% of the children of Catholic professionals had unusual names. Places like Donabate, Rathcoole and Mountjoy, in contrast, were largely Catholic and Catholic children also tended to have more common names. We should be cognizant that this comparison is focused solely on professionals living in different areas of the city. Thus, it is unlikely that class difference is the main explanation here.

In short, Catholics living near Protestants named their children more distinctly than Catholics elsewhere. Having neighbors from different backgrounds likely provided opportunities for parents to pick up names they may not have considered otherwise. It may also be the case that the distinct social environments of places liked Dun Laoghaire permitted forms of liberal expression (such as choosing non-traditional names) that were curtailed in more traditionally Catholic places. Historical distinctiveness in something as (seemingly) idiosyncratic as child naming, and the area’s persistence as one of the most progressive constituencies in the country, implies that Dun Laoghaire’s tendency to break with tradition may have deep historical roots.

 

Note on author: Dylan Connor holds a PhD from the University of California, Los Angles (UCLA) and is an Assistant Professor at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University. His work focuses on inequality in the United States and the economic and demographic history of Ireland (articles listed below).

  • Connor, D. S. (2019). The cream of the crop? Geography, networks, and Irish migrant selection in the age of mass migration. The Journal of Economic History, 79(1), 139-175.
  • Connor, D. S. (2018). Class Background, Reception Context, and Intergenerational Mobility: A Record Linkage and Surname Analysis of the Children of Irish Immigrants. International Migration Review, 0197918318806891.
  • Connor, D. S. (2017). Poverty, religious differences, and child mortality in the early twentieth century: The case of Dublin. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107(3), 625-646.
  • Connor, D., Mills, G., & Moore-Cherry, N. (2011). The 1911 Census and Dublin city: A spatial analysis. Irish Geography, 44(2-3), 245-263.

By Gerald Mills, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Green spaces serve important functions in cities including contributing to human health and wellbeing and providing a range of environmental services. The latter offset many of the undesirable aspects of urbanization such as the increased risk of flooding, poor air quality and loss of biodiversity. Green cover includes parks, individual trees, grass margins, green roofs, etc. but its ability to provide environmental services depends on their extent and design. In general, the greater the proportion of green space and the more diverse its content, the greater its environmental impact; so for example, the impact of Phoenix Park (1,770 acres) will be greater than that of Merrion Square park (12 acres). However, when we examine the broader value of green spaces location and connectivity are also important.  Taken together, these attributes of green cover are aspects of a green ‘infrastructure’ that provide valuable economic, social and environmental services.

At the scale of the city, Dublin is a green city. However, much of the green space is concentrated in large public parks (e.g. Bushy Park in Terenure, St Anne’s Park in Clontarf) or in private gardens. For the most part, the level of greening increases with distance from the Spire. The city centre itself (defined as the area between the canals) is relatively barren apart from some of the better known parks (Stephen’s Green and Merrion, Mountjoy and Pearse Squares). Other green spaces (e.g. Trinity College and Fitzwilliam square) are private and while they provide important functions their broader societal contribution is limited. Tree canopy cover is an especially important measure of urban greening, especially as trees are planted on streets and counter the effects of paving and traffic.  The map below shows the canopy cover in Dublin’s city centre and shows both the relative lack of large trees and their concentration in some parts, mostly the south-west part and Phoenix park to the west.


Figure 1: Dublin’s green infrastructure

Increasing the green cover is an important goal, especially in the city centre where the resident and working population is growing and fewer people have access to private gardens. Greening does not need to be a complex or costly issue and there are many very simple strategies that might be taken to greening the city. Naturally, greening strategies should account for environmental and social needs and be placed within a spatial framework to ensure fairness among the diverse communities. The redevelopment of parts of inner city Dublin provides a rare opportunity to re-make the urban landscape for future generations. However this requires a focus on the wider value of the urban environment beyond just economic gain.

For more on this urban environment work at UCD School of Geography, click here.

