Politicians in anti-Google street protest should get on their bikes
THE PERNICIOUS influence of Nimbyism – the “not in my backyard” brigade – isn’t limited to upmarket residential neighbourhoods disturbed by the addition of some public service or feature they’d rather see elsewhere.
It also extends to businesses and, of course, politicians, as currently exemplified by the argument against pedestrianising Barrow Street in Dublin’s dockland.
Google, which is based in two buildings facing each other across the street, supports a plan backed by Dublin City Council to close that thoroughfare to traffic. Now some politicians and businesses have come out with the ridiculous argument that closing the narrow and frequently congested street to traffic will convert Google into a “compound” and will benefit only Google.
One, Cllr Mannix Flynn, told a Sunday newspaper that having this single street pedestrianised for all would turn Google into a “compound” on a street where others somehow would feel they cannot go.
“It’s really clear what Google is doing here – building a campus or compound not unlike its headquarters in America, to the exclusion of the population who live around the area,” stated Flynn. “While I support Google and jobs this is not the way to go about it. I was in San Jose and I noticed that all the Google campus was like a compound.”
Hmmm – let’s first set aside the point that this “compound” would be no more exclusionary than Dublin City Council’s own offices on Wood Quay – where they destroyed a heritage archaeological site to build a concrete monstrosity. Or that it would be hard to imagine how a single street that enables pedestrians to move about comfortably could possibly threaten to turn the area into a large “campus . . . to the detriment of the immediate residents”, as local Labour TD Kevin Humphreys argues in the same article.
Could he possibly mean he thinks the area around Barrow Street might become a closed-in, inaccessible area like, say, Government Buildings in the city centre?
Let’s look at the two key arguments here. First off, if Cllr Flynn had looked about him in California he would have noticed that anyone can wander around the Google campus (which is in Mountain View, not San Jose). I have done it myself! It is not a closed-off “compound”; it’s actually an extremely pleasant work environment that preserves large grassy areas with a working vegetable and herb garden at its centre. There are enjoyable pedestrian walkways, and Google bicycles available to anyone who wants to go from one end of the campus to the other.
Maybe Cllr Flynn didn’t notice that Google’s headquarters are not in a residential area in California but off an industrial parkway. So the issue of it being somehow inaccessible to local residents is a moot point.
Google’s location in the centre of Dublin city, on the other hand, sees it surrounded by Celtic Tiger-era apartment blocks and office buildings whose occupancy rate will have been given a boost by the fact the company went into a former blackspot and has helped make it one of the most interesting, vibrant and culturally mixed areas of the city in which to live and work.
Unlike many other technology companies in security-gated compounds out at the edge of the city, Google is easily accessible by public transport, by pedestrians who live in the area, and by bicycle – exactly what the city – heck, the whole State – should encourage.
But Barrow Street itself is unpleasant to walk or cycle. And that part of the city still has few areas that are dedicated to pedestrians and few cycleways. Like so much of Dublin that area kowtows to the rule of the automobile, even as employers like Google have brought in new, younger inhabitants in new housing complexes which do not base their lives around a car.
How disappointing to see the too-predictable reaction from some politicians and businesses to preserve the status quo and support drivers who refuse to use public transport, their feet or a bicycle.
Barrow Street as it stands is a narrow ratrun, full of non-residential traffic cutting through to other parts of the city. I cannot believe a majority of residents in that area would not support a change.
Making Barrow Street (the start of) a pedestrian area would greatly enhance the ambience of the neighbourhood, increase safety, and be another tiny step towards making Dublin a more livable, breathable city.