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

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

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

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

Table 1: Timeline of key projects and events

The vision and regeneration of the North Docks

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

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

The vision and regeneration of the South Docks

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

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

Map 2 Land Ownership in south docks

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

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

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

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

The vision for Tivoli

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Aoife Delaney

CAPPLANSPOTLIGHT

 

The Final Act of the Irish Electoral Cycle
We have entered the Final Act of the drama that is the Irish electoral cycle. The plot so far has involved harsh austerity, deepening neoliberalism, and widespread protest. But in the Final Act – at least in the play as scripted by the coalition government – these plot lines are expected to fade away as a new story arc emerges. Most immediately this will involve a raft of budgetary measures designed to return relatively insignificant amounts of cash to the wallets of various parts of the electorate. But, as the Capital Plan announced last week attests, it will also involve the promise of large-scale and geographically dispersed infrastructural investment.

While in one sense the Capital Plan is a mechanism in support of clientalism – allowing TDs the opportunity to bring the proverbial (and at this stage prodigal) bacon back home to their constituencies – it also serves to usher in the re-emergence of another central myth of Irish political and economic life: the myth of counterbalance.

The myth of counterbalance has been around ever since the Irish State decided to dismantle the walls of protectionism and open the country to the global economy. For various reasons Dublin has long dominated the country economically and demographically. The myth of counterbalance proposes to address this dominance by targeted policies designed to grow the economies of the other major cities.

I call this a myth not because such a feat is unattainable, but rather because, in Ireland, it has consistently proven itself to be. The myth of counterbalance emerges intermittently, the well-worn narrative dusted off to address the same intractable problem for a whole new generation.

Myth and reality
The idea of counterbalancing the growth of Dublin harks back to the Buchannan report on economic regions published in 1969. Buchannan proposed the creation of ‘poles of growth’, which would serve to counteract the unsustainable growth of Dublin. Throughout the 1970s Cork and Limerick were identified by central government as sites for targeted investment. However, while the official policy ostensibly favoured the creation of a counterbalance, in reality the recommendations of the Buchannan report were largely ignored, and later abandoned during the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In the Fanning report of 1984 on the impact of the recession on Cork, the notion of creating a counterbalance was resurrected. Fanning highlighted the need for targeted investment in infrastructure in the cities outside of Dublin, along with investment in indigenous small enterprises, in order to avoid the fallout from another round of global restructuring. In the report, Fanning advised against focussing only on short-termist policies and forgetting the goals of long-term sustainability. But then the Celtic Tiger came along and counterbalance was abandoned in favour of reducing corporation tax to a minimum and putting in place a series of incentives to attract a new round of foreign investment.

In 2002, the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) once again broached the subject of counterbalance. Although politically weakened by clientalism, the NSS nevertheless put in place a framework to develop a number of ‘Gateways and Hubs’ that would act as regional centres of growth. There was a four-year gap, however, been the NSS and the publication of National Development Plan, which would link public spending to the infrastructural investment proposed in the spatial strategy.

In the interim, cities like Cork and Limerick launched ambitious development strategies that aimed to capitalise on the NSS. Cork Docklands Development Strategy, for example, inaugurated an entrepreneurial approach to development that transformed the city’s governance structures by inviting a host of private sector actors to shape urban policy. While the 2000s saw a new wave of development activity, the wider redevelopment of the docklands still depended on substantial state investment that, although promised, was not forthcoming. When the 2008 crash happened, one of the first programmes to be cut was the Gateway Development Fund for infrastructural investment.

Thus, the Celtic Tiger period of growth again failed to deliver on the promise of counterbalance.

The return of counterbalance
In the recently announced Capital Plan Cork is expected to get investment in key road infrastructure, an upgrade of Ringaskiddy Harbour and other projects including investment in a convention centre at the former Beamish and Crawford factory. The phantasmagoria of these plans was reinforced by a set of lavish visualisations shared by Simon Coveney on his facebook page. The Capital Plan is indicative of the re-emergence of counterbalance and, in the context of the eternal returns of Ireland’s boom and bust trajectories, the suggestion that we have exited the crisis and entered a new period of growth.

