The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby johnglas » Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:40 pm

It's impossible to illustrate here, but I'm simply not convinced by the argument about 'out of town' centres (almost an oxymoron); in this area, there was a major oot development at Renfrew (the Braehead centre - it may have a website) - paradoxically near an historic but declining town, Renfrew, but not in the area's main shopping centre, Paisley (I know). The local council opposed it but the government (Tory) granted permission. In the 10 years or so since it opened, there has been a second phase focused on 'leisure' (with the council now wetting itself to get the additional revenue), and the centre of Paisley has gone into near-terminal decline in spite of much civic improvement.
OK, it's a complex phenomenon and the seeds of Paisley's decline preceded Braehead, but the strong impression now given is (a) that developers dictate planning policy, (b) that civic improvement will not 'attract' shopping or other uses in isolation and (c) that without a large shopping input town centres largely have no 'function'. Is this progress?
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby KerryBog2 » Thu Jun 25, 2009 9:44 pm

johnglas wrote:....... but there is a real issue about both how to treat 'redundant' spaces (e.g. market places or wide main streets) and where to locate both large supermarkets and adequate carparking. Good street furniture (which does not have to be elaborate or trendy), designated parking (non-dominant), supermarkets with real street frontage (i.e. not fronted by parking), an anti-dereliction policy and the concentration of essential services in town and village centres are some of the ingredients. And get rid of the wires and tone down the colour schemes; it's not rocket science, nor expensive. Every settlemnt of any size shopuld have an agreed design guideline to which people can readily buy in.


Agreed. I suggest we should use this recession as an opportunity to introduce some positive aspects into current planning weaknesses. Now that the tent is gone and the builders broke, changes should have a better chance of success. :)

We need a holistic approach that is flexible. The requirements of a tourist town (e.g. one visited daily by dozens of coaches) are quite different to those for a town with little tourist interest or one that is centred on industry. For example, use of a by-pass road, with adjoining car parks and where necessary a shuttle bus service in high summer. Locals could have vehicle access permits. That would provide locals limited parking, encourage local business and allow for decent street landscaping. (Similar restrictions in place in France/Italy/US resorts come to mind.)

Not so sure about design guidelines, they could cramp progress, but agree on use of colour. You forgot to mention a ban on plastic Georgian windows.

Re your point on open spaces - Sneem, a village rather than a town, has a figure 8 layout, the middle joined by a bridge. The open spaces have been converted to greens and various pieces of artwork have been installed. The late Michael Scott was instrumental in implementing c.1970 a colour plan for the houses around the squares – not sure that i agree with some of his choices, tho’.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby garethace » Thu Jun 25, 2009 10:24 pm

jimg wrote:For a somewhat silly example, I've often asked aquaintances with a professional or amateur interest in this subject why New Urbanism seems to be constantly criticised and have rarely gotten a straight answer - usually there'll be some snorting reference to Prince Charles.

What I've never heard is a answer along the lines of "such and such a peer-reviewed study has shown that people are much happier, healthier, etc. living in La Corbusier inspired towers surrounded by motorways and open green fields than in twee pastiche planned towns" (surprisingly); yet La Corbusier is still held up as a genius while New Urbanism is generally scoffed at.


That is what is so clever I think about Paul Keogh's essay linked at the start of the thread. I finished reading it yesterday and I could see that Paul has gone off and done his homework in reading about Urban Land Economics. Land Economics is a subject with relevance to valueers and to quantity surveyors. To planners and politicians too obviously. But architects rarely study it in their lifes beyond a few hours lectures they manage attend while in college.

The great thing about urban land economics as a subject, is that it isn't like architecture, it has a long tradition of academic publication and peer review. I read a paper a few months ago published in one of the American urban planning journals (very good stuff in those) about MacMansions. The paper said it was the first real proper academic study done of the 'huge house' phenomenon. I guess, what it is, is what you saw on MTV cribs. The kinds of houses owned by pop idols, with six car garage etc.

Paul Keogh's essay about sustainable development in Ireland is of value because it is written in a language that is understandable to a wide group of people outside of architecture itself. Paul is actually quite unique in doing this - not many of the architects who receive the awards for their glass/timber boxes can speak common english at all. It reminds me of that program on TV, Top Gear, where the give the new cars to their tame racing driver, the Stig-meister. He doesn't say anything at all. Architects are similar from the point of view of the mass academic audience. Brilliant, but inarticulate. Not ideal Wogan material, if you know what I mean.

