This event might be of interest to some:

We’d love for you to join us on October 17th at Point Village for Design meets Play – an immersive conference that at the intersection of planning, architecture, children’s rights, sustainability, design and more.

Join international thought leaders, local experts,and a diverse mix of attendees of all ages and perspectives to discuss the serious business of play. Together, we will merge theory and practice – as the ideas developed will feed into the design and implementation of playful interventions in Dublin in Spring 2018.

A bit more about A Playful City

Design Meets Play is part of A Playful City, an initiative designed and produced by Connect the Dots & Upon a Tree, supported by KLM along with partners Science Gallery, UCD – Geography Department, Sean Harrington Architects, Leave No Trace, Waterways Ireland, UNICEF, Early Childhood Ireland, Early Learning Initiative (National College Ireland), GoCar, Henry J Lyons Architects, Recreate, Outsider Magazine, Totally Dublin, StreetFeast, Joined Up, and Institute of Designers Ireland.

Top 5 reasons to come –

1. The People

Our aim at A Playful City is for a diverse group of stakeholders to converge and help make our vision a reality within Dublin. Attending the Design meets Play conference means you will have the opportunity to not only meet, but to meaningfully engage with and learn from stakeholders never all in the same room before – hailing from diverse sectors spanning design to academia to sustainability to architecture to urban planning to children’s rights, and more.

2.  The Conversation

We have 20 speakers of all ages and from all over the world discussing their unique views on the world of play, all of which are authorities in their own field. Discussions will cover a host of topics ranging from; children in the city; play and psychology; engagement, architecture, design and the right to play to name just a few of the conversations that will take place on the day.

Speaker highlights include:

  • Turner Prize Winner, Assemble Collective (Amica Dall)

  • President of European Network of Child-Friendly Cities (Adrian Voce)

  • Children’s Rights Advocate and Researcher (Jackie Bourke)

  • Director of Play Scotland (Marguerite Hunter Blair)

  • Head of Interventions of Superuse Studios in the Netherlands (Jos de Krieger)

  • Baltic Street Adventure Playground (Robert Kennedy)

  • Professor of Land Use Planning and Urban Studies (Marketta Kyatta)

  • UNICEF youth representative (Diana Oprea)

3. The Experience

Unlike most conferences where audiences are passive observers, the Design meets Play experience will be one of interaction. It will be an adventure, with audience participation throughout, ranging from questions to bright ideas, a host workshops, city walks and interactive panels. We want to ignite those brain receptors and get our audience learning, understanding and creating playfully.

4. The Space

On the day we will apply our vision of playful city  to the Point Village. It will be transformed into a spontaneous and vibrant space – its curious corners scenes of inspiration.  This alternative conference experience with its popcorn drain pipes and candyfloss clouds will help you to unlock your inner child and imagine the city differently.

5. The Output

The Design meets Play conference will also differ to other conferences as the end of the day is merely just the beginning. With your help we will have a people-led, bottom-up vision to make Dublin more playful. We will take the learnings shared during the day to ‘hack’ play and develop and implement prototypes for temporary interventions in proposed sites in Dublin with the potential to scale.

Your next steps?

  • Register here to play your part in creating a more playful, inclusive, and child-friendly Dublin! The first 100 people to register will get a playful surprise on the day. Do email us if you’re interested in a group rate.

  • Please share this with your networks. We’d particularly love if you could share this with other colleagues, relevant departments, and ystudents. If you have a newsletter, we’d be really grateful if you could share it there as well.

  • Get out and play! How did you used to play? How about now? What kind of play would you like to see in Dublin? Share your ideas on our Twitter @aplayfulcity, our Facebook (A Playful City), and our instagram!



‘What if Dublin’ superimposes possible future of the Markets on to existing everyday reality

A public-engagement installation running throughout the St Patrick’s Day festival entitled ‘What if Dublin’ aims to directly ask citizens of Dublin about what the city could be. The approach is a relatively straight-forward one: benches with imagined futures have been located in five locations throughout the city centre. On each bench is a piece of information about the specific location with an image of possible transformations placed on a screen. Viewers are then asked to engage in discussion via twitter. In opening up the possibility of citizen engagement, ‘What If Dublin’ challenges both existing power structures and us as citizens to think about what type of city we desire. This in itself raises deep-rooted questions about the political economic structures of the city and the politics of citizen engagement.


Challenging the Capitalist City? ‘What if Dublin’ reinvention of land-assembly site on Abbey Street

In asking questions about a variety of spaces, whether they be about the re-use of vacant sites, the transformation of former public toilets, or the possibilities for new public spaces, the ‘What if Dublin’ project taps into what could be referred to as a ‘political economy of place-making’. The asking of what at face-value may seem like the relatively straight-forward question of ‘what if’ opens up questions that go to the very core of our political and economic system. To take one example, reading a city’s spaces through its levels of vacancy and dereliction points to the dominance of a highly speculative approach to city-building, where vacancy emerges through a never-ending seesaw of disinvestment and reinvestment. With such processes at the core of Dublin’s social and spatial reality, it is hard to escape the direct connection to the transformation of public space, whether it be the gradual erosion of public services such as public toilets, or, indeed, the wider socio-economic transformation of the city.