Dunkettle Roundabout Plans

Establishing shot from Season Two of True Detective… Sorry, visualisation of the upgrading of the Dunkettle Interchange in Cork.

But like previous iterations of the myth of counterbalance, we can see the contradictions emerge when we look a little closer at its practicalities.

Boundary issues
Over the last year, it had been recognised by Central and Local Government that the boundaries of Cork city did not encompass the functional urban area and that something would need to be done about it. A Local Government Review was set up to explore options. The logical solution would be for the boundaries of the City to be extended to more accurately reflect its functional area. This being Ireland, however, the simplest option practically was not necessarily seen as the simplest option politically, and – as was the case with Limerick previously – the solution proposed was not to extend the City boundary but to merge Cork City and County Councils.

Irish Examiner Cork MErger

Irish Examiner’s coverage of the proposed merger of Cork City and County Councils.

As reported in the Irish Examiner, Consultant Alf Smiddy and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly argued that the merger would create “what would be by far the largest unit of government within the State”, which they contended would offer Cork the clout to successfully lobby for devolution of powers. The report stressed that the merger would allow Cork “to act as an effective counter-weight at the national level to the current economic predominance of Dublin and the eastern part of the country”. Alan Kelly argued that it would “put Cork in a position that it can compete on a regional basis with the conurbation that is around Dublin”.

Not everyone agreed. Two members of the Local Government Review, Prof Dermot Keogh and Dr Theresa Reidy (both academics at UCC), broke with the consensus and produced a minority report that stated their disagreement “with substantial parts of the draft report, the main finding, and most of the conclusions”. In a piece written for the Irish Examiner, Keogh and Reidy argued that after decades of delayed decisions on a boundary extension, the “amalgamation has been chosen as an easy political option” and that it wouldn’t solve the problems posed by Dublin’s dominance. Cork City Manager Ann Doherty later called the merger review “fundamentally flawed” and City Councillors sought to challenge the legality of Alan Kelly’s plans to proceed with it.

Myth interrupted
Cork’s boundary issues highlight the problems underpinning of the myth of counterbalance in Ireland. While ostensibly it has long been a central component of Ireland’s policy landscape, in reality it has never been pursued in any serious sense. The Irish state has been adept at spinning webs of visions, stories of ‘what will be’ woven with colourful images, maps and descriptions. But when it comes to frontloading investment into the necessary infrastructure, successive governments have balked.

Indeed, it would appear that Ireland’s period of neoliberalisation and entrepreneurialism has exacerbated the prospect of counterbalance. The suggestion that a merger of the local authorities would, by a sleight of hand, suddenly make Cork more attractive to international investment is indicative of a jaundiced approach that seeks to leverage an illusion of transformation to entice external forces to solve Ireland’s problems of uneven development.

What then is the purpose of the myth of counterbalance? It is an ideal that, while not in any realistic sense committed to, is perhaps periodically aspired to by successive governments. But more often, and particularly in the Last Act of the election cycle, it is a vehicle to carry the illusion of vision and the prospect of hope. The myth of counterbalance presents the notion that there is a ‘plan’. It tantalisingly dangles in front of the voting public the prospect that, within the crisis-ridden theatre of Irish politics, a socially and spatially equitable Ireland can be achieved. It is just beyond our reach, it seems to say, just beyond our grasp. Without fundamental change, it forever will be.

Cian O’Callaghan

As a grand urban project Cork Docklands has certainly had its share of problems.  Managed by City Council in lieu of devolving responsibility to a separate authority like the DDDA, the process has been one of slow evolution, as the local authority within their limited powers attempted to stimulate developer interest, steer existing landowners towards considering redevelopment, and keep the project a priority within national capital funding streams, all the while adhering to best-practice in international planning standards.  Iconic tasters like the City Quarter Development on Lapps Quay and the Elysian offered appetisers for the banquet that was to come when the area twice the size of the city centre would be redeveloped.

