No longer a waste of space as group aims to create parks and recreation around city

A Dublin collective is getting ready to open its first pop-up park on a derelict site

Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 01:00

I am standing on some waste ground on Lower Dominick Street with Sam Bishop and Aaron Copeland from the Upstart Collective. They are helping me to envision the pop-up park that will be here in six weeks.

Granby Park will have pallets on the ground, cafes, edible plants, art installations, a woodland walk, poly-tunnels, bike- racks and an amphitheatre. Knitters will even help “yarn-bomb” the ugly railings with colourful wool coverings.

Now, however, the grass is patchy. There’s rubble. One side looks out on American- style grafitti, the other, some particularly noisy roadworks.

There is an episode of the US sitcom Parks and Recreation, which features a similar attempt to transform a derelict space. “We want to dink things up,” says Copeland and grins.

Upstart are all about “interventions in public spaces”. They first came to notice during the last general election when they hung art-pieces on lamp posts across the city – these included legends like: “Only Batman Can Save Us Now”. “There was a loophole in the law which said you could hang anything if it referenced the election,” says Copeland, a secondary school teacher.

Upstart has been working on Granby Park, a much more ambitious project, for two years. It has been given the go-ahead by Dublin City Council, is collaborating with diverse businesses, individuals and community groups and has been recipients of a grant from the Wheel (a network for the community and voluntary sector).

It is currently looking for an additional €20,000 via the crowd- sourcing website Fundit (

Bishop, who trained as an architect and organises community-minded street party events called Street Feasts, calls the derelict site “a meanwhile space”.

“These spaces are kind of inevitable in cities,” he says. “We are trying to create a model for using them, a toolkit that’s shareable, where communities or individuals or someone working for the council can say we have loads of empty spaces.

“I’d like to animate them and Upstart has this document that shows exactly how to do it. They can learn from us the pitfalls and the opportunities and hopefully this will spawn multiple other projects.”

There now seems to be increasing attempts to reclaim public space in Dublin.

“[In the boom] these ‘meanwhile spaces’ were always seen as aspirational spaces as opposed to vacant spaces,” says Copeland. “With a space like this in the city centre, no one would have been willing to give it to a project like this because there was a profit to be made from it down the line.

“The popularity of these things now is a reaction, I think. When people are terrified about the prospect of not being able to afford their mortgage, they come back to stuff that matters and that’s community and putting shape on those fears and feelings of anger.

“They turn to the places that help them express those feelings through music, through arts, through film.”

Bishop says it is about “redefining our public space. If you look at what we’re doing here by turning a space which is just completely gated and opening that up and bring the population into that space.

“It’s showing what’s possible, it’s allowing people to explore what’s possible for themselves. I don’t think Irish people really understand that public space is ours to be used.

“I grew up thinking that the street was where the guards could tell me what not to do, rather than thinking of it as the public’s street . . .”

For now, Upstart needs help. It needs manpower and money, volunteers, donations of plants. It needs knitter and need money for insurance and security.

The local community is on board. There’s been no “nimbyism”, says Bishop. Local groups are helping to nurture plants for the project. Dublin City Council, Upstart says, has been fantastic, going so far as to give it an office overlooking the park. Businesses have also been generous. Seán Harrington Architects has devised a design for an amphitheatre made entirely out of pallets.

“We thought we’d take a very divisive symbol, the pallet bonfire, and build a theatre space out of pallets with the help and advice of young loyalist guys and girls and young Dubliners,” says Copeland.

He is working with the Bradóg Youth Service as well as the North Eastern Education and Library Board on this project.

Upstart hopes its four-week project could trigger similar pop- up parks. They want people to reclaim their public spaces.

“They’re not a once-off,” Copeland says of vacant sites. “They’re always going to be in the city. We’d like to show how these vacant places, which don’t attract anything but rubbish, can be filled with more green, more arts, more people – just nicer things.

“We’re challenging the idea that they’re just for the use of developers and apartment blocks.”
Contribute to the fund at fundit. ie/project/upstart-granby-park

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