Future of people driving around country in private cars is ‘fantasy built on cheap oil’

Dublin city Architect calls for permanent allocation of open public space in Dublin

Dublin City Architect Ali Grehan has said the future of people driving around the country in private cars is a moribund "fantasy built on cheap oil".

Ms Grehan is advocating for the permanent allocation of open public space in the capital, following its increased temporary use to limit the spread of Covid-19.

She was one of a number of speakers at Thursday's Open House Dublin online "Big Debate – Dublin's Fair City", organised by the Irish Architecture Foundation, discussing the creation of city space in the context of the pandemic experience.

“We can do astonishing things when we have to,” Ms Grehan said, regarding the change in social behaviour and Dublin City Council’s Covid-19 mobility measures that aim to free up space for alternative mobility.


“Just at the very basic level, those temporary measures we do need to make them beautiful. We need to make them permanent. I think we absolutely need to give more street space to pedestrians, to people of all abilities,” she said.

“And enable people to move around sustainability and [give] less space to private cars. Private car use is a fantasy built on this idea that we can all move around on a whim...and travel around the country in our private cars is a fantasy that is built on cheap oil. And that is on the way out.”

Ms Grehan had said there was a question as to whether Dublin had become a fair city in the aftermath of the economic recovery.

“If we didn’t get it quite right after our last big calamity and Covid is now really testing us, I suppose the question is can we learn from the last few years and use Covid as an opportunity to get things right?”

She said public space was important to the city, something brought into “sharp relief” in recent months.

“I think the city will survive Covid because it has to survive Covid. Cities are part of the solution to our sustainability challenge.”


Andrée Dargan, County Architect at Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, said Covid-19 had coincided with the beginning of efforts to tackle climate change in cities, and noted the recent 3.6 kilometre coastal cycleway between Blackrock and Sandycove had been considered for a long time.

“It took the emergency that is Covid to bring it to reality,” she said – reimagined public spaces had also come about.

However, Sinéad Burke, director of the Tilting The Lens consultancy, and disability rights campaigner who advocates for accessible city design, cautioned that the idea of simply removing private cars had to be considered in a broader context.

“There has been brilliant suggestions made about pedestrianisation, taking private cars out. But what about if you can’t walk very far?” she said.

“Are we ensuring that our public service transport is accessible? Are we perhaps mobilising our buses to move to electric so that we can both decrease the emissions in our city but also ensure that different types of people can walk about and have agency?”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times