I was recently in my local bike shop getting another new tyre for yet another puncture. The smashed glass that decorates Dublin’s bike lanes had struck again. A woman in the shop shared my pain, saying she had taken to cycling only after it rains, so she could at least be assured that most of the glass that glistens on the streets – particularly on weekend mornings – had washed away. It’s tricky enough cycling in Dublin city, but the obstacle adds to already nervy journeys and necessitates one eye on the ground to avoid the shards and another eye everywhere else, dodging illegally parked cars, treacherously close buses, magically disappearing bike lanes and pedestrians glued to their phones absent-mindedly stepping into one’s path.
In Dublin city, when it comes to keeping the streets clean, rain is everyone’s friend. The rain is a service that assists with washing the streets – gratis – momentarily drenching the membrane of filth that loves sticking to modern paving. You know the paving I’m talking about. It’s a sort of fake paving-esque effort, something that goes down clean while screaming: check me out in a week when I will be absolutely filthy. And so it is. I’m not sure whose bright idea it is to populate the city with surfaces that suck dirt and stains towards them, but here we are.
Nobody expects a city centre to be pristine; it is a populated and lived-in place after all. But I think it not being utterly gross to walk around should be at least an ambition
Back in 2011, Aramark was hired by the Dublin City Business Improvement District to power-wash the streets. Now branded as Dublin Town, the organisation’s Clean Team was out washing the streets of College Green earlier this month. Power-washing streets is hardly an innovation, but it’s clear Dublin city needs a lot more of it. This is not a new conversation. Around this time last summer, the then Lord Mayor, Alison Gilliland, committed to ramping up night-time power-washing on city centre streets. “We are lacking in this area,” she admitted, “and we have to take immediate action because it’s not doing the reputation of the city any good.” Indeed.
It hasn’t rained much recently, so the streets are filthier than normal. I’m not talking about your standard litter here. I’m talking about grime. As the grime piles up, layer by layer – the urine, the bird poo, the chewing gum, the cigarette butts, the filth from people’s shoes and whatever other miscellaneous gunk graffitis the pavements – Dublin City Council blames its enemy. That enemy is a season, and it is called summer. “Waste Management Services are aware that as we enter into the summer months, visitor and tourist numbers are increasing, which adds extra pressure and challenges to the delivery of the waste management service,” the council said in a recent statement. “Steps have been taken to allocate extra resources to areas of high footfall in the city centre commercial district, to combat and manage the extra litter that is been generated during this time. Further, we are continually monitoring the effectiveness of our service, and should we need to assign extra resources to target a specific area, we will do so, in order to maintain a clean and litter-free city.”
So the council knows the place is dirty, and steps have been taken, and those steps will be monitored. But if this action is really sufficient, if the issue is genuinely being tackled, then why is the city centre so dirty? The council’s intention is to “maintain a clean and litter-free city”. But Dublin city centre is not clean, and is certainly not litter-free. The current approach is failing. Whatever needs to happen, which I would imagine is mostly down to resources, needs to be provided to the council to address the reality that our capital is dirty. Nobody expects a city centre to be pristine; it is a populated and lived-in place after all. But I think it not being utterly gross to walk around should be at least an ambition.
As usual, the very basic aspirations of people who live, work, visit and socialise in Dublin city centre are not being met with the resources needed to realise them
Dublin city centre has never recovered from the pandemic. During those years, the city was in free fall. I wonder if that version became a new baseline? It has been heartening to see a small increase in public seating around the city centre. But cleanliness? Forget about it.
If you like your shoes sticking to the path, the smell of urine filling your nostrils, and your stroll filthy underfoot, then Dublin provides for that.
As for litter, bins full to the brim and rubbish-strewn streets are the norm. There is now a broad acceptance that Dublin is a dirty old town once again. There are about 3,000 bins in Dublin City Council’s entire administrative area, which is 2,000 fewer than in 2008. Bins were removed in large batches over time, often for being “underused” (I’d imagine “over-collected” was probably the actual issue). The overall effect is an environment that’s downtrodden and unpleasant. The only reason things aren’t worse is because in residential parts of the city the people living there do the street cleaning.
As usual, the very basic aspirations of people who live, work, visit and socialise in Dublin city centre are not being met with the resources needed to realise them. Why does the fundamental right not to live among dirt and grime appear so out of reach? Why can’t things be nicer? Why, given the state of the place, is a massive shake-up in how the city is cleaned not being activated? I suppose we’ll just have to wait for a proper downpour.