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Dublin Regeneration Debate, 2002

Debate held at Trinity College, Dublin, November 2002

Participants included:
John Fitzgerald – Dublin City Manager
Dermot Lacey – Lord Mayor of Dublin
Frank McDonald – Environment Correspondent, Irish Times
Jim Barrett – Dublin City Architect
Ian Ritchie – Architect, Designer of The Spire

The College Historical Society (commonly known as The Hist) was founded in Trinity College in 1770 and traces its creation to the historical society founded by the philosopher Edmund Burke in Dublin in 1747. The Hist is the oldest undergraduate student society in the world.

The Society has seen many figures in recent years with the Northern Ireland debate figuring prominently as one of the consistent highlights of each session. Prominent politicians such as David Ervine, Jeffrey Donaldson and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume have spoken at this debate. It is often typical for a Government Minister to address The Hist on a contentious topic. In 2005 the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell T.D. unveiled proposals for reform of the legal profession at a Hist debate on the matter. The Society continues to address issues with implications. In the 236th Session of the Society, over 500 people attempted to gain access to the Abortion Debate which was targeted by Youth Defence protesters and the Euthanasia Debate was recorded for an upcoming documentary on the pro-Euthanasia group Dignitas for the Canadian Discovery Channel. The Inaugural Meeting of the 236th Session was addressed by Dr. Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Chancellor of the University of Dublin. The Society has also been addressed by every Taoiseach and President of the State. Other notable guests include Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sir Winston Churchill and Senator Edward Kennedy.


Planning is not a dirty word, but it does operate in a messy world – in a democracy

But if done well it should bring happiness and beauty.

The setting is a city and the issues are complex. The city is the most complicated creation by man.

So what’s messy?

And that is just for starters.

Let us consider The Language of Planning and the Language of Regeneration for it is here that we start with so many myths, ambiguities and misunderstandings.

The Language of Planning

Before yesterday: Comprehensive redevelopment ­ The aesthetic clean sheet: La Défense
Yesterday: Planning for Real ­ Covent Garden
Today: Mixed-use development ­ a shop and something above!
Tomorrow: SDS, Spatial Development Strategy ­ Greater London Authority
After Tomorrow: Environmental Space Planning ­ the laws of physics rule ­ light, sound, and smell.

The Language of Regeneration

Let me try out some slick-speak, words from the world of the myth makers ­advertising agencies who seem to have a significant role in regeneration.

Dublin joins other great cities of the world which are transforming redundant port and industrial areas to create new centres of vigour, growth and economic activity

Dublin is a city on the move

Dynamic Dublin has developed a confidence about its future and experiments with new designs.”

Digital Harbour; Photon Port;

Planning is dead ­ we have a world of visions,
of design frameworks,
of development and investment opportunities,
of artists impressions.

And, let us consider the visual language.

We are in collage futures, where images of test tubes and fibre optic cables cohabit with wildlife and water; where nanotechniques and satellites align themselves with Georgian architecture and other indigenous images ­ like squares. This is the world of glossy brochures of borrowed images extended into new territories ­ like docklands.

This is vision without content, the appropriation of anything from technology to culture in the name of commerce presented as a scheme that:

“makes a positive contribution….is global landmark development…..is a waterfront signature building for Dublin….is a gateway to….Mythical worlds of commercial make-believe.”

We need a reality check.

Others are researching, debating, philosophising, criticising and commenting upon Dublin’s horses, in-migration, racialism, housing need and transport infrastructure. I am not sufficiently informed to participate at this level. However, I would like to raise the horizon a little to escape the mess.

Barriers are stopping regeneration from working (* primary source CABE)
I’ll be bold enough to say what some of them are and how to break them.

Consider Paris

In 1954 General de Gaulle asked his office to produce a philosophy for Paris. Fearing the worst, a few weeks later he asked that it be kept to one side of a piece of paper. A group that included an historian, an economist, a poet, a musician, a scientist and a few others agreed a text. De Gaulle read only the first sentence. “Paris risque de tomber dans l’Atlantique.” (“Paris risks falling into the Atlantic Ocean.”)

The group had anticipated the economic banana belt of Europe.
The results were tangible
First, not Paris itself but connecting Paris to Europe and beyond: Concorde, TGV, HV Electricity network.
Paris came later ­ – the east/west and north/south axes of the RER.
La Defense and Bercy, then Roissy,La Villette and Place d’Italie.
Then re-invent culture as a leisure industry – the economic driver for the city ­ starting with Centre Pompidou, then La Villette under Giscard d’Estaing, Mitterrand’s Louvre.

The power of a continuity – consecutive presidents ­ all driving culture
Paris, through president after president after president bought into reality an idea ­ and the mayors of Paris did not block it when they arrived.


What is Dublin and where is it going? Does it have a philosophy?
Can it have a philosophy? Do Dubliners think Dublin is a global city and if so in what ways?
Can Dublin see itself as part of the Green City that surrounds it?

Dublin has a proud history of vital public debate and a legacy of public space making.
Please do not sacrifice these at the altar of Market Forces.

The Market led approach leads to the quasi-privatisation of the planning and urban design process ­ i.e. they are sub-contracted to developers. This alienates people from the process and ultimately leads to privatised ghettos.

Re-invent public debate, re-invent public participation, re-invent public planning and reinvent public spaces and let these be the drivers for investment. If individuals and social groups can sense that there efforts are vital to Dublin’s regeneration – then real investment and commitment will be made by people and this city of Dublin will flourish ­ and uniquely and be more beautiful.

Establishing society’s shared values and the high value that society places upon planning reveals whether regeneration is working or not. Regenerating democratic cities requires an act of collective will.

At the moment I do not see the evidence of these very clearly.

In the first years, Thatcher set up the London Docklands Development Corporation.
Under Thatcher’s government of the early 80’s, the LDDC `removed’ hundreds of acres from the control of three London Boroughs ­ Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Newham ­ the LDDC remit was to produce economic, social and physical regeneration.
In the first years of the 21st century the Greater London Authority under Mayor Ken Livingstone is about to implement its Spatial Development Strategy. Its key objectives being to provide the framework within which economic, social and environmental regeneration can take place.
The difference this time is that it is intended that the transport infrastructure and transport tournequet (congestion charging) will be implemented ahead of development investments.

Please note that physical has become environmental.

© Ian Ritchie