Dublin Transformed: Behind the Hoardings

Philip Lawton, Dept of Geography, TCD and Eoin O’Mahony, School of Geography, UCD

Walking across The Samuel Beckett Bridge over the last few months, it is hard to escape the giant hoarding covering the Tropical Fruit Warehouse. It is an artistic rendering entitled ‘Abiding Traces’ by the artist Leah Hewson. This is the latest in what is now a relatively long history of development hoardings that have become a ubiquitous feature of new developments – both in Dublin, and on a global scale. Yet this one is perhaps unique, embodying the overlaps between urban development, investment strategies, and wholly enmeshed ideals of creativity within the contemporary city. This artistic motif conjoins with a dash of history – ‘Established 1892: Re-Imagined 2019’ – to give an air of both established heritage, and a  ‘new innovative future’.

These kinds of hoardings are now an almost common-place feature of Dublin Docklands. Slowly, but surely, since 2015 or so, the Docklands has become a focal-point of forms of  transformation last seen before the 2008 crash. The 2008 Great Financial Crisis flushed out the smaller operators and what we’re left with now are those that started making deals while in NAMA-hibernation. International companies, such as Oxley, Hines and King Street Capital have all joined up with Irish-based companies to provide the money to build large office blocks and apartments. Yet, these changes are not only confined to the Docklands, with the city and suburbs yet again undergoing significant transformations. In the office district of the south core, for example, on streets such as Dawson Street, Nassau Street and Molesworth Street, 1970’s modernist office blocks have been torn down and replaced by shiny new glass and brick panels. When taken together, this is the new and bold turn in Dublin’s continued emergence as an ‘entrepreneurial city’. In short, the coming together of capital and image-making strategies is bringing about profound changes in the way the way the city looks and feels. 

In the summer of 2017, as a means of analysing these changes, we began to systematically track the hoardings surrounding newly developing sites around the centre of the city. The use of stylized hoardings was a trend that, at the very least, can be traced to the Celtic Tiger period, where the hoardings concentrated on the luxury afforded by a new scheme. When recollecting this period, it is hard to forget Belmayne, with women in evening wear draped seductively across kitchen islands – a point that perhaps defined the moment when things began to turn. The more recent hoardings are muted, and less garish, with a focus on style. The work we carried out involved analysing the as-then existing hoardings, with fieldwork focused on the existing hoardings in Dublin 2, parts of Dublin 4, and the Docklands area. This was followed up through an analysis of related materials, such as websites and associated materials such as brochures.

The current hoardings range in style from the use of slogans, to large street numbers, to the rendering of an idealized future via photomontages. As we discuss in more detail in the finalized paper, the use of  street numbers – normally seen as wholly rational – so as to distinguish the building and tie it to the history of the particular locale in which it is located is of particular note. More specifically, in the case of Dublin 2 and Dublin 4, the hoardings are used as a means of affirming the presence of the building in an established up-market part of the city. Meanwhile, the emphasis within the Docklands is placed upon situating the particular building within a global frame of reference. This is achieved both through the slogans themselves, and through a charting out of the position of the building, both in the city, and in relation to the global scale, within the associated brochures and promotional material. 

Crucially, although developers seek to act in a self-interested manner, we also identified a form of collective image-making at work. Pointedly, although hoardings can be seen to be highly globalized in their reference-points, there is also something highly localized in the manner in which they are utilized. This is perhaps most explicit in the ways in which the particular locales are highlighted through the afore-mentioned use of street numbers, where a form of serial monotony has emerged. When viewed together, the manner in which hoardings are utilized demonstrates the overlaps between, on the one hand, the promotion of image making as critically analysed through David Harvey’s ‘Entrepreneurial City’, while also demonstrating the changing forms of growth machine dynamics in a city such as Dublin.

Finally, in as much as the hoardings, albeit temporarily, mark out specific parts of the city in a particular manner, they form a specific form of interface with the city in which they are situated. Here, in standing between the private and the public, they demarcate what the city is or should become as opined by the development industry. This is an idealization of a future that is desired and promoted through the intersection of globalized speculative capital, floating ideals, and both local and international actors. In as much  as these spaces are focused upon particular groups of people, the hoardings can be seen to reinforce an idealization of space that is focused explicitly of some groups at the expense of others. This reality is brought into full relief as the spaces being developed emerges from behind the hoarding. Spaces exercising the idealization of a possible future emerge fully formed, where property pieces gush how they are “… designed to entice “fun-loving, time-poor” professionals”, and with a price tag to match. With such in mind, it may not be that the hoardings have a causal impact, but they act as a means of reinforcing a dominant narrative about the city according to one particular set of actors with the power to reshape the city in their own particular image. Yet, as is attested to by the collapse of the boom of c.2008, the future it projects is a fragile one, with extremely unstable foundations that can fall apart at any moment.

