DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL HAS RECENTLY LAUNCHED AN INITIATIVE OF SORTS TO DRY RUN NEW IDEAS TO IMPROVE THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT.
STARTING FROM A SMALL AREA ON THE CITY’S NORTHSIDE. RABBLE DISPATCHED ANARCHAEOLOGIST TO THE NEWLY LANDSCAPED SMITHFIELD TO UNRAVEL THE BACKGROUND AND IMPLEMENTATION OF WHAT’S KNOWN AS THE DUBLIN BETA.
The first thing to be said about Dublin Beta is to say what it isn’t. It’s not an attempt to rebrand that area between Capel Street and Church Street, to turn it into an expanded playground for the city’s hipper twentysomethings. Really. That’s happening anyway.
Rather the Beta area (conveniently located opposite the Civic Offices) has been selected as a, cough, urban laboratory where new ideas can be discussed, tried out and perhaps implemented elsewhere, for the benefit of an area’s visitors and locals alike. Like many interesting schemes and scams in the past, it was born from a basic question, though one with a rather obvious answer.
While DCC is undeniably populated throughout its structure by talented and professionally dedicated individuals and working groups, the corporate level hasn’t excelled in what the business coaches of the boom might’ve called joined-up thinking.
Consider for example the inspired idea to commission DOCOMOMO Ireland (the Irish committee for documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the modern movement), to undertake a survey to ensure the protection of significant buildings in the city, only for the Corpo to grant permission to demolish Liberty Hall.
Look at the last great scheme for the Smithfield/Markets area of the city, the Historic Area Rejuvenation Project (HARP), a non-statutory version of an Integrated Area Plan, the planners’ version of heavy manners. HARP promised something different: historic buildings were being demolished throughout the neighbourhood without a whimper from an architectural community, still hung up on the sheer opulent grandeur of the Georgian.
HARP however was going to turn the area into an alternative cultural hub, one to balance out the pissed-up excesses of the last great cultural quarter, Temple Bar.
There was very little gain, cultural or otherwise, for the people who actually live there. The Lighthouse cinema thankfully is up and running again, after being closed down on foot of a 200% rent increase from the very developer who made a fortune in tax breaks ‘developing’ the area in the first place. The Complex is gone… for the time being.
In the meanwhile, DCC has demolished two early eighteenth-century buildings on Benburb Street which were damaged by fire over Paddy’s Weekend; they survive at ground floor level without any serious attempt made to consider their preservation or conservation.
It’s like this: you can’t stop the Luas and sure they were old and semi-derelict anyway. So, will Beta bring anything new to the area, or are we operating on a completely different metric of urban planning?
According to its creator, the Beta area itself is a Beta project, a trial area for a trial project, if you see what I mean. The main idea is to innovate and quickly test new ideas directly on the street, but, according to its blog, Beta is above all there to ask you for your opinion, whether that be via twitter or the comments section online.
It’s back to ‘the conversation’ really. Essentially Beta is a 5 point programme, where all 5 boxes require ticking prior to implementation. The individual ‘ideas’ need to respond to a need; there has to be a ‘payback’, either in financial terms or in terms of social goodwill or even as expressed in the carbon footprint; the projects must form part of a ‘strategic platform’, they must be inexpensive where a change or tweak mid-project will not result in the loss of a small fortune in start-up costs; there must be potential for further growth, the ideas must be ‘expandable’ and should be suitable to try out in other areas of the city; moreover the ideas must be sustainable, that nebulous concept that has supposedly underwritten all aspects of planning law since the publication of Sustainable Development: A Strategy for Ireland in 1997.
Cutting through the bullshit, the most important element of the scheme appears to be one of cost. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of money around these days and if DCC are to try out anything new, it had better be cheap and cheerful.
So, for the time being, artists are being encouraged to revamp traffic light boxes in the area (an idea borrowed from the Temple Bar Traders Association) while as of the first week in July, temporary bike stands are being provided on Capel Street. Other ideas which might get an airing include the reinvigoration of street corner signage and the redesign of street crossing points to reflect the fact that few of us cross over directly between the white lines. Basically, if you have an idea that might suit, get in touch through the blog or on twitter.
All this, in fairness, is harmless enough. A few more bike stands around the place will be useful and might possibly encourage a few punters to get the bike out of the shed and cycle into town. In a way, it doesn’t seem fair to expect anything more from the Corpo and at least the Beta project gives the public an opportunity to engage in the process in a less formal and possibly more time-efficient manner than dealing with the usual statutory guff those running the city are accustomed to hide behind.
Let’s see how it develops from here.