Howard Holdings City Quarter Development on Lapps Quay

By 2008, it looked like the main course was about to be served when a number of large sites were lined up within various stages of the planning process, most notably Howard Holdings Atlantic Quarter that was set to become the lynchpin of the entire project.  Gradually the major players had lined up behind the plan.  But just as the steel and concrete of these sites was about to turn the ethereal work of the planning authority into something rigid and fixed, the gathering black cloud of recession cleared the playing field and scattered all betters to their proverbial hedges.  The Docklands project went from being a question of ‘when’ to again being a question of ‘if’.

One of the biggest problems facing the project was Central Government’s unwillingness to unambiguously commit to funding the infrastructural provision needed for upgrading the waterfront.  On the surface, Central Government have always claimed that Cork Docklands is a policy priority with their full support and backing.  However, this commitment has yet to translate into budgetary provision making the capital needed available to Cork City Council.  Such a scenario continues unabated.  Speaking recently about the lack of provision for Cork Docklands within the Government’s infrastructural investment programme, Minister for Education Batt O’ Keeffe suggested that

“There’s no point in me making predictions but the Government is committed to the Cork Docklands. It’s an issue we will be discussing at Cabinet in early September and you can be sure that Micheál Martin and myself will be to the fore ensuring Cork gets its fair share.”

Despite the less than certain assurances of capital investment, developers such as Greg Coughlan of Howard Holdings’ were confident enough in the project to invest millions in assembling sites and enlisting architects and consultants to construct lavish plans and hyperbolic promotional videos.

Artist Impression of Howard Holdings proposed Atlantic Quarter Development

Coughlan is currently facing jail for contempt of court for failing to supply a statement of his assets to investors pursuing him for €28.1 million for loans relating to a Polish development.  On the front of the Irish Examiner a few months ago, this news was presented next to that of planning permission being granted (though not funding committed) for two new bridges in the docklands, part of the irony being that Coughlan’s Atlantic Quarter development was one of those set to benefit most from these new river crossings.

Thus it seemed as if Cork Docklands had anchored in a kind of development limbo.  The plan had been rolled out to such an extent that it wasn’t going to just disappear into thin air.  The Dockland project exists, has been made to exist over the last decade through a few plans and strategies, hundreds of newspaper articles and speeches, countless conversations, negotiations, and schemes, and a couple of prominent developments.  At the same time the financial crisis was sucking the Irish property market into a sink hole, the gaping hole in the Irish banks and the staggering levels of vacancy and oversupply putting a more or less abrupt end to new development.  It seemed like something as ambitious as the scale of Cork’s Docklands project wouldn’t be enlisting any cranes for a while.

But recently Cork has again begun to rumble with the promise of new projects to replace those that have stalled.  In light of the sudden absence of the events centre first intended for Mahon Point and subsequently as part of Atlantic Quarter, Owen O’ Callaghan has recently slated plans to build a 5,000 seat venue in a development on Albert Quay.  In the same week as O’ Callaghan’s plans were announced, An Bord Pleanála ruled against Origin Enterprises 11-storey office-based development on Kennedy Quay (Irish Examiner). 

The most extravagant of these plans is Gerry Wycherley’s €750 million planning application to redevelop the Marina Commercial Park (MCP).  The proposed development features more than 800 apartments, providing homes for up to 2,230 people, a marina where they can park their boats (you’ve just got to love that feature), a range of community amenities, a visitor and science centre, the Ford Experience, which is expected to attract up to 300,000 visitors annually, and a new central plaza to provide a hub for the community, including a creche and library.  The aims are ambitious.   As suggested by the Cork Independent, the “planning application aims to transform the 24-acre, MCP into a vibrant, socially inclusive community within the City’s south docklands, where people will live, work and play, creating 1,200 jobs in the process”.  An article in the Irish Independent rather grandly suggested that “Cork is to defy the recession by pushing ahead…” with the project.

