Thinking outside the Square(s)


cungkring.com : On 4th October 2012 I took part in a Pecha Kucha debate about the future of Dublin's Georgian Core. The debate took place in the old Green Street Courthouse in central Dublin and was chaired by Fintan O'Toole. It was part of the Open House weekend that's been run by the Irish Architecture Foundation over the last few years.

I worked with Gavin Daly from NUI Maynooth on the presentation. You can see the full set of slides over on Slideshare, but here's the accompanying text that should be read in conjunction with the visuals. That first slide shows Mountjoy Square in Dublin 1.

That’s Mountjoy Square a few days ago.
His Mum warned him against middle-aged men with cameras.
Mountjoy Square’s fun, it’s got a creche, table tennis, football, basketball.
It’s got a gutsy Lower East side meets Spanish Harlem feel to it.
Thanks  Gavin for his input. He’s studying in Maynooth, but lives close to Mountjoy Square.

Affluence and Disadvantage, You’ll find rich and poor on both sides of the River
That’s from a map produced by those bright people in AIRO, Maynooth.
The problems of Inner Dublin don’t all stem from Inner Dublin.
Outer City people make decisions about Inner Dublin.
They don’t live here, they don’t want to live here, and that’s part of the problem.

It’s funny the way planners zone the space occupied by buildings or empty sites.
But not the spaces between buildings.
It’s lashing rain, but in the distance, two old fellahs are having a chat on a bench.
I like that about Dublin.

The Problems of the Georgian Core include the following:

-Outer cities and  inner city
-Uncertainty, vacancy, transience
-Poor definitions of public realm in Irish Law
-Wrong experts control outside space
-Over-regulation, patchy enforcement
-Dominance of vehicles and traffic
-Green spaces lack diversity and public input

Shrinking Cities, there’s a lot of them, from Detroit to Leipzig
On the right is  Ireland’s GDP over the last few years, an upside-down Nike swoosh.
No-one really know if Dublin will expand or contract
We need to prepare for both.

That’s the An Taisce –Buildings at Risk study on Facebook
Some of the buildings are owned by the Council.
The Council.
Fire Certs, Protected Structures, Mains Drainage. The List goes on…
Whose job is it in Dublin City Council to say:
“I’m from the City, and I’m here to help.”

That’s Parnell Square, but it’s not a Square, it’s a roundabout, it’s a traffic gyratory.
Streets are the places where old Ireland meets new Ireland.
We need to talk, but we need to be able to hear ourselves.
The new Public Realm Strategy is great, but who’s in charge?
I’m worried that the Roads and Traffic will continue to call the shots.
Wider footpaths can make a big difference.
(It’s crazy that) Road Traffic Act, 1961 defines a Public place as any street, road or other place to which the public have access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge.

Only one of the four junctions on Fitzwilliam Square has pedestrian signals. Not this one.
You can wait 50 seconds for a 5 second green phase.
I watched the guy with the bag wait for 5 minutes.
Someone needs to call the shots.

At Merrion Square, mews gardens have become car parks.
Your home can be overlooked 24:7, Not for me thanks.
Digging up tarmacadam isn’t cheap, but a tax on surface car parking
Could make a world of a difference.

There’s no crossing from the Oscar Wilde statue to his former home
Sometimes I stop and watch Americans dodge the traffic,
How about a pedestrian signal there, and from the National Gallery straight to the Park.
Maybe a coffee kiosk by the playground where you meet your friends and watch your kids.
Little things on a low budget could make a world of a difference.

You can see the Ghost buses from here…You actually can. They’re the purple blur in the distance.
Our buses have some of the most stunning views in Dublin.
It’s time to remove city centre bus depots. It’s time for Dublin Bus to move on.
Mountjoy Square, Broadstone, Grand Canal Dock, and Conyngham Road.
This  could be a city farm at the centre overlooked by own door offices.

This is Container City in London’s Tower Hamlets.This is a scheme from across the water, old shipping containers re-used.
It could be Mick Wallace’s empty site on Russell Street.
Or the Dublin Bus Site that stretches down to Summerhill
If they work, great, if not there’s always an angle grinder
Empty spaces, under-use, parking gnaws away at the soul of the city.

There’s a lot of under-use in the Georgian Core.
Here’s the Pioneer Club on Mountjoy Square.
At Merrion Square the Apothecary’s Building lies vacant.
Could we think the unthinkable?
Could the city lend vacant buildings to people like you?

In Leipzig, Germany, there were lots of empty old flats and buildings in the 1990s.
There, the City Council tuned them over to homesteaders.
“Guardian houses” allow homeowners and renters to use vacant houses.
No rent, but you pay the utility bills.  In return you renovate.
It saves old buildings, reduces vandalism and ongoing decline.
We need some ‘Guardian Houses’ in Dublin.

It’s 350 years Dublin Corporation drew up leases for St. Stephen’s Green:
Beaux Walk, Monks Walk, Leeson Walk, French Walk are highlighted
In 1732 the Walks were described as ‘wide and smooth’ .
Let’s make some more Walks.
One less traffic lane is one more walk.

Now What?

Here's what we need to do:-Define the public realm
-Re-think who is in charge
-Co-ordinate Local Authority leadership
-More public space less traffic
-More green stuff, less parking
-Land-banking, temporary uses
-Help out homesteaders

There’s no much money, but there’s creativity to beat the band
A vacant lot drags everything down.
How about some grass, a bench and an apple tree?
Maybe new laws are needed, or maybe we just need more resolve.
“Try again, fail again, fail better”
Let’s take that chance. 

Thank you

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