A by-pass in a small town is effectively another street, you can walk between the two, and you can design the new one to take the traffic that the old one was never designed to handle. I don't know if I'd equate that with the 'Out of Town' concept.


This is my point about Caherciveen, and another four thousand odd Irish towns like it. We have spent absolute fortunes under Tom Parlon's guidance building asphalt from one end of the country to the other. But we seem unable to do something good for the urban design of Irish towns, by relieving the pressure of their main streets, by providing another service road suitable for vehicles.

Swords village is another one of those places that springs to my mind, in this way. Treble parking in the main Street. We managed to spend a fortune on the iconic Swords civic offices, but the pedestrian life in Swords is awful. There was some attempt made to create a kind of pedestrian retail street at swords. I think it leads to the rear out to a field or a car park or something pretty grim.

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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby garethace » Thu Jun 25, 2009 10:36 pm

johnglas wrote:OK, it's a complex phenomenon and the seeds of Paisley's decline preceded Braehead, but the strong impression now given is (a) that developers dictate planning policy, (b) that civic improvement will not 'attract' shopping or other uses in isolation and (c) that without a large shopping input town centres largely have no 'function'. Is this progress?


I think the only hope for towns is to morph into some kind of knowledge economy hub or something. Where modern workspace units, restaurants, meeting and conference space, open public space and transport can co-exist. Maybe the Irish town can develop a critical mass in some way, that allows people to work in closer proximity to one another.

I think what was attempted in Thomas Street in Dublin for the digital hub, would have ideal application if transported into the Irish town as a concept. Rather than Irish towns being tattered things, falling to bits and jealously guarded and watched by the few local auctioneers . . . maybe there could be some comprehensive vision for them?

At the moment, a lot of people working in Irish towns possibly work at the edge of town in some fire-safe modern tin shed, like in an industrial estate or something. But of course, calling them industrial estates is a bit of a stretch. They are basically utilitarian looking office parks these days, or distribution hubs. Most of the works on these edge-of-town estates or office parks, tear all the ways into town at lunchtime in their cars to eat in the pubs and restaurants anyhow.

So why not save a journey and design towns so that people can work in the centre of Irish towns to begin with? We could do a lot with underground or multi-storey parking if the vision was right. The fact that Irish towns are trying to cling on to some retail foot hold is holding them back in my view. They would be far better off giving up the attempt to compete with modern big box retail and look at re-inventing themselves as vibrant knowledge communities.

(There, I have used one of Sean O'Laoire's old buzz words, despite my best efforts)

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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby garethace » Thu Jun 25, 2009 11:00 pm

KerryBog2 wrote:Agreed. I suggest we should use this recession as an opportunity to introduce some positive aspects into current planning weaknesses. Now that the tent is gone and the builders broke, changes should have a better chance of success.


The implication in that statement is that we can all be relieved and happy that the builders are gone away. To try and address that commonly held mis-perception in Ireland, I started a new thread here:

http://www.archiseek.com/content/showthread.php?t=7672

In which I try to argue, that all we are doing in Ireland now is taking part in the same kind of process that has happened so many times before. If you read the other thread, you will understand my concern. I find the attitude contained in Kerry Bog's quote, representative of a large feeling out there amongst the public in Ireland. But from an overall systemic stability point of view, I would feel much more assured if some of the 'builders' were still operating. The chances are they would grow old, and improve somewhat in their ways. Improve somewhat in their sophistication. I honestly believe that was happening at the end of the boom.

But we will never know now, because they were wiped out. The next time, an even worse crop will grow up . . . assisted and encouraged by the Irish banks no doubt . . . and become worse than the old crop ever was. We see this kind of cycle happening in the crime world a lot. The police have learned that it is better not to wipe out the existing gangs if possible. The weeds grow up even stronger if you do. I am afraid we are stuck in a cycle in Ireland, where the weeds are wiped out and the new ones keep on getting much worse.

That is why I went to work for Irish property developers and enjoyed my work. I felt I could do more good standing inside the tent pissing out, than I could outside the tent pissing in. (Which is where the civil servant planners and city councils take up position) I began to learn this way of thinking, when I started to read books such as Peter M. Senge's The Fifth Discipline, which is all about the field of System Dynamics. System Dynamics was developed by someone called Jay W. Forrester, who knew a great deal and wrote about how cities work.

