Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Discussing Dublin

I've been to a number of events in recent weeks and months that have put the spotlight on our fair oul' city of Dublin. It seems a number of people, for related or perhaps completely unrelated reasons, have begun to see the need for a rethink of Ireland's capital city, and Ireland being a nation of talkers, discussion seems to be step one of that rethink.

Running for a time in Trinity's Long Room Hub is The Dublin Seminar - a series of talks that explore Dublin in terms of design and architecture, urban planning, history and literature. They happen at lunchtimes and are free to attend, and I've been to two so far. One in particular struck a chord with me: spatial planner Conor Skehan's talk on "Planning FOR Dublin". Conor discussed how poor planning has done a lot of damage to Ireland (ghost estates, skeleton developments, the giant NAMA portfolio...) and how crucial proper planning for the country and in particular the capital city is. As the economic driver for the country as a whole Dublin requires careful planning, and yet in spite of how important this is, planning for Dublin is almost entirely ignored in Ireland's National Spatial Strategy (it seems planning for the capital city gets about a paragraph's-worth of attention in the lengthy document). Ireland's rural and parochial mindset (which we can probably all agree is rife within our political system) leads, not only in spatial planning terms, to a prioritisation of rural areas, sometimes to the detriment of urban ones. Conor spoke about how one size will not fit all: that we need different ambitions for different parts of the country; that we need to plan for economic activity as opposed to planning for houses (which is how we've been doing it for the past ten years or more); and that without nurturing the capital city, we can't nurture the rest of the country. To read some of Conor's thoughts on a related subject - putting planning before budgeting - you can go here.

Next in my list of inspiring "let's talk about Dublin" events is the Urban Party (poster pictured above). Authors Paul Kearns and Motti Ruimy recently published Redrawing Dublin, an exhaustive look at oodles of aspects of the city, in an attempt to establish what works and what doesn't, and what needs changing, in terms of attitudes, policies and the physical landscape of the city. For ten weeks the IAF ran a series of polls and discussions about some of the subjects in the book, such as "Is the Phoenix Park underused?", "Is Dublin a Georgian city?" and one I couldn't help but comment on, "Is the Liberties overrated?" To sum up the project (for now at least - I'd be surprised if we didn't hear from the authors and the IAF on this again...) the IAF held an Urban Party, inviting more than 20 speakers to give their 3-minute vision for Dublin to a large crowd at the Complex in Smithfield. Some of my favourite proposals include designating a City Poet for Dublin, pedestrianising College Green, limiting the time a commercial premises can be on the letting market (might stop city property owners from being so greedy/delusional), allowing bikes on the DART and LUAS, reclaiming unfinished sites as community gardens, permission to drink in parks on sunny days, admittance of mistakes and honesty :)

Lastly and most recently, I went along to one of The Dubliner magazines Old City, New Dreams events. Going on in Sweeney's, Dame Street last Thursday evening, a small group gathered over free pints of Guinness to discuss Dublin and Dubliners on film. A panel including Dubliner writers and filmmakers Tom Hall and Conor Horgan discussed Irish actors, the environment in which films are made in and about Ireland, and Dublin as a second character within narratives. It was a really interesting discussion, and I left with a list of movies I need to watch/rewatch. Keep an eye out for the next event in the series - they're well worth popping in to. Also, check back here - I'll have these and other events listed in the next Here's the Heads Up.