New dawn for Devaney Gardens

cungkring.com : Nice to have a sunny warm morning to launch the start of construction for 56 Council homes on the O'Devaney Gardens site. Our new Lord Mayor Councillor Niall Ring did the honours of digging the first sod, flanked by our local Minister Paschal Donohoe and the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. Our Chief Executive Owen Keegan and City Architect Ali Grehan were in attendance, as was the Secretary-General from Housing John McCarthy.

It was great to have Councillor Janice Boylan there as well, as she grew up in the flats. There's a pic of some of the crowd and media looking on as Niall put the spade in the ground. There's still four blocks standing of the old O'Devaney Gardens, and some of the residents are in the picture. The scheme is a good one, the homes will be A3-rated and range from two to three stories high. Too low you might argue, but they are adjacent to small one story-high homes, and the design by the Dublin City Architects is a good one.

The Public Private Partnership deal with Bernard McNamara for this site and others collapsed ten years ago, and casts a long shadow over the failure to provide decent housing in Dublin City. What happened to day is progress , but there are other issues that need to be addressed as the scheme proceeds.

Looking ahead to the 500 other homes it is important to keep the momentum going. They entire development is intended be a  mixed-tenure: 50% private, 30% social (both Council and approved housing body) and 20% affordable. This is a Council owned site, and I would have preferred a higher proportion of Council homes, but there wasn't support for this from the Department of Housing. I've nicked the images of the housing from the Dublin City Architects blog, and you can see their excellent posting here.

I am concerned that the remainder of the development will be bundled into one contract. This apparently has been a requirement of the National Development Finance Agency I believe it is wrong to  put all our eggs in the one basket, because if the developer goes belly-up, we'll be left with nothing. I'd prefer if it was divided into three separate contracts.

There is also a compelling argument to put the infrastructure into one contract separate from all of this. This would include water and sewage pipes, gas and lighting and other public realm works.

The original Masterplan approved by Bord Plean├íla showed a public space in the centre of development, described as being similar to Sandymount Green. I am concerned that the green infrastructure might be reduced in favour of low-maintenance finishes such as plastic matting and concrete, and will be watching this closely. Of course the Phoenix park isn't far away, but the football pitches in the Park are, and it is important that there's somewhere for teenagers and younger children to play without having to cross busy roads. Quality finishes and well-designed public spaces are crucial to the success of the scheme. As issues around  the public realm and place-making grow in importance it is important that we get this right. Down in the Docklands there have been problems around what is private space and what is public, the boundaries and responsibility was  blurred and we need to get this right here.

It is also crucial that there are shops and work-spaces provided in the overall design. Otherwise it is at risk of becoming a ghetto. The original plans featured a neighbourhood centre, and while the new Lidl up the road at Hanlon's Corner reduces the need for shops, it makes sense that there are some retail or work  units. Who knows what the future of retail is in 2018, but a row of small units that could have a Centra, a hairdressers, a bike shop or a cafe make sense and could provide services, jobs and training for residents and others. Some form of community space is also crucial.

There's been some calls for underground parking, but I believe this would be too expensive. Such spaces cost around €40,000 a pop, and the money would be better spent on community space. the 46A also runs right past the door, and good quality links to other public transport such as the Luas are nearby. We should ensure that dedicated parking for car-sharing is included in the plans, and of course space for DublinBikes.

Today was a good day, but we need to get the details right as we move on.

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