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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby johnglas » Thu Jun 25, 2009 11:49 pm

The fact that Irish towns are trying to cling on to some retail foot hold is holding them back in my view.


I think this is an absolutely critical point in that shopping is not the only benchmark or critical element in the definition of 'town'. Towns exhibit a range of functions (and this has been used to 'classify' them, although I'm not quite sure what the point of that is outside of the academy), but it is extremely difficult to plan for these, or to restrict development on the basis that a town does not come into a particular category. (Although the one area where this is necessary is shopping; retail has no civic conscience and one developer will happily destroy the viability of another's development in another town in the interest of short-term profit.)
The development of towns is organic; even so-called commuter towns have arisen in response to a perceived need, or policy, or pressure (e.g. high house prices, shortage of sites). We are currently seeing many of these towns in their raw state; some will thrive and develop, some will languish. What is needed is a policy of guidance and management, not coercion, and a strong sense of civic engagement. Nobody will get it 'right', but we all need to try.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby garethace » Fri Jun 26, 2009 11:57 am

? ? ? Architecture and Show Bands ? ? ?

What do we hope to do I wonder? Provide a travelling workshop/lecture series about towns, to go around the country of Ireland? Where town dwellers and business people (including publicans, store merchants, etc) can go and view an exhibition, about other successful projects? Maybe there is a bottom-up kind of awareness building that should be done. I think if such an exhibition or road-show was to be organised, it is essential it is not a load of exhibition boards folded up, travelling around in a lorry with no human companionship. It is crucial that real professional architects, planners and possibly even developers are on the tour, and give people some human interaction with ideas of urbanism.

The exhibition or road show, should be small and neat enough to travel right into the smaller towns and villages, such as Caherciveen, Listowel, NewCastle West and so on. You might only target a few towns in one summer. But that would be an improvement on nothing. You could target some more towns the following year. The whole thing could be funded in a self-sustaining manner I am sure. By selling 'tickets' to the local hob-nobs for an opening night - an intellectuals night with featured speakers. It could incorporate a brainstorming session and possibly, the publication of feedback from the various towns in some central place such as a website. We have enough agencies and civic bodies to make something like this happen over the summer months. It would get the 'design' message out amongst ordinary punters in a way that TV programs couldn't do.

It occurs to me that What Now? out at UCD Architecture School is a very fine idea. But it caters a bit too much for the artistic impulse to lock one's self away with one's buddies in some sheebeen, talking intellectual nonsense. When they really aught to balance that impulse for intellectual self-searching, with a much wider, interactive action . . . something like the simple road tour that I suggest. I mean, if we are going to provide funding for anything, wouldn't this be a good place to put it? It would probably pay for itself in the long run, by architects getting some work, owing to increased public enthusiasm for design. A bunch of students and tutors locking themselves away in UCD, is not going to achieve the needed end result. Even what we are doing here on Archiseek, is a little bit too private and self-aware. The message has to be taken to the people.

I keep getting back to the point, that not many people in their life times will have oppotunity to even meet, never mind hire the services of an architect.* Most people are familiar with priests, solicitors, doctors, auctioneers and so forth. But architects are something out there, that the general populus doesn't understand about. I mean, every other business manages to organise promotional stunts - why not architecture? Or is the stiff upper lip professional thing too much of a problem? A lot of the time too, these travelling exhitions are high-brow academic things, aimed at other academics and usually sponsored by the Arts Council. I think Paul Keogh in his essay mentioned the tidy towns scheme. The great thing about the tidy towns, is that it involved so many people. But it didn't achieve the goal, of giving the general public access to so good workshops or lectures on the subject of design.


Brian O' Hanlon

* Part of the gimmick could be to raffle off the services of an architect in every town visited. This might be self-sustaining in some way too, if one could sell enough tickets. Plus, that person who received the services of an architect, would be an excellent form of viral marketing at a local level. He or she would tell everybody at local level, how wonderful an experience it was to have an architect. I wish the RIAI would provide scholarships for architects to attend the Smurfit School of Business or do marketing studies . . . this is the kind of area of 'business ideas' that architecture needs to advance in. It is time to use that lateral thinking.