In projecting a design-led approach of promoting public engagement, ‘What if Dublin’ raises the broader need to question an approach dominated by land-assembly and market-oriented city-making. Yet, we must also recognize that spatial imaginaries do not happen in a political vacuum. Design and related forms of engagement are part of a much wider set of processes that have deeply rooted economic, political and social dimensions. In seeking to question our future city, we must also ask what type of city ‘we’ desire. This in itself is perhaps one of the hardest questions we can ask ourselves, and is only a short step to asking who has the right to define who the city is for and what form it should take. In the words of David Harvey, drawing on Robert Park:

… the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold. The right to the city is, therefore, far more than a right of individual access to the resources that the city embodies: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city more after our heart’s desire.”

The opening up of public dialogue around different spatial typologies by ‘What if Dublin’ allows for discussions that go beyond surface images, and opens up the potential to question directly the forms of politics that city might necessitate for an open, engaged and ‘just’ city. Yet, in so doing, we must be aware of the politics of our own desire. Spatial renderings are embedded with a set of political meanings or economic imperatives that can often come to represent the interests of one core group over the interests of wider society. ‘What if Dublin’ can be read as a call to embrace the multifaceted politics of urban space. That is a debate worth having and one that is urgently necessary.

Philip Lawton

New Paper: ‘Urban Governance and the ‘European City’: Ideals and Realities in Dublin Ireland’ by Philip Lawton and Michael Punch published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. Available here (If you cannot access please email philip.lawton (at)


Throughout recent decades, a significant amount of attention has been given to the notion of the ‘European city’ within policy formation and academic enquiry. From one perspective, the ideal of the ‘European city’ is presented as a densely developed urban area with a focus on quality public transport and a more balanced social structure. More recently, however, the particular elements of the ‘European city’ associated with pedestrianized public space, urban design and image-making strategies have become central features of entrepreneurial urban policies throughout Europe. This article undertakes an examination of the notion of the ‘European city’ in urban change in Dublin since the 1990s. Specifically, the article illustrates the degree to which a wholly positive spin on the urban design and image-making elements of the ‘European city’ in Dublin has served as a thin veil for the desired transformation of Dublin according to neoliberal principles.


On 15 November the winners of the ‘Space Invaders Dublin’ competition to redevelop a vacant lot on Thomas Streets were announced. According to the Irish Times, the winning proposal offered “a mixed-use development with a large digital wall at the centre of an open space on the site which will be a tourist attraction in itself and also a showcase for companies using it”.

In the same article , it was announced that the Digital Hub Development Agency, the state agency which owns the vacant site, is considering “allowing artists and cultural bodies to use existing derelict buildings on the site to help regenerate the area”. Ronan Tynan*, property manager for the Digital Hub noted that “We are trying to get something together to get us to the next stage if parties are interested in using it, but there is a cost for even temporary use. We’ve got to see if it is feasible money wise.”

The interesting point illustrated here is the desire to use artists and cultural groups to help redevelop a site. It is noted that the currently derelict buildings which have no heating, water or lighting would require a lot of work to provide even a “basic level of services” and that there would be a cost for even temporary use- though it is not clear how this cost would be shared between the Digital Hub and the user groups.

It is unclear if users will be expected to pay a rent, but the intention remains: to use groups known to be under-resourced to inhabit and work in spaces with a basic level of services in order to add value to a site. The arts and cultural groups will be facilitated until they have added enough value to the site, they will then be replaced, likely, by higher-end and more profitable uses.

That this process is allowed to be presented as an act of altruism towards arts and cultural groups rather than the act of exploitation is telling of the scarce opportunities available to these groups, as well as the uncritical eye through which the media views urban redevelopment. In my thesis ‘Crises without Retail: A Street Level Approach to a Global System‘, among other approaches I examined the role that temporary uses have played in efforts to relieve vacancy was. From that research I found a popular association between arts and cultural groups utilising derelict or unused spaces. Such an arrangement gives these groups a space to work and organise from, which they may not be able to acquire conventionally. Traditionally, where capitalism cannot find a profitable use for a space, it lets it depreciate until the rent gap widens or more profitable markets saturate and the space can be traded or developed. This process can be accelerated by managing the organic response arts and cultural groups have to seek out space with a low exchange value, but still with a feasible use value.

In valuing space based on use value and with little ability to acquire space based on exchange value, abandoned or dilapidated spaces are often sought by arts and cultural groups and their use tolerated or even facilitated by land owners or city authorities. The problem is that the work of artistic and cultural groups is rightly valued by people when choosing where to live, and as these types of uses grow in an area the opportunity for gentrification ripens. With this the possibility of displacement for the arts and cultural groups as well as other residents looms.

A difficulty in critically exploring the dynamics of temporary use (see the discussions over Granby Park previously presented on this blog) is the amount of good will that often features. To help understand the actions of the relevant actors it is helpful to distinguish between ‘consent’ and ‘compliance’ with the underlying processes of urban development and the wider system of capitalism.

