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.

By Joe Brady, School of Geography, University College Dublin

The City Council has decided to persist with its plans to turn College Green into a pedestrian plaza. It seems a nice idea – currently it is not a place to linger despite having one of the best vistas in the city, and Dublin, unlike many European cities, does not have many squares or plazas.  The original plan was rejected by An Bord Pleanála in October 2018 but the City Council has decided to resubmit the application.

The Wide Streets Commissioners did a great job in making the present-day city centre, especially the wide and spacious route along Dame Street into O’Connell Street. They wanted their new streets not only to be routeways but to facilitate business and shopping, the latter by putting shops on the ground floors.  They were not as good at planning for traffic.  Cities, like Dublin, which develop on both banks of a river always have issues in managing crossings.  Almost as quickly as traffic began to flow along College Green, it was realised that it was a pinch point; a bottle neck.  Though the Liffey had more than fifteen bridges, most were to the west of the new city centre and largely irrelevant in dealing with traffic flows.   College Green became the focus of much of the south city traffic – from Lord Edward Street, George’s Street and Grafton Street to name but three routes – with traffic being forced to flow parallel to the river before it could cross it.  For traffic coming from the north side, College Green became a major (though inefficient) distribution node.  The widening of Carlisle Bridge (O’Connell Bridge), the building of Butt Bridge and the opening up of Tara Street and Lord Edward Street in the latter decades of the nineteenth century were all attempts to get the traffic moving more freely. While each of these initiatives was useful, the problem remained and there is an important map in the 1925 Civic Survey which shows the scale of flows and the congestion points.

 

Figure 1: The Civic Survey map showing traffic flows (1925)

Traffic movements hinge in large measure on College Green. Not much has changed since then, despite the opening of the Talbot Memorial Bridge because not much has been done to redesign and reimagine the routes leading in and out of the city centre to provide better flows and access.  The city is fortunate that the era of the international traffic consultant (the 1960s) did not result in inner city motorways but some of their ideas were useful. Recently, access for private traffic to College Green has been limited at certain times during the working week.  Yet, even with this restriction, the introduction of the Luas has made congestion even worse and you have only to be there at 9.00 a.m. on a workday to see the chaos with D’Olier Street full of buses.  Yet it is still the best route available for traffic trying to get from north city to the south city centre.   Try, for example, getting to the National Concert Hall in Earlsfort Terrace or the Grafton Street shopping district from the north city without using College Green. There are no good alternatives. The north and south quays are regularly jammed, even at the weekend, and getting to any of the shopping districts can be mind numbing.

So, to close off College Green requires a lot of thought.  There needs to be a sensible solution to the bus routes that go cross-city and for which this is the natural route.  Some have suggested cutting the cross-city element of such routes and forcing people to change buses – that will really encourage public transport use!  Thought also needs to be given to how people access the south city for shopping and recreation.  At the moment, it is only difficult and annoying but the proposal if implemented will make it an expedition.  The glib answer is to tell people to use public transport but that is going to be even less attractive if what is outlined above happens.  Plus… if you are going shopping, you do not envisage carrying your shopping by bus.  Similarly, many people, with good reason, will not use public transport at night. Now.. cities adapt!  If College Green is closed off without a radical redesign of the central city circulation system, the city will adapt; flows will readjust. It is the nature of that adaptation that is of concern.  If we are content that the city centre becomes nothing more than a tourist centre, then by all means we should proceed as we are. However, if we believe that the city centre should be a vibrant place where Dublin’s citizens go to enjoy culture, dining, shopping, then a lot of work needs to be done and to be done BEFORE the plan is implemented.  There are plenty of alternatives to the city centre for all of the activities mentioned, a concern as the proportion of Dubliners who NEVER go to the city centre is rising.

For more on the Making of Dublin City, see the book series here edited by Joe Brady and colleagues.

“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 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.  A full life-cycle assessment of EVs shows that, in reality, they produce very significant amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly during production, such that it is difficult to see how replacing the Irish fleet of two million fossil-fuel powered cars with two million somewhat-less-polluting electric cars, is going to get us anywhere near where we need to be in terms of emissions reductions.

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, it only move them around. While it can countenance different cars, one thing it cannot accept, is less cars.

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. Its dishonest.

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

 

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