 

By: Niamh Moore-Cherry, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Today traditional markets are under significant threat from displacement in many cities as urban renewal in support of economic development becomes prioritised. Balancing the needs of the local population with wider metropolitan or city-wide objectives is often a very difficult thing to achieve. In the context of the closure this week of the Victorian Dublin Fruit & Veg markets, it is timely to reflect on the kinds of economic (market) forces exerting pressure on the traditional markets in Dublin.

Figure 1: Moore Street market 1976. Credit: David Davison.

For many decades, the future of Dublin’s markets has been a concern of planners, local politicians and street traders culminating in a new Markets Framework Plan (initially proposed in 2002) by Dublin City Council in 2005. Ambitious though they were, the plans remained unrealised in part because of the economic downturn and subsequent recession. In 2013, partly inspired by participation in a European URBACT project, new plans for the regeneration of the almost 126-year-old Victorian fruit and vegetable market at St. Mary’s Lane were drafted, but with little activity – due in part to legal issues – until recent months. Dublin City Council are currently in the process of launching a tender to “design, build and operate” the market, indicating that the council will play no part in its future operations. What this will mean for the wider markets community in Dublin is not clear, as suggestions have been made that the successful tenderer will not necessarily be required to operate the wholesale function. The Victorian markets could become a retail-only space, which in other cities has translated into gentrified spaces of middle-class consumption rather than places of more broad-based urban social infrastructure. Remaining wholesale traders believe they will not be accommodated in any new development and that it will become a ‘destination’ market for tourist and leisure activities.

Figure 2: Victorian Fruit and Veg Market, Dublin. Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0

While there is an obvious impact on the wholesale traders that were occupying the traditional Fruit and Veg market, what this will mean for traders in other parts of the city, who already find their attempts at livelihood-building under pressure, is unclear. Markets are far more than simply places for commodity exchange, but promote socio-economic inclusivity. During the 1980s when male unemployment was at very high levels, the Moore Street market became an important source of flexible, female employment and food provisioning for inner-city families. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, recently arrived migrant began trading adjacent to the street market mixing with traditional market families, and bringing new life to the market that had been in significant decline following decades of disinvestment. Over the past thirty years, this market has been under significant pressure from redevelopment agendas in the surrounding districts. Despite the central place of Moore Street in the minds of Dubliners and its historic reputation as ‘the heart of Dublin’,  the survival of any form of street trading in the area is more a marker of the resilience of the traders in the face of significant disinvestment and challenge than it is of any supportive public policy. Over the last decade, the historic place and voice of traders has been further diminished as attention shifted – almost exclusively – to focus on narratives of ‘national history’ and the role of Moore Street during the last days of the 1916 rebellion as discussed here in a full paper by myself and Christine Bonnin.

However there are some positive indications that the market and its traders may be about to  experience some revitalisation and support, through new urban development plans for the district commissioned by Hammerson and Allianz, owners of the neighbouring buildings and sites. The British-based developers commissioned German Architect Friedrich Ludewig to design a new urban quarter from O’Connell Street through to Parnell Street. The outline plans launched in May 2019 indicate an intention to retain old street patterns, reduce the scale of development proposed by earlier development consortia and support the unique character of the Moore Street markets. Critically, they state the desire of the developers to work with stall holders to “respect and enhance street market trading”. What this means in practice for the future of the market is not entirely clear, but it is the first time that the importance of the traders voice in the future development of the area has been publicly acknowledged.

There is a certain irony in the emerging picture of a private developer saving the place of, and supporting, traditional street traders on Moore Street, while the local authority removes wholesale trading activity from the Victorian Fruit Markets. The role and responsibility of public authorities and other actors is becoming increasingly blurred, as our cities change rapidly and are shaped by local, national and international contexts and funding.  How market forces interact with public policy, planning, and broad-based publics in the contemporary city is something worthy of much further study!

For more on research currently underway on this and similar topics at UCD School of Geography, please see here.

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