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.

 

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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.