Census revelations pose big questions for planners

Analysis: CSO’s latest findings suggest pressure is growing on a broken system

’Can or should the traditional Irish one-size-fits-all approach of building sprawling estates of three-bed semis survive?’ File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

’Can or should the traditional Irish one-size-fits-all approach of building sprawling estates of three-bed semis survive?’ File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

None of the facts laid out in the latest release from Census 2016 is hugely startling in itself. But, taken together, they confirm certain long-term demographic trends which the State will need urgently to take into consideration in its strategic planning.

This could be in the form of Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy’s revised action plan to address the housing crisis, or in the more long-term Ireland 2040 strategic framework currently being drafted for publication later this year.

The data also offers some hard facts on how the economic downturn and ensuing housing debacle have affected how and where we all live, whether as individuals or as families.

Most significant of these, if you take the longer view, is that the radical demographic shifts which took place over the last two decades appear to be slowing and stabilising.

Diverse landscape

Ireland has now moved from being a country of very large (by European standards) families to being one of (by the same standards) slightly larger-than-normal families.

In parallel with that transition, the nature of family formation has shifted from a single dominant “married with children” model to a much more diverse landscape that includes co-habiting couples (with or without children), same-sex relationships, single-parent families, people living alone and other arrangements.

With the rate of change now slowing – or, in the case of the average number of children per family, flattening out completely – we appear to have arrived at a new normal, encompassing a far greater number of smaller households, along with the added impending challenge of an ageing population.

Add in the market failure of the Irish residential construction industry, and the current housing crisis, and you immediately have a number of pressing questions.

Sprawling estates

Can or should the traditional Irish one-size-fits-all approach of building sprawling estates of three-bed semis survive? If people are living longer, should they be more actively encouraged to move from one kind of home to another as they move through different life stages? What is the ideal balance between renting and home ownership?

Some of the consequences of the current housing crisis can be discerned in this report: higher numbers of working adults still living in the parental home; a big increase in the number of families with children renting instead of buying.

It is possible that all those thirtysomethings are staying at home because they prefer the cooking, or that tens of thousands of families have made a free, informed decision to rent.

That seems improbable, given what we know about the current market realities. It’s much more likely that the numbers reveal the pressure and frustration building up within a broken system.

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