Artist Impression of Wycherley's plans for MCP

But at the same time these rumblings on the waterfront could be as far away from becoming a reality as Brando’s mumbled dreams of being a contender.  Wycherley’s proposal comes with a series of caveats.   He lists three factors “outside of [the company’s] control” that need to happen before they can move on the project.

“Firstly, we don’t know how long the planning application will take to process. There is no reason why it wouldn’t get planning permission as we’re compliant with everything but we don’t know how long it will take. Secondly, there is a serious infrastructure deficit at the moment. Centre Park road will have to be raised at least three metres as well as improving transport links between the site and the city centre. Finally, even if the other two were there in the morning, we couldn’t do anything because the market isn’t there. It would be commercial suicide to move on this without the market but we need to have everything ready and in place for when the market turns.”

All in all these conditions are pretty significant ones, which at heart expose how much the property market in Ireland has changed in the last two years.  Wycherley is hedging his bets on all counts.  The application is essentially suggesting what could happen with the site and certainly not what will happen.  It is no longer a case that Government capital expenditure can in any way be assumed to be forthcoming.  The Government’s precarious backing of the Cork Docklands project is now even less assured given the chronic hole in the public finances.  Just as significant is the fact that there can no longer be assumed that there is a market for commercial and especially residential property in Ireland.  In essence Wycherley’s proposal is saying what could happen in an alternative reality where the Irish Government had money and the property boom was still booming.  While he is certainly cognisant of these factors, there is still a hint of the blind Celtic Tiger confidence in the way the project is talked up.  He suggests that “Obviously, at the moment, the residential market has bombed so we won’t start building the residential part of the project until there is a clear demand and we can move units. But I’m confident that the market will pick up. The demographics are good in that regard”.  The rationale behind such good demographic projections, however, remains patently unclear.  For Cork City Council the announcement of the project is clearly positive in that it keeps the Docklands within the public eye and provides them with a more tangible bargaining tool to lobby Central Government for capital funding.  If the proposal is in line with the planning regulations for the site (which the developer claims it is) they will grant it planning permission. Yet there is something illusory about all of this which begs the question as to what planning permission actually means in an Ireland after NAMA.  Clearly from his own admission Wycherley has no intention of starting development on the site immediately, nor in any defined time period.

Perhaps lustrous plans like these are means of looking sharp for upcoming NAMA nuptials, a pretty peacock’s plumage to appease and please the prospective mate.  Because in most cases it is now NAMA that hold the power over Ireland’s urban future.  For sites to go into development the final say rests not with the developer or with the local authority, but with NAMA.  How exactly this new arrangement will pan out will decide a lot about the future of the country.

As for Cork Docklands, the project will undoubtedly soldier on, this latest episode one more in a its storied evolution.  While proposals like this one can provide media fodder that keeps Cork’s ambitions of density and sustainability front and centre in a news nation characterised by misery and miasma, it is important not to get caught up again in the tornado of excess that characterised the Celtic Tiger.  Cork’s fastidious record of strategic planning may have had the outcome of some developments receiving an unfortunately anti-climatic opening, but this culture should be retained in the face of less optimistic times.  What is important now may not be the grand statement but ensuring that when development happens it is to a scale appropriate to encourage sustainable growth.

Cian O’ Callaghan

According to the 2006 census there were 51,441 housing units in Cork City of which 6167 were vacant (exc. holiday homes).  Between Apr 06 and end of 2009 the DEHLG housing completion data reveals an additional 3,579 units were built.  To put that in perspective, in 1996-2006 the number of households increased by 2,636 well below the vacancy and new build rates.  At the same time, Cork’s development over the last decade offers one of the best examples of plan-led development in Ireland. The Cork Area Strategic Plan and the Cork Docklands Development Strategy both aimed to implement an approach to development that was coordinated at the urban and regional levels, and aimed to stimulate growth that was in line with NSS guidelines and best practice in spatial planning.  So, if Cork followed an evidence-based approach to planning for development, why is it now suffering such high levels of vacancy?

