Council strategy for capital casts 'public realm' of river and quays in leading roles
Dublin is aspiring to be “a sustainable, dynamic and resourceful city . . . renowned internationally for its unique character, vibrant culture and a diverse, smart, green, innovation-based economy.” And Dublin City Council’s vision is that it would have a “world-class public realm . . . to support and foster this aspiration.”
That’s what the council’s “Your City, Your Space: Dublin City Public Realm Strategy” has to say anyway. The recently adopted strategy concedes that Dublin’s public realm is “uneven in quality and clearly not yet reaching its full potential [due to] underinvestment, poor or unco-ordinated decision-making”.
Significantly, the document admits that “the redevelopment of significant central streets and historic arteries (such as the quays, Parnell Street and Clanbrassil Street) as primarily vehicular routes had a significant negative impact on the quality of the public spaces”.
The council, the same one that was behind the redevelopment of these streets for cars, now says the city centre in the future “will be predominantly accessed by sustainable means . . . On foot, by bicycle or by public transport will be the main modes of access and through-traffic will be pro-actively discouraged.”
Liffey as vital landmark
The strategy identifies the Liffey as “the most important landmark public space in many people’s understanding of the city’s public realm”, and promises that “the Liffey Corridor will be the subject of an urban design and landscaping proposal to improve the quality of experience”.
However, before heavy goods vehicles were finally banished from the quays when the Dublin Port Tunnel opened in December 2006, we were promised that a plan would be drawn up to recast the space freed up by their departure for the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists, rather than allowing it to be colonised by cars. We’re still waiting. Apart from the Liffey boardwalk and two pedestrian bridges, the quays remain clogged by traffic.
Dublin City Council doesn’t even control the river. It remains under the jurisdiction of Dublin Port as far west as Rory O’Moore Bridge not far from Heuston Station. This bizarre situation was confirmed by the 1996 Harbours Act, even though ships no longer travel beyond the East Link bridge – a more realistic demarcation line.The Royal and Grand canals are under the control of Waterways Ireland, a North-South body headquartered in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, which operates restrictive policies that discourage their use by boats. That’s why the Grand Canal marina has been so empty of craft most of the time – at least until recently, when it was opened on a “trial” basis.
Dublin Docklands Development Authority, now in the process of being wound up, is responsible for the Custom House Docks. And it can no longer be used by boats at all – because George’s Dock, the one nearest the river, was filled with sand and gravel to reduce its water depth to less than a metre for “health and safety reasons”.