I guess what I am thinking about, is something similar to what Tim Robbins did for Archaeology, with the Time Team concept. Top Gear does it to a degree also for automobile travel.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby jimg » Tue Jun 30, 2009 3:54 pm

johnglas, I'm not sure whether you are deliberately misrepresenting my argument. Your "counter-example" has little or nothing to do with what I've described that I've observed first hand in France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. I've already spent too much time expanding on it in the other thread to try to reiterate it here. Coincidentally, the delay in responding on this thread is due to the fact that I was away on holiday to Aveyron in France - an area I've visited most years for the last 5 or 6. Practically every village, town and city has some degree of warehouse type retail (typically supermarkets, home supplies/DIY, fuel, sporting goods, etc.) on the outskirts. Nearly all have bustling, attractive, successful retail and leisure cores which have a real urban feel or a real community feel (depending on the size of the town).

In contrast, I've witnessed first hand the decline of the small Irish town and village over my lifetime (I am under 40). For example, I spent many of my childhood summers on my grandparents' farm which touched a small village in county Kerry. The population of the village is now perhaps three times what it was then but yet the last vestiges of communal urbanity (the post-office, the two shops and the pub) are all closed. There's an expensive restaurant mostly patronized by people from the nearest big town (which coincidentally has also seen commercial decline despite the excited announcement of a new Dunnes, Tescos or whatever which occurs every couple of years - each of which promises "rejuvinate" the town but each of which seemed to have had the opposite affect on the areas of town where they are sited) so there is zero social or community interaction except for GAA. The church is barely attended either. This decline corresponds with increasing powers of planning authorities in Ireland.

Like I said I've a scientific background, so empiricism is the driver for me not deductive reasoning or critical theory. However, I hardly think such an academic background is necessary; the simple exercise of observing the world, without prejudice, is enough to dismiss this particular aspect of Irish/UK planning orthodoxy. Out of town warehouse retail happily co-exists with the sort of villages and towns that I think we all admire if you are prepared to open your eyes to continental Europe.

I'd go as far as saying that listening to Irish, UK or American planners discuss how to preserve our villages, towns and cities and promote urbanism makes about as much sense to me as listing to Josef Fritzl discuss how to promote child welfare. I realise I've probably made enemies of half the members here with that comment but that's what I've observed.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby johnglas » Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:27 pm

jimg: You need to take my word for it that I was not misrepresenting anything, but mere 'empiricism' will not fit the bill. If, on the one hand, you have flourishing town centres and an oot supermarket, while on the other hand you have an oot centre and a dead historic centre, you are clearly talking about two quite different animals. If oot centres are not the cause of decline, then perhaps it is not planning policies either; there may be far deeper structural reasons in the UK and Ireland. Numbers are not facts, and perhaps you do need a more philosophical/sociological analysis.
I very much want lively centres (and I think local shopping is a big component of that), but maybe we need to take Brian's point about a fundamental rethink of the range of functions and uses we look for in a town. I have noticed in my continental travels that many towns have small (c.3-5000 sq.ft?) 'supermarkets' in the centre, as well as the range of expected local shops. I have also noticed in the US the pre-dominance of oot centers (sic), randomly located (often with the most bizarre range of products), alongside not merely dead, but semi-derelict, traditional centres. So, I'm afraid the empirics tell us relatively little and we do need a qualitiative ananlysis.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby jimg » Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:08 pm

john, your logic is flawed. You can either argue that the evidence (of towns in Italy, France, Germany and Switzerland) is false or accept that OOT development simply is not a factor when it comes to the decline of towns, villages and cities.

The few planners (in Ireland) who I've discussed this with are still insistent that OOT development is one of the greatest threats to the traditional village or town core. You have also expressed on numerous occasions similar (if not quite as extreme) opinions.

This is simply false if you are prepared to open your eyes to the evidence provided by the wider world.

It also distracts planners from what they should be doing. In a neighbouring French village to the one I visit they''ve reduced the speed limit to 30km/hour, widened the footpaths, installed zebra crossings every 10 metres, planted carefully and installed attractive street furniture, etc. This is a simple idea - ensure an attractive environment for pedestrians and your villages and towns will prosper - but one which is well supported by the evidence.

