Risk-free Dublin losing its mojo
The only Edge we have is quarter of a corporate band spamming iTunes libraries
“A lot of a city’s contemporary culture stemmed from exciting club nights, of which there are hardly any now.”
In the realm of start-ups, the language is simile. It’s like Uber for clothes! It’s Instagram for holidays! It’s Hailo for houses! These will be the pitches of the thousands of delegates to anyone who will listen when they descend upon the Web Summit in November.
But if Dublin personified a corner of social media, it would be Pinterest, the online notice board where people share chi-chi images and inspirational quotes. The Republic’s capital is transforming into a twee, beige place, devoid of spontaneity and creative risk.
A lot of a city’s contemporary culture stemmed from exciting club nights, of which there are hardly any now. That’s where people gathered and exchanged ideas and found influences and a community. The architects of Ireland’s last wave of creative clubbing in the late 1990s and early 2000s are now in their 30s and 40s, and nothing comparable has taken their place. Sporadic after-hours clubs are shut down. People trying to occupy vacant spaces aren’t facilitated.
The population in their 20s has been gutted by more than a quarter. Between 2009 and 2013 the number of 20-somethings in Dublin declined by 26.3 per cent. It’s kids who bring creativity to a city, while those in their 30s and 40s concentrate on turning Dublin into one giant restaurant.
The mass export of people in their 20s has had devastating consequences for Dublin’s energy and creativity. As rents in the city centre continue to rise, young people are being pushed out of town. Gentrification is seen as a positive thing, when it’s an ugly articulation of those with more money squeezing out those with less.
Many of the cheerleaders of Dublin Nua are largely apolitical. Everything is amazing! The website LovinDublin says: “The team here believes that Dublin is up there with Berlin, Melbourne and New York as one of the greatest cities in the world,” a laughable try-hard comparison.
The gay scene, through which much creativity is filtered in cities, has perhaps been harder hit by emigration than others groups. I know plenty of young gay creative Dubliners doing interesting things. But in London and Toronto and Berlin. The framework simply doesn’t exist here. From the top down and the bottom up, edginess is being squeezed with more pressure than your new AeroPress exerts.
But still, people are trying to do things. There are pop-up this and thats and BYOB parties and spaces opening up. Although edginess and exuberance isn’t exclusively the remit of those under 30, you’re probably more likely to be footloose and fancy-free in your teenage years and 20s.
You are probably more likely to start a band, learn to DJ, get some friends together to start a club night, scribble some spoken word, go to art college, and stay up late. It’s hardly ageist to suggest the constraints of getting into an office in the morning, mortgages and demanding offspring stifle one’s ability to start something spontaneously.
Double bindTake out a chunk of that young population and you’re in a double bind in Dublin: fewer young people to start things, along with a rigid atmosphere that rarely bends when it comes to new ideas.
In Dublin, the answer to many creative endeavours, is very often “no”. I’d like to live in a city where you don’t face the prospect of criminal prosecution just because you want to bring people together for a night out in a studio space or warehouse that doesn’t involve crushing each other on Harcourt Street or loading up on drink promotions.
It also feels as though every cultural project must now also have a tourism angle. We do so little for ourselves and everything for visitors. Want to put on an event? Well, how many hotel rooms would that fill?
The many hardworking people trying to do creative things in the city should be applauded, if only because they’re up against it in a city that has swapped imagination for the smug comforts of suburban hipsterdom. In the aftermath of the flashy Celtic Tiger, much is still about consumption, only a less conspicuous kind.
Acquiring signifiers of “cool” has replaced acquiring signifiers of financial prowess. We have swapped the brash for the knowing. The only Edge we now have is one quarter of a corporate rock brand spamming iTunes libraries with an album full of songs yearning for an extinct Dublin.
Bono was right to seek inspiration in the energy of his teen years for Songs Of Innocence, because he certainly wouldn’t find it in 2014. Dublin is turning into a nice city. And there is nothing blander than nice.