A decent turn out for Urban Party tonight, who’d have thought free beer would pull people in off the streets on a damp Wednesday night?
The ridiculously early start made me to miss the first half dozen speakers, including stalwarts of these occasions such as Alan Mee and Ivana Bacik [the latter being saved from the potential embarrassment of not getting a seat by the clever device of a standing only format]. I apparently also missed Kieran Rose, but it didn’t matter on this occasion as it seems that he had agreed in advance to swap scripts with RIAI’s Paul Keogh, who appeared further down the bill.
A character from ‘Le Cool Dublin’ which I imagine is something I’m too old to be interested in, delivered a long wish list for the city, which included some eminently sensible ideas like allowing bikes on the Luas and having more Tesco stores. Young radicalism but with convenience, I like that.
Dick Gleeson felt the need to declare at the outset that he loved his job as chief city planner, as if anyone wouldn’t love to have a decent job in the current climate, but he seemed slightly uncomfortable and unsure in his delivery of the view from high officialdom. Dick took the opportunity of his three minute Urban Party presentation to announce some new Dublin Regional Ten Point Plan Thing [possibly including headings such as ‘Food’ and ‘Water’] and you began to sense what it must be like to stand in a Arab square right now and listen to an swarthy embattled potentate promise cash payouts if people would just disperse quietly and go back into negative equity and leave him alone to govern in peace.
Garrett Pitcher [a new name to me] observed that the city is shrinking [apparently to an area around Grafton Street] which will be news to people living in new housing estates out the backside of Swords, but his other observation; that ‘empty premises are killing the city’ did strike a cord with the audience.
Elaine Byrne came on stage in a pink woolly hat and for a moment I prepped to hear from the basket weaving end of the cultural spectrum, but in fairness, Byrne’s theme was the acutely observed fact that Dublin lacks the definitive centre that all decent cities [‘and even tribal villages in Ghana’] have and it’s time to take an axe to the trees in Foster Place and forge a proper city centre out of College Green. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Paul Keogh strolled on next and went on about the false gods of height and density [ - he of the plan to build the tallest residential tower in Dublin - ] but otherwise read from the Kieran Rose book of inter-city competition for bright young things and advancement through diversity, innovation and vibrancy etc. etc. all harmless notions in their own right until someone attaches them to some gawd-awful office park cluster on steroids where a bit urban repair was called for. Keogh did conclude with the declaration that ‘Dublin is more than Guinness and Craic’, which is worth saying.
Ken McHugh stepped up next, welcomed everyone to his patch, had a go at the City Council, listed half a dozen broken promises and presumably then went outside to piss on all the lamp posts.
Where others had struggled with the time constraints, Sandra O’Connell brought a bit of Teutonic efficiency to proceedings with a word count timed to finish a fraction ahead of the hooter. Sandra had plumped for a poetic theme and her presentation was meticulously cross referenced and brightly embellished with poetic quotations. If there is a compelling case for a directly elected city poet, this was it.
Moving swiftly on, the next speaker was Aaron Copeland of ‘Upstart’. These people are artistic provocateurs with other designs on our lamp posts. I fear a showdown with Ken may be in the offing.
So far, so good, and we began to sense that we might get out of there without a repeat of the recent Smithfield bloodbath, but at that point Cllr. Dermot Lacy strode on stage. Lacy is a man who was born in full election mode and nothing on this earth is going to come between him and the position of directly elected mayor, ‘read the odds on Paddy Power’ he nodded knowingly [there goes another seat Ivana Bacik isn’t going to get]. Wielding a verbal slash hook, Lacy hit the ground running with swipes aimed at Dick Gleeson, the city manager, the Dept. of the Environment and RTE in rapid succession. Luckily the hooter went before the crowd – now booze fuelled and whipped into a frenzy – could break out the burning torches and charge out into the streets to wreak righteous vengeance.
But the format is the format, so this demagogic outburst was all over in three minutes and then we had the task of adjusting to the slight figure of Ali [the city architect]. Ali’s message was design, design and more design and to keep on-message Ali was sporting a neat, contour hugging, designer outfit with a shiny black belt which I personally found too distracting to take any further notes. I heard something about a ‘big document that’s gone to the printers’ and there was talk of 2014 and going it alone on Design Capital status, which is probably something to do with the anniversary of the battle of Clontarf and sticking one in the eye of Scandinavia.
The evening finished up with Constantin Gurdgiev, fully endorsing Dermot Lacy’s tirade and reminding people that great cities tended to be the product of despotic regimes, which is another reason to believe that we may have been short changed . . . . . as well as being robbed blind and landed in debt for the rest of our lives.
Good stuff, by and large, we need to do this more often.