In Ireland, instead of considering what it is that makes villages and towns attractive to pedestrians and planning appropriately, it's seen as a "planning win" to get large supermarkets to locate in the centres of towns and the result has almost invariably miserable with one or two exceptions.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby GrahamH » Tue Jul 14, 2009 12:04 am

Lots of good arguments spinning about here. On the out of town vs in-town retail issue, both of the above arguments have some validity. I think johnglas does have a point though jimg that Irish and UK towns – especially Irish – are inherently different to their continental equivalents. This is for the very simple reason that nobody lives in them.

Relatively speaking, Irish town centres have a much smaller population than urban-living focused towns and villages of France or Germany or wherever. Similarly, many of these settlements have clearly defined boundaries where you can observe where you enter and observe where you leave, i.e. there is little or no sprawl. Therefore, the resident population that traditional indigenous retail and services cater for is relatively densely located within a distinct core. This is ‘The Destination’. There is, by design, no other option. The critical mass exists to sustain these businesses.

In Ireland there are two factors which mitigate against this logical arrangement. The first is self-explanatory: the immediate local population often isn’t there – living above shops, in townhouses, in side streets, in small enclaves of dense backland housing – to sustain this type of local life and commerce. Secondly, where the almost-there-but-not-quite ‘local’ population does exist in sprawling estates on the edge of towns and villages, it is often just as easy, or at worst vaguely more challenging, to visit an out-of-town supermarket for a much broader range of products. Either way, you’re hopping in your car for a retail experience of some description. Sadly, therefore, Irish towns’ main streets are increasingly catering for the lowest common denominator compromise of budget or reduced-down versions of what you can get on a larger scale elsewhere. Nobody wins.

Nonetheless, I broadly support jimg’s argument that supermarket trips are inherently car-based, and that locating supermarkets in town centres is generally not the way to go unless the topography/access may be unique enough to permit it. Across the board in Ireland, you see the scenario as painted earlier unfold, where reams of snail-paced traffic creeps its way through main and side streets trying to get into the local supermarket-cum-shopping centre. I think any of us born inside the past 30 years have tortuous memories of sitting in the back seat on a murky winter’s evening in a sea of drizzle, as mammy inches the car along to the local supermarket tucked in on the shoddy backland plots of a main street so characteristic of Irish towns. Usually there’s a miserable trickle of an ill-tended river, canal or abandoned railway embankment in addition to the grim rendered back arses of classical buildings for that much-needed injection of scenic quality. Nonetheless, if a town is lucky enough to have a by-pass or efficient route running parallel to a main street or equivalent, I think a case can be made for an in-town supermarket, provided it is thoroughly integrated with and complementary to the existing urban form, and that the facility is restricted solely to that of supermarket. Often the threat of the in-town supermarket stems from the ancillary hanger-on retail units which come with it, forming all but a competing centre to the existing heart.

Above all else however, as long as high density, attractive residential in town and village centres is not enforced to the exclusion of all future fringe development, then I do not see a sustainable future for many Irish towns. This is the critical problem: an insufficient local population to generate life, community and business, and a fleeting blood-sucking fringe population that both generates the worst kind of airport-style retail and services in town centres while in the process destroying any chance of creating an attractive liveable urban environment through their car dependant culture, their supermarket dependant culture, and their fundamental lack of connection to and ownership of place.

I have just spent the day travelling through the midlands to assess a number of development proposals. Aside from reeling from the entire experience and the indescribable desecration of so many Irish towns, one of the schemes typified for me what is the cause of so much of this carnage - namely planners. One case involves a tiny one-street village or sráidbaile, where every single retail unit (about five or so) has shut down over the past number of years. This in spite of an explosion in population in surrounding housing estates, and party because one land owner bought up a number of units to effectively ‘shut down’ the village so an out-of-village (now there’s a new term for ya) scheme could be developed on the fringe for his benefit. In competition, another developer now wants to punch a hole in the main street (an ACA) to provide an access road to the rear of the plot, which can only be described as being of medieval burgage proportions, miniaturised, to create a cluster of retail units, with no street frontage, on a tiny constrained site, where all open space is to be comprised of car parking. I won’t even describe the residential element for fear of identifying the case, but needless to say it is truly the icing on the cake. The scheme is so barmy it defies belief. It of course has full support of the local authority. It does not have the support of ABP. Therefore ABP = the baddies up in Dublin and "the whole system needs reform". This type of mind-numbing stuff happens in nearly every town and village in the country, As far as I’m concerned, Irish town council planning authorities – if not always individual planners – are their own worst enemies. They haven’t a notion of the value of what they have, let alone how to deal with it, and not an iota of the concept of urbanism.