There are a range of factors that influence this.  For one, development in Cork has suffered from unfortunate timing.  For the last decade, the projected growth expected from the docklands project has informed the scale and type of development in Cork city.  Cork is not characterised by urban density and does not have a legacy of apartment living.  The docklands project sought to fundamentally alter this pattern.  The project planned to stimulate the growth of the knowledge economy in Cork city by providing new office spaces in the docklands.  Additionally, the docklands would provide a range of new amenities (schools, parks, crèches, bars, restaurants, cafes) that would encourage both single residents and families to live and work in the city centre.  By the time the recession hit, the docklands project had yet to really get off the ground.

However, the developments that had happened in the city had based themselves on these projections.  Thus, developments like the Elysian that aimed to capitalise on the emerging trend towards apartment living were coming on stream at a time when the property market was imploding, making them an even more risky proposition in that they not only had to contend with a distressed market but also battle against entrenched consumer preferences.  At the same time, new housing estates were being developed in the suburbs.  Many of these came on stream at the wrong time.  Additionally, many prospective buyers had been priced out of the market as property prices soared, forcing them further out into the county.

Similarly in the County, expected growth was predicated on the designs of the CASP to create a commuter zone around the metropolitan city region.  Many speculative housing developments sought to capitalise on these trends.  Both the CASP and the CDDS are long-term strategies that were only beginning to see tangible results over the last three or four years.  As such, the recent surge of development interest in Cork was unfortunately in synch with the crash.

While these projects were certainly based on a strong rationale couched within the logic of spatial planning, it should also be said that the levels of growth expected from these strategies was excessive; the outcome of entangling reasonable and sensible projections with the fever dream of the Celtic Tiger.  Furthermore, even though Cork attempted to implement an evidence-based forward planning approach parts of the city and county were also characterised by the type of ad-hoc and clientalist developmental practices seen in other counties.  As David Counsell suggests in his study of the CASP, while on paper the plan suggested a coordinated effort by City and County Councils to plan and manage the growth of the region, the actuality was more fragmented.  Local Councillors still managed to rezone land for  development in towns and villages upon which massive housing estates were built that were in excess of reasonable demographic projections and against the objectives of the CASP.  Many of these developments are now unfinished ghost estates, while others are situated in areas without proper social provisions.

Rather than indicating the futility of evidence-based planning, the case of Cork demonstrates the problems associated with the fragmentation of the Irish planning system.  In the absence of joined-up planning, local authorities have only limited abilities to guide development in coordinated ways, and are often at the whim of local Councillors and developers.  While Cork certainly was not immune from the frenzied over-development of the Celtic Tiger period, the fact that to a certain extent this development followed a coherent plan means that in the long-run this may not be as destructive as in other counties, where development has left run amok without rhyme or reason.  Furthermore, it speaks more fundamentally about the difficulty of implementing a strategic approach to planning in the Irish context.  Because of the vagaries of planning structures and the lack of statutory regional policies, strategic planning is constantly challenged and undermined.

Cian O’ Callaghan and Rob Kitchin

There’s an announcement in the Irish Times today of a planned new town for Cork, 5km north of Cork city on the Mallow railway line.   The town will have a predicted 5,000 dwellings on a 1,000 acre site bordering the rail line to cater for an estimated population of 13,000 (planning will continue over the next 18 months, but development will not start until the masterplan is approved by the Cork County Coucil and the housing market starts to recover).  The site will have a Strategic Development Zone designation (as with Adamstown in South Dublin), which will allow it to bypass standard planning procedure, working to an approved masterplan instead.  Regardless of questions concerning the need for a new town in Cork in the short term given the present levels of housing vacancy and oversupply in the city and county, the positive aspect of this announcement is that the development will be ‘plan-led’ as opposed to the adhocism that has characterised much planning in Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years.  This means that infrastructure and services will be built in tandem with housing developments and be guided by principles of developing a sustainable community and underpinned by an agreed masterplan.  The new town, should it go ahead, should have a relative degree of coherence with its inhabitants served by public transport, shops and public facilities such as schools, creches and health services from the get-go, rather than them lagging far behind.  It might not be to everybody’s taste, but its good to see the SDZ approach being used, as a change in planning ethos and implementation away from cronyism, localism and adhocism is needed.