Where land owners concede to discounts and alternative uses due to having their property vacant they are helping arts and cultural groups as well as offering residents a new amenity. Despite this they are still compliant with the same system that made their property empty and makes access to space for arts and cultural uses infeasible in the first place.

The arts and cultural groups who accept and seek out temporary uses are compliant too, once the space they are offered is prime for redevelopment they will have to leave and the ability of other residents to stay will also be threatened –  this they do not consent to. Though arts and cultural groups would prefer more secure and more purposely designed spaces to work in, these are not always available so they take what they can get. Where these groups once sought alternative uses for abandoned spaces they are now offered, sometimes at a cost, the use of spaces explicitly as part of a redevelopment strategy that may lead to displacement.

Those who are both compliant and consenting are another story. The plan to provide temporary spaces to arts and cultural users on the lands of the Digital Hub, allowed to remain derelict while in the ownership of the state for 12 years, and the media that presents such an act as gracious are more clear cut players.

The arts and cultural sector need real supports and sustained access to purposely designed spaces and it is important that that is made clear to those with the power to provide those spaces. The incorporation of temporary uses or alternative uses of spaces as part of the development process is testament to the value arts and cultural uses provide. At the same time, people who live in an area and add value to it through the community they build also deserve protection from gentrification aided by the latter uses. But the nature of value has been so disturbed that those who add value to places and spaces are not rewarded, but instead are expected to be grateful for the privilege of helping others make money and in keeping a system that devalues them working.

*An attempt was made to contact Ronan Tynan via the Digital Hub, seeking more information on any plans for temporary uses, with no reply.

Liam Duffy recently graduated from the 4Cities UNICA Euromaster in Urban Studies. His interests include retail planning, urban economic policy, brownfield development as well as arts and cultural policy. He is currently in Copenhagen and looking for employment and other opportunities in Denmark and further afield. He can be contacted at


New Build and Older Stock Houses and Vacant Site, Nieuw West, Amsterdam

Apartments and Vacant Site, Haveneiland, IJburg, Amsterdam

There have been a number of posts (see here and here) on this site discussing the impact of the global economic crisis in other places. The example of Amsterdam, a city historically renowned for a high standard of urban planning practice,  provides another interesting case-study. Largely due its ownership of approximately 80% of the land, the Amsterdam Municipality has retained a significant amount of control over what is built and where it is built in the city. However, this is not to say that the recent economic downturn has not significantly impacted on recent and future developments in the Amsterdam area. Indeed, the impact of cuts in government expenditure and constraints on private investment becomes entirely visible through a quick glance at a number of large-scale regeneration projects. This includes, for example, the redevelopment of the Nieuw West ‘Garden City’ of the 1950s and 1960s, which, according to a number of people involved in the project, has been severely constrained.

Lower density housing, Reiteiland, IJburg.

Playground and Park, Haveneiland, IJburg.

One of the more high-profile projects to be impacted is the development of IJburg, which is located to the east of Amsterdam. First mooted in the 1960s,  but not formally planned until the late 1990s/early 2000’s, the original plans for IJburg were for the development of six new islands and a total population of 45,000 people in close proximity to the city centre of Amsterdam. IJburg currently consists of a approximately 15,500 people, in a mix of owner-occupied, market rental and social housing on two larger islands – Haveneiland and Steigereiland – along with the smaller Rieteiland. The planning and delivery of IJburg has been carried out through an integrated approach involving planners/social geographers, architects and urban designers. Haveneiland, which is the main island, consists of a mix of medium and higher density apartment developments and town houses, shops, and schools, which, picking up on the historic city centre of Amsterdam, are located on canals, laneways, and courtyards, but in a grid layout. This pattern is slightly altered on the south west of the island, and Rieteiland, which consists predominantly of more up-market lower-density dwellings. Meanwhile, Steigereiland, consists predominantly of town-houses and medium-density apartments along with office developments.

Apartments and Town Houses, Haveneiland, IJburg.

Apartments and Town Houses, Steigereiland. All Photos by Philip Lawton, 2010.

Despite the holistic approach taken in terms of planning and urban design, the current economic down-turn has had a significant impact on the development of IJburg. The picture in some parts of IJburg is therefore a slightly familiar one; a number of occupied houses sit surrounded by empty plots, or even larger scale empty plots await the development of high or medium-density apartments. However, instead of sprawled and isolated developments of half-built housing estates, the development of IJburg has resulted in the creation of a funtioning suburb with essential services such as schools, shops and a direct tram connection to the city centre. Furthermore, the attitude towards the future development of IJburg is also noteworthy. While originally IJburg was to consist of a total of 6 islands, only three of these islands have now been completed. According to representatives of the DRO (Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening or, The Department of Physical Planning), due to the current economic climate, the rest of the development will be placed on hold. Thus illustrating the benefits of the gradual release of, or, in this case, creation of, development land.

Philip Lawton