Monday, 25 July 2016

Design in Dublin #3: DCC Beta

Rainbox planter trial by Dublin City Council Beta

Welcome to part #3 of my Design in Dublin series, looking at the work of Dublin City Council Beta as civic design. This follows on from parts #1 and #2, and stay tuned for the fourth and final part. Design in Dublin is published in full in Iterations issue 3, an Irish design journal available from the IDI.

Bike hangar trial by Dublin City Council Beta

Civic design: Dublin City Council Beta
There is an amount of trial and error in Framework and Hidden Rooms. In fact, the initiative is really built on the idea of trialling: the purpose of those workshops was to produce pilot projects the Council could consider trying out. Perhaps an influence on this project was Dublin City Council Beta, a project by Shane Waring, a colleague of Grehan's in the City Architects Division. 'Beta testing' is a phrase of increasing use, often referring to a means of releasing early versions of a website to an audience to see how they use it, with a view to creating changes soon after to reach the end design. It is a means of working that has gained a lot of currency in the tech world, and it has recently been adopted by the Council as a way of creating and testing ideas on the city's streets. Dublin City Council Beta has run a series of Beta Projects around the city, from commissioning artists to decorate traffic light boxes to creating a small seating area or green space (a 'parklet') on a city centre street, and from rainbox planters to slow down water entering the city's drains (pictured top) to sheltered bike parking in residential areas (pictured above). These projects were designed to gather feedback and inform future longer-term changes, just like a beta website.

Beta Projects could be suggested from within the Council or by citizens, and were taken on by staff members across the Council's departments. I discuss with Waring how the idea came about, and it is clear that the project is as much about introducing a new way of doing things within the Council as it is about making changes on Dublin's streets:

'I was at a conference and I heard one of our engineers, who worked in the Drainage department at the time; she wanted to trial a new tree pit at the bottom of a tree so that it would absorb storm water, she felt that with the money that would save it would make sense. It overlaps with three departments, because the Parks department own the tree, the Roads and Planning department own the road and the pavement and the Drainage department own the drain underneath. She's only in one of those, so how does she do it? If that was a formalised project like the Grafton Street rejuvenation, managers get together and they authorise the whole thing, teams come together. But if an individual staff member wanted to do something, how do they do it?' - Shane Waring, 2015

The first street parklet trial by Dublin City Council Beta, designed by David Andrews

In order to develop Beta Projects, Waring has had to devise means of getting a trial out there, but also means of gathering feedback and reporting on a trial's results, which has meant actually trialling a variety of trials in order to find out 'what you need to design out of the process to make it as smooth as possible' (Waring, 2015). A trial is undertaken when it is established that a low-cost, short experiment could lead to insights into how to solve a problem, either for citizens or the Council, or sometimes both, it is removed once a pre-determined period of time has passed, and a report card is made to detail whether the trial has proven that an initiative should go ahead, be scrapped or needs more trialling. One such example is the parklet trial, named #StreetParkletBeta as a means of gathering feedback online as well as onsite. First trialled on Capel Street (pictured above), and then on South William Street (pictured below), a spill-out space has been designed to see if additional public space outside a local business is useful for the business and/or local residents. If so, perhaps a parklet structure could be rented from the Council or created by businesses to use car parking spaces in a different way:

'Businesses at the moment can license pavement space. So if you imagine a situation where the pavement is narrow, or maybe the pavement is wide but there are a lot of people, well in those scenarios would it be useful if they can rent a car parking space? That partly comes back down to your definition of that, is that car parking space, or is that public space that we currently use for car parking?!' - Shane Waring

The second street parklet trial by Dublin City Council Beta

Above all, Waring is keen for Beta to create a simple, quick and consistent means of allowing the Council to make positive changes in the city, and for citizens to recognise and engage with the project. But in order to apply the same rigour of examination to the scheme as a whole as is applied to the individual projects, Dublin City Council Beta itself is now 'in hibernation' to allow for assessment. With Beta, Waring employs civic design in two ways. Firstly he is redesigning a civic body itself, adapting or introducing new processes to make Dublin City Council more effective. Secondly, he is redesigning the city itself, piece by piece, in small but striking ways. He is collaborating across the Council's departments and divisions, working with agility, and his project is responsive to the city's needs. He is changing civic life, both inside the city's authority and out on its streets.

Read parts #1 and #2 of this series on design in Dublin, and stay tuned for part #4, coming to I Like Local soon. Thanks to Shane Waring for chatting to me about Dublin City Council Beta.

Images via 1-3 | 4