Rob Kitchin

Just a couple of weeks after the closure of the Kino cinema it’s more bad news for all things good in Cork.  Plugd, the city’s only remaining independent record store, community hub, and general drop-in centre for music addicts of all sorts is closing down in its current location after Christmas.

Plugd Records Cork on Culture Night 2009 (Photo by Barry Walsh)

Run by Jim and Albert, two extremely dedicated, knowledgeable and affable individuals, Plugd does not provide for its patrons only a place to buy music unavailable in the mainstream shops but an invaluable resource for information, events promotion, community building, and a space for local artists and groups to sell their records and develop their craft.

In a post announcing the closure on the People’s Republic of Cork forum last week, owner Jim suggests that “…it has become increasingly obvious over the last while that things are not working out in our current situation…The reasons are straight forward enough – business is down, like most others at the moment – and overheads are staying up”.  Although there is some hope Plugd will reopen in a new location, the store will soon cease to exist in 4A Washington Street where it has traded for eight years.  As the heartfelt comments from customers and Corkonians past and present testify, the absence of Plugd will leave an undeniable dent in people’s cultural and emotional experience of the city.

I think that this closure obliquely hits on recurring themes on this blog.  As the recent budget exemplified, the priority of the Government has been to invest in keeping the property sector artificially inflated and ensuring that banks, corporations, and high earners aren’t scared away from these shores, at the expense of everyone outside of these vested interests.  To put it another way, it’s business as usual for the apparatus of the state.

Brian Lenihan has suggested that NAMA is meant to free-up banking capital in order to offer loans to small enterprises, but if land prices and therefore commercial rents are kept inordinately high many of these businesses are precluded from making a profit anyway.  Moreover, the freeing up of domestic capital was never the aim of NAMA.  In the meantime, Cork loses another highly valuable cultural resource.  The myopic focus on boosting the commercial property market has invariably pushed up commercial rates, to the extent that it is mostly the larger chains that can afford the rents in city centre locations.  Thus, the perpetuation of a bland urban monoscape of shopping centres, franchised restaurants, and cafés.  Places like Plugd may disappear in the midst of this more noticeable transformation of the urban streetscape, but in the prophetic words of the folk singer Elizabeth Cotten:

You’re gonna miss the songs I play
You’re gonna miss me every day
Friends I know you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.

Cian O’ Callaghan

Given inward migration and social change in Ireland over the past twenty years it is a useful exercise to determine the extent to which Ireland’s population is socially and spatially segregated.  Reported here are the results presented at the Social Sciences and Public Policy conference held in Galway, Dec 1-2.  Segregation has been calculated using a straightforward aspatial index of dissimilarity that computes the relative size of population of two groups in an area using the demographic data reported in the 2006 census.  In this case, 22 groups were compared with a reference group – so Polish nationals to Irish nationals, Travelling community to white Irish community, lone parent families to nuclear families, etc.  The data were calculated for the Enumerator Area scale, which have an average population of 968, for the cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford.

In the table, red represents a very high degree of segregation through to green which is a relatively low degree of segregation.  What the results show is that the greatest degree of segregation is experienced by the Travelling community, followed by people in local authority housing, followed by non-nationals and ethnic minorities.  There is relatively little segregation around social class or status.

There is a clear difference between the four cities, with Limerick having the highest levels of segregation followed by Cork, Waterford and Galway.