Truly, so very sadly, I saw nothing whatever of recent character – planning or architecture related – that even remotely inspired me in any Irish town or village today. And I’m the type to take pleasure out of a decent traffic signal, fascia lettering or downpipe. But all you encounter over and over and over again is a sea of mock traditional crap, with mauled historic buildings floating amongst the heaving morass of plastic, hanging baskets and parked cars. While all around, middle Ireland escapes to their fringe estates. Frankly I don’t blame them. Especially when Sarah Beeny is in the living room showing you somewhere ever so much nicer.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby jimg » Wed Jul 15, 2009 7:58 pm

You paint a depressing picture Graham and it's hard to argue against it. However, I always hate to surrender to my natural gloominess and pessimism so I will try.

There is a topological problem with many Irish villages (and towns to a lesser extent). Most small Irish villages seem to have sprung up along the sides of roads (the original ribbon development, I guess) and so are very long and narrow. Most of the villages I like have a more clustered shape. Even on the continent I've noticed this; the "ribbon" villages are rarely as vibrant as the ones which are more efficient in terms of area versus perimeter length.

I would say Italy is at one extreme where nearly all the villages were fortified at one stage and simple economics means if you are building a wall, you want to get the most area inside it as possible; the most efficient shape in this regard is the perfect circle. Ireland is at the other extreme where the vast majority of villages and even towns seem largely to have sprung up along the side of the old highways. Most of the other European countries I've spent time in seem have their own particular proportion of the two types.

In fact one street villages have some obvious characterists which make them less likely to support a vibrant atmosphere. First of all the average distance between any two building doorways is at least twice that of a clustered shaped village; this mitigates against pedestrians particularly. Such one street villages lack any sort of natural centre or focus point; there is little reason to congregate anywhere (even if you had time between your long walk from the bank machine at one end to the shop at the other). Personally, even if the public domain is top notch and the private buildings are well maintained there is no mystery or excitement to such villages - you can see everything in the village from any point; for me the excitement of turning corners or walking down side streets is part of the attraction of rambling around villages and towns even ones I am very familiar with. Finally most such villages, even with traffic calming measures are generally bisected by a steam of traffic - which is very hostile to pedestrians; for example, despite the carefully maintained public domain and the few attractive buildings, Birdhill on the N7 will never be a successful village.

This issue could have been addressed quite easily if Irish planners had even attempted to do their job; i.e. plan logical extensions to villages and towns. Instead they've made the problem worse by generally extending the ribbon on both ends with small housing estates, garages and even retail units instead of trying to plan to make the village or town more circular in shape by laying out new cross streets. In fact the potential to flesh out our towns and villages is still there. Unfortunately the economic situation means that this will remain just a potential. My pessimism is taking over again but I doubt Irish planners have the vision or ambition to even think about ideas like this. It's quite depressing to think that we have basically done no planning of this nature at all since the 19th century. I simply cannot believe that developers would care all that much whether what they were building was fattening a village or town or stretching it thinner so planning is what is at fault here.

Admittedly I got a bit worked up about where to site big retail units (sorry johnglas) but it's a manifestation of frustration with the shallowness of thought shown by Irish planners; this is probably unfair but most Irish planning commentary seems to concentrate on irrelevant factors like OOT retail.
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Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby garethace » Wed Jul 15, 2009 9:53 pm

Nonetheless, if a town is lucky enough to have a by-pass or efficient route running parallel to a main street or equivalent, I think a case can be made for an in-town supermarket, provided it is thoroughly integrated with and complementary to the existing urban form, and that the facility is restricted solely to that of supermarket.


Well lets look at that. Some towns are lucky, but why shouldn't they all be so lucky? Luck should have a lot less to do with it. There are structural and systemic reasons, why we are depending on luck to far too great an extent. When I read what GrahamH has gone to considerable bother jotting down above, I am very much reminded of the work that Emer O'Siochru has done with Feasta. I once got my hands on a report she completed for Comhar, on the subject of Irish towns and villages. I have never seen it published anywhere online, but it was a real cracker of a report.

