Sandymount Strand, famed in song and story, holds a special place in the hearts of Dubliners. With the two Poolbeg stacks providing a backdrop, its broad expanse when the tide goes out is one of the city's most memorable images. Thus, the radical idea of "reclaiming" much of the strand for urban development (along with the Tolka Estuary) has raised hackles since it was floated this week by David Browne, president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.
According to Browne, infilling these areas of Dublin Bay would provide homes for up to 150,000 people in apartment blocks of four to eight storeys, with some taller landmark buildings as well as all of the facilities needed to cater for new urban communities, all in relatively close proximity to the city centre. Indeed, as he pointed out, a Garden City version of such a land reclamation scheme was put forward by master planner Patrick Abercrombie in his Dublin of the Future plan, drawn up in 1922.
What has changed since then is the climate. As the Government's latest National Risk Assessment underlines, rising sea levels as a result of climate breakdown pose increasing flood risks to coastal communities, such as Sandymount and Clontarf. The Dart commuter railway line is also at risk from storm surges and will need to be protected by an embankment that could carry the long-planned cycle route stretching from Sutton to Sandycove. Either way, many existing seafront homes will lose their maritime views.
There are two other major obstacles standing in the way of his bold idea: both Sandymount Strand and the Tolka Estuary are Special Protection Areas under the EU's birds directive and are also included in the Unesco Biosphere designation for Dublin Bay, mainly to protect migrating birds such as Brent geese. It seems highly unlikely that these measures can easily be set aside to permit large-scale urban development. Certainly, there should be a debate about how and where Dublin can accommodate an expanded population. But is Sandymount Strand the place to start?