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

 

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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.