Analysis: Two-thirds of towns with 10,000 people are in Leinster

We should endeavour to make suburbs less homogenous in age, class, family type, race and ethnicity terms

Views of Sallins, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Views of Sallins, Co Kildare. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

In a series of articles, The Irish Times explores five challenges facing rural Ireland – diversity and migrationpovertyrapid growthpost-recession recovery; and depopulation – and ways to overcome them.

CSO figures show that 62 per cent of the Irish population is now living in urban areas, and two-thirds of towns with a population of 10,000 or more are located in Leinster.

Regional planning guidelines provide a rather unwieldy definition of the Greater Dublin Area (GDA): “The geographical area of Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, South Dublin, Kildare, Meath, and Wicklow and incorporates the regions of both the Dublin Regional Authority and the Mid-East Regional Authority”.

While this definition is both geographical and administrative, it does not invoke a recognisable “place” to which people might feel some attachment or orientation. Nevertheless, the GDA looms large in the collective imagination because it is home to 1.9 million people representing 40 per cent of the population of the State.

Dublin Chamber notes that those employed in the GDA – widely perceived as the engine of the Irish economy – represent 42 per cent of all those employed in the state.

Suburbanisation has been well under way in Ireland since the middle of the last century, but has accelerated in tandem with the significant growth in population.

The Suburban Affiliations study published in 2010 (of which I am a co-author along with Jane Gray and Michel Peillon) demonstrated that these frequently maligned outposts are neither social wastelands nor valleys of squinting windows. Rather, they tend to be places sustained by loose but meaningful affiliations between residents, their neighbours, friends and extended families.

The texture of suburban life varies according to a number of factors including the nature and timing of the development of the suburb itself and the kinds of people who move there; the life course timing of the residential move; and the pre-existing patterns of social life in the suburbanising area.

Such factors affect the kind of local attachment residents feel and the local social networks that they create.

A recent example of active resident mobilisation is the formation of Imagine Dundrum, a broad-based community-led initiative to respond to the imminent re-development of Dundrum village, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council’s proposed Local Area Plan. The campaign is framed as an attempt to restore “the heart” to Dundrum.

Suburban communities develop over time, and a particular problem is posed for rural areas where suburbanisation happens very rapidly and where there is a deficit of appropriate infrastructure around which new communities can cohere.

The parish church and GAA clubs have played an important part in helping suburbs bed down in the past. But it is an open question as to whether both institutions can continue to play such a role in the future, given the rapidly changing nature of Irish social life.

Points of congregation and interaction in which people are co-present have been undermined to some degree by the migration of many to online platforms to fulfil their social needs.

Over recent decades, Irish suburbs have faced – and continue to face – significant challenges arising from the impact of austerity, the marketisation of the housing sector, rising rates of homelessness and the persistence of class (and more recently ethnic) segregation that is both social and spatial in character.

Social housing is not dispersed evenly across the city but rather is clustered in particular locations. There is also indicative evidence that new immigrant groups tend to be concentrated spatially within the GDA.

Analysis

Fintan O’Toole: ‘Rural Ireland’ has been romanticised up to its neck

David McWilliams: We need to move public servants out of Dublin

Challenges facing rural Ireland’s needs centralised decision-making

Two-thirds of towns with 10,000 people are in Leinster

Immigration is as much a rural phenomenon as an urban one

The stark problem for Irish towns is simple: they need people

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