How to build a better Dublin
Ireland needs a well-functioning capital city, but suburban sprawl, poor transport and weak administration are dragging Dublin down. A new series starting today examines ways to reinvent the capital
Dublin is the principal driver of the Irish economy, with such heavy hitters as Intel, IBM, Google and Facebook congregated in and around the city. The success of Ireland depends on Dublin’s success. Conversely, if Dublin fails, Ireland fails. That’s why it’s so important to put things right, even at this stage.
The importance of Dublin is underlined by the fact that more than half of the State’s 8,704 “active enterprises” in information and computing technology are concentrated in the capital, accounting for 46,365, or 63 per cent, of the 72,764 jobs it provides here. And that doesn’t include Cos Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, which are in the greater Dublin area.
As in Italy during the Renaissance, city regions are competing across national boundaries for inward investment and tourism. Given that Dublin is Ireland’s only large city region and the centre of public administration and cultural life, it ought to be able to take on cities of similar size, such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen.
Yet Dublin is not particularly well placed to capitalise on an economic recovery, whenever Ireland emerges from the recession. Compared with many other European capitals it scores poorly in several key areas, particularly traffic and transport; there is too much traffic and no effective or comprehensible public transport system.
If Dublin wants to be competitive, it must compete for the hearts and minds of Ireland’s citizens as well as those employed by the foreign investors it wishes to attract. Competition for inward investment is about more than finance, grants or 12.5 per cent corporate tax rates. People have to want to be here and to live here.
As a city to live in, Dublin has a lot going for it. Last November it was ranked 26th in the world by the Mercer Quality of Living survey of businesspeople. Vienna came out on top, followed by Zurich, Auckland, Munich, Düsseldorf and Vancouver.
Not so smart
But Dublin has shortcomings. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey, also published last November, ranked it 14th out of 33 European cities for shopping. Although it scored highly for affordable hotels, choice of shops and sales seasons, the city’s public transport “ranks low in terms of affordability and ties with Sofia for last place in terms of quality” – an embarrassing result.
Last year, to the surprise of many, Dublin was shortlisted for the title of World Design Capital for 2014, on the strength of an impressive bid. But the Montréal-based International Council of Societies of Industrial Design gave it instead to Cape Town, which will therefore have the chance to follow in the footsteps of Turin, Seoul and Helsinki.
Two years ago Dublin City Council announced a collaboration with IBM to make Dublin a Smarter City test bed. But apart from the belated introduction of integrated public-transport tickets, real-time passenger information at bus stops and the annual Innovation Dublin Week, there hasn’t been much sign of smartness on the ground.
Digital mapping and other technologies allow us to experience the city in new ways, whether that’s knowing traffic patterns, finding the nearest Dublinbikes station or discovering what restaurants are close by and whether tables are available. Free wifi was to be rolled out in city parks in September, but that’s as far as it goes.
And what of Dublin’s environmental sustainability? Given our excessive car dependency, as well as failures in waste management, water use, and air and noise pollution, it seems improbable that the city’s bid to become European Green Capital in 2015 will be successful. Stockholm won the title first, in 2010, followed by Hamburg in 2011, Vittoria, Nantes and, for 2014, Copenhagen.