The data are in the process of being computed on a time series basis between 1991 and 2006 at the Electoral District scale, and mapped for the four cities at Enumerator Area scale using location quotients and posts about those will follow at some point.

Des McCafferty

Kino cinema Cork

Cork’s independent arthouse cinema The Kino closed its doors on Sunday last following thirteen years in operation.  The decision to close was the result of a high court injunction taken by an architectural firm against the owner, Mick Hannigan, for unpaid fee of €60,000.  This arose from an aborted expansion plan for the cinema that would see it developed from a one-screen/one-storey structure to a three-screen complex with a bar/restaurant.  Having secured a grant of €750,000 from the Cultural Cinema Consortium through the Arts Council to contribute to the cost of the redevelopment, which was anticipated to be completed for Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2005, the costs of the proposed venture had begun to soar. Despite securing additional loans Mr. Hannigan was still €1 million short of the mark, and was forced to abandon the project.

Although the grant money was never drawn down in the end, sizable costs had stacked up for preparatory work including architectural designs.  The Kino has always run under a precarious financial situation, bolstering itself through a few big hits throughout the year, which allowed the cinema to take a hit on the less popular films that were screened.  After exhausting other options, Mr. Hannigan announced at the beginning of November that he would be closing the cinema in order to sell the building in order to pay back creditors.  This sparked a series of grassroots actions.  The setting up of a Facebook page helped gather public support which was translated into a public meeting and ultimately a website (www.savethekino.com) and a trustee bank account through which people could donate money to the cause of keeping the cinema open.

Despite these efforts, it seems, for the moment The Kino (at least in its current location) is no more.  As an important cultural institution in Cork (but not just for Cork: it is the only independently run arthouse cinema in Ireland outside of Dublin) the loss of the Kino is a serious blow to the city’s cultural infrastructures.  Combined with the closure of the Capitol Cinema a few years ago, whose owners moved their operations to the newly opened Mahon Point shopping centre, the loss of The Kino means that there is now only one cinema (The Gate) in Cork city centre.  For a city that has used its perceived status as a ‘cultural city’ to bolster property development and investment over the last decade, this is a poor reflection.

What is interesting about the case of The Kino is what it says about the priorities of the state’s current interventions in the property market, epitomised by NAMA.  The paltry unpaid fee that has forced The Kino to close its doors is way below the threshold for development loans to be taken into NAMA.  On a lesser scale, however, this story is part of the same set of processes.  At a time when development was the name of the game, the owner attempted to expand the cinema, got part way along the process, and was forced to abandon it due to inflating costs.  Perhaps this is an example of a poorly timed speculative attempt at expansion, but much of the NAMA portfolio is characterised by the same set of conditions.  While the banks and the major players are taken care of through NAMA smaller scale initiatives (of which the plans to redevelop The Kino are an iconic example) escape from the net.  Granted, The Kino’s problems go way beyond that of their creditors: with poor attendance figures and increasing competition by the mainstream cinemas in the market for more high-profile independent films, the cinema has not found a way to run at a profit for some time, and this latest crisis has merely pushed it over the edge.  Nevertheless, I still think it is worth considering the plight of The Kino side by side with NAMA for a moment, in that it starkly contrasts the state’s massive investment in the carcass of the property market and the simultaneous disinvestment in the arts (on a related note check out http://www.ncfa.ie/).  The loss of such an institution as The Kino to many aspects of Cork’s cultural and social life should not be underestimated, and it flies directly in the face of the development discourses propagated by City Council for the last decade.  It is also characteristic of the lack of spatial and social priorities of the government through their backing of NAMA.  Rather than looking at the impact of the economic crisis on cities and towns around the country, NAMA sees everything one big property portfolio.  There is a need to escape this logic in order to take stock of what we are really (and rapidly) loosing in the places we live.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1201/1224259803873.html

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2009/1126/1224259487538.html

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/corks-arthouse-kino-cinema-facing-its-final-reel-104377.html

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/kfauojauojcw/rss2/

Cian O’ Callaghan