State must be linchpin for reimagining our city centres

The Liberties and Dublin 8 neighbourhood provide a blueprint for city of the future

Francis Street in Dublin 8. The 15-minute city is already a reality in Dublin 8. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Francis Street in Dublin 8. The 15-minute city is already a reality in Dublin 8. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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What links the recent Cop26 climate talks, the controversy around the proposed redevelopment of the Cobblestone pub, and the future of work? The connective tissue is cities, and how we can live, work, and thrive in them in the 21st century.

If we make the right decisions over the next decade, cities offer the potential for a sustainable, affordable, and climate-resilient future.

The Liberties, and the wider Dublin 8 neighbourhood, provide a blueprint for the city of the future. Densely populated, traditionally home to artisan businesses as well as larger employers such as Guinness, and where daily necessities can be accomplished by either walking or cycling from residents’ homes, the 15-minute city is already a reality in Dublin 8.

Following the recent Government decision that The Digital Hub campus will remain as a location for innovative companies, pending the redevelopment of the campus by the Land Development Agency, we now have an opportunity to reimagine what mission-driven public and private investment can achieve to transform our cities.

Municipal pride is to cities and their neighbourhoods what self-respect is to individuals – a necessary condition for self-improvement

At the heart of the concern about the rapid changes to Dublin that we have witnessed – for example in the debate around the Cobblestone – is a desire to retain what is unique about our urban neighbourhoods and the distinctive social and cultural identity that flows through our historic streets.

In my view, this concern is driven by a municipal pride that has too often been neglected in Ireland, as we have prioritised the rural over the urban as a store of identity. This same municipal pride now offers a framework for articulating a vision for the future of the Liberties and Dublin 8.

In place of nostalgia or modernisation for its own sake, I propose an inclusive vision. It is one where the State is the anchor for wider regeneration and change.

This doesn’t reject all the private investments – from student accommodation to hotels – that have taken place, but instead seeks to embed them more in the fabric of the place.

It seeks to integrate the people that have arrived in the city centre on the back of these changes – whether they be students, investors or employees – into the flourishing community that has always existed here. And it aims to ensure that all who are proud to make the area their home have a stake in its future.

Municipal pride is to cities and their neighbourhoods what self-respect is to individuals – a necessary condition for self-improvement.

The State must be the linchpin for the improvements we must make. Our partnership with the Land Development Agency is based on the collective strengths of our different organisations delivering a redevelopment of part of the Liberties that we want to be a model for urban regeneration: combining affordable housing, office space and cultural and social infrastructure.

This mixed-use, integrated, and sustainable vision stands in stark contrast to the prevailing approach to the redevelopment of much of urban Dublin, which is typically developer-led and focused on profit-making schemes that are either commercial or residential.

More broadly, the redevelopment now offers the opportunity to align with the many other State-led infrastructure changes taking place across the area. Over the next decade, the national children’s hospital will be established and may well comprise a new maternity hospital. The Guinness Quarter may be completed. CIÉ’s new Heuston Quarter will hopefully be well under way.

Further afield many new public and private housing projects, amenities and sporting facilities are planned. A long-term vision that fosters municipal pride should underpin all these initiatives.

It is a vision that must prioritise jobs and opportunities, sustainability, affordable housing, and active mobility. Realising this vision will require collaboration between the State, business, and the community. It will mean prioritising a long-term outlook over short-term profit. And it will mean taking seriously the needs of everyone who is lucky enough to call this unique neighbourhood home.

Fiach Mac Conghail is chief executive of The Digital Hub Development Agency

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