Green Spaces in Dublin’s City Centre
We have some wonderful city centre parks in Dublin. St Stephens Green, St Patricks Park, The Iveagh Gardens, Merrion Square, Mountjoy Square and a few other hidden green gems. We are fortunate beyond belief to have the vast expanse that is the Phoenix Park allowing nature to wander right up to the Liffey quays. These places of green beauty are a credit to the forward thinking minds that conceived them as protected pockets of urban breathing space, but also to the many knowledgeable men and women who tend and work directly and lovingly in preserving and maintaining such enjoyable public spaces.
However, when it comes to having local parks and green areas in which to enjoy, there are highly populated entire communities in Dublin’s city centre which are poorly served and have been desperately ignored by the local authorities – arguably for centuries. Parks or ‘green lungs’ in a city are not a luxury, they are a holistic necessity for a healthy population. It could be said that areas such as Dublin 8 lost out over the centuries in the ‘municipal park lottery’ for a combination of historical, industrial or indeed socio-economic reasons. Whatever the reasons, we are where we are, and swathes of Dublin lack the necessary reviving green of grass and rustle of trees, where local kids can play outdoors (unplugged) and off the streets.
Dublin, has it’s commuters, pressured executives, traffic pollution, delivery drivers, busy people distracted by the incessant frivolous chattering and demands from social media, in-your-face billboard, bus or bus stop advertising, or the frenzy of pale and drawn multi-tasking parents dropping off and collecting – yeah it’s all go in any town or city. These days however, due to our over usage and dependence on communication technology, we can often feel every bit as distracted and sapped of energy in the countryside. And yet, it all amounts to people who are just doing the best they can to complete their daily tasks and get safely to the end of their day. But it can sometimes feel like an empty, tiring and imprisoning day, that leaves little time or energy for real and meaningful living.
But are things changing?
The announcement of recently proposed parks at Bridgefoot Street and Cork Street are to be welcomed and the Granby ‘pop-up-park’ at Dorset Street raised our awareness of what is possible when imagination is fused with creative thought and energy. The construction of a geodesic dome incorporating a hydroponic garden on Reuben Street in ‘Flanagan’s Field’ is particularly inspirational and a mini-green belt or ‘linear effort’ on North King Street (near the Bolton Street end) is a welcome addition to what was a previously a poor vista for residents or any passers-by.
The melding of art and compost at the community garden in the National College for Art and Design on their Thomas Street campus, is producing not alone amazing organic food, but encouraging traditionally separated elements within the diverse local community to get to know each other. Every Tuesday morning I don my ‘urban farming boots’ and weed, chat, grow food and create a space and community with people I would never ordinarily get to socialise with over cups of strong hot tea.
Any parcel of nature in a city helps people to mingle as a community, improve their health and fosters resilience amongst the local inhabitants. We as citizens, have a responsibility to help imagine and insist how our parks and corners of urban nature could be improved and protected. As land and property prices are rising again, I fear that speculative landowners in the city centre will hold on to their vacant crumbling lots in the hope of a financial killing and sadly for another generation the men, women and children who live and work in the inner city, will gaze out on and walk by the miserable unkempt hoardings identifying unused land and ruinous buildings.
Imagine increasing the number of trees in Dublin’s city centre by ten or twenty thousand! Too ambitious? The city of Chicago in America has increased the number of trees in its city by well over three hundred thousand since 1989 – an amazing gargantuan greening feat. It’s great to see that Dublin City Council encourages and supports the greening of otherwise irregular and unattractive sites and the small but effective linear plantation along North King Street is particularly worthy of note and praise to all concerned.
It is possible to find nature in Dublin’s inner city where locals and visitors can have relaxing strolls whilst enjoying the birds singing in the trees, indigenous plants and wildflowers growing, sustaining an inner city butterfly and bee population. Nature is all around us – but I admit, it can be a challenge to experience and enjoy the leafy refreshing greenness of a tree or the swaying rustle of tall grass amongst all the noise, the concrete and brick. Illegal dumping and vandalism detracts further from our desire to experience the healing effects of nature. Due to the heartbreaking Homeless crises in the city, parks may often provide a home to many and I do not believe that this should be the function of a city park. It is our responsibility as a society to take better care of those that need our support.
The optimist in me (albeit the sometimes deluded and highly ideological optimist), holds out for the day when city officials and inner city landowners meet together and create hundreds of ‘mini parks’ all over town. Vacant sites which will provide sanctuary for a couple of Irish Oak trees, some indigenous shrubs and plants and perhaps a bench to sit on. Each community gets involved in the planning, sowing and managing of their mini park. I had the great luck, whilst out for a walk to happen upon the inauguration of such a park recently at the junction of Arran Street and Mary’s Abbey, where an inspiring attempt to encourage nature to flourish in a disused vacant site, has resulted in a community garden which allows passengers on the red line Luas to rest their eyes on an attractive pocket of inner city green. The people involved in such ecological attempts are the citizens of Dublin whose actions impress me most. People, who with little connection or resources prove that local creative thought in communities can achieve great things.
Undeterred by the confines of time or space the successful annual Park(ing) Day Dublin results in “elevating and celebrating public space” by creating ‘parklets’ on city centre parking spaces. However, if ‘parklets’ or ‘mini parks’ sound a bit ‘too mini’ to you – remember the old adage about lighting a candle rather than cursing darkness. Nature, even the double-deck bus battered, traffic and pollution weary tree outside my window, can encourage quite compassionate mindfulness and healing of the self.
There are a number of vacant sites in my neighbourhood – some have been vacant for decades. Although I fully accept that land and property owners have the right within the law to develop their property, do we really need more tanning salons, phone shops or nail bars? When I think of the word ‘develop’ I wonder could we as neighbours in dear old Dublin town begin to ‘develop’ mini parks.
Picture it, in a few short years we could pride ourselves on our unique and intriguing lush reviving local pockets of inner city nature.