Basically, its main thesis was very bold. That the land owners immediately in and around an Irish village, should be able to pool their respective land resources into some kind of joint company. That is, without a whole series of taxation charges kicking in. While it is very easy in the Irish situation, if you have a field of say 4 acres next to a town, to divest yourself of 2 of those acres to the local builder. There is no complementary way in which a 4 acre plot could be joined up with another 2 acre plot in order to make up a sizeable property. That is, without the respective land owners being caught out financially and taxaxtion-wise in all manner of ways. It discourages people from even trying.

The thesis of Emer O'Siochru's paper, is that once the land owners put all of their property into a holding unit, then the servicing of the land becomes a much simpler matter indeed. Boundaries can be erased and land can be serviced therefore, giving back to the holding company the best value possible for its investment. There could be some kind of management ajency set up which funded this sort of work at attractive interest rates. Something that wouldn't involve going to banks and the creation of more private debt. What the current system in Ireland favours is the practice of breaking up pieces of land into smaller and smaller pieces. (Don't our little mickey mouse local developers love to do all of that kind of messing around, it makes them feel as if they are big shots. Usually there is a GAA club or something involved somewhere in the thick of it)

Then the real social cost of all of parish pump, Fianna Fail Tom-dickery, is passed on to the local authority. Who now has the job of servicing this very inefficient organisation of land. Doing a bit here and a bit there. Little by little as it were, rather like south Kerry and the exercise of filling the pot holes. All kinds of legal complications have to be surmounted to achieve anything. It is an on-going thing, it never really gets done. It costs a fortune and is a way for the local authority to pump cash into a local economy but receive very poor value for the investment. A way more money is spent that is initially intended. The capital investment is squandered over many years. The public money going down the drain, quite literally.

In the heal of the hunt, the Part V legislation put even greater pressure on land owners to divide up their properties. (And consequently, even greater pressure on local authority stretched budgets to provide adequate standards of servicing and road maintenace) Because then both developers of the 2 acre plots would request exemptions from Part V requirements, build less a lot less houses than what the land could take and try to sell them off as exclusive, non S&A residential MacMansions. That is why who need an artificial land boom, in order to raise the price of houses sufficiently, that such mad cap schemes become feasible at all. It is popular though, because a few local big shots think they are making a bit of money, at least for a while. Then when it all goes pear shaped, they can be philosophical and talk about 'times being bad'.

What it amounts to is a very inefficient use of land resources and the needed services to enable any sort of development on the land. I once walked away from a job like this, because I was so disgusted by the whole toxic process and the arse holes I had to deal with. That was before I even knew what the word 'sustainability' even meant. I said if I am going to do this at all, I might as well do it right and work for the real experts at it. I am glad I did that. Even though in the end, the low cost developer ended up squandering more than the lot of them put together.

The more obvious way for Ireland to get value for money is to squash all of these taxations schemes and the Part V legislation, which encourage land to be spilt up into miserable pokey little parcels. Even Liam Carroll had understood this idea 20 years ago when he started to put together sites to build on in Dublin city. Frank McDonald would never describe Liam as a 'sustainable' developer. But in many respects the low-cost model of construction, will result in somebody doing many things which can be described as very sustainable.

If we abolished those capital gains and what not, we would make the money back elsewhere in more economical servicing of land in our towns and villages. Opening up all sorts of options for architects/developers to come along and design sustainable communities etc. We could set up a construction management body to be involved, like Dublin Airport Authority and their CIP.

Adamstown is worth looking at from this point of view. They certainly went about building the infrastructure in advance in a very sustainable and cost effective manner. The construction manager there for Castlethorn was ex. Project Management, and really knows what he is doing. I will leave you with this link in the mean time. It is something that Emer published on the Feasta website and has some interesting discussion in it.

http://www.feasta.org/documents/landhousing/coritax.html

This is why we need to get away from the U-value and light bulb definition of sustainable architecture. We need to get real as George Lee would say. We need to look for efficiencies at all stages of the development process. The local authorities, auctioneers and all land professionals have to start to get their heads together. In my blog entry here I tried to emphasize that as much as I can.



Brian O' Hanlon
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Joined: Wed May 14, 2003 9:01 pm
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

Postby garethace » Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:26 pm

A lot of very deep stuff for those of you interested here.

http://smarttaxes.org/2009/03/19/full-report-road-map-for-financial-and-fiscal-reform/

B.
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Posts: 1579
Joined: Wed May 14, 2003 9:01 pm
Location: Dublin, Ireland

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