The Skehan/Sirr plan

The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Sun Apr 06, 2008 1:44 am

Heavy weight articles by Conor Skehan and Lorcan Sirr in the Irish times on Monday and Tuesday last, setting out a scary planning vision for the island.

Image

As I understand it, this is a vision of the future that sees Dublin at the epicentre of an Irish, 21st century, Ruhr district, stretching from Belfast in the north, through Waterford, to Cork in the south. This sweeping conurbation of the east coast would be balanced by a west coast transformed into a protected environment freed from the effects of forced economic growth, it will be a recreational theme park based, possibly, on John Hinde photographs, with boutique farmers, presumably in period costume, keeping the grass cut and posing for tourists.

With Wicklow under concrete, the new west coast 'garden of Ireland' will be powered by wind turbines and the failed urban centres of the region, Galway, Sligo and Derry, will vie for the status of 'potting shed', 'green house' and 'compost heap' in the new coastal garden. Limerick will be the outdoor jacks and, best of all, the midlands region, which never had a proper vision of itself, will be the back door mat, the place where you wipe your feets when coming in from the garden.

This is a vision that is not delivered with any real hope, or any up-lifting promise, it is a vision of the future based on a grim realisation that nobody in any position of power in this country has shown the will, or the imagination, to deliver any real alternative. When the creation of the National Spacial Strategy (that could have charted a course out of development chaos) called for hard choices, the political will wasn't there.

Predictably, from the spineless political leaders who got us into this mess, there has already been a ritualistic condemnation of the Skehan/Sirr plan. From others, in time, there may be a fatalistic acceptance of this vision.

What the Skehan/Sirr plan does is it sets out, in stark terms, exactly what's going to happen over the next 20 years and how it might be possible to make the best of it. What is needed now is a full back to basics analysis of where we've gone wrong and how we might fix it, so that we don't end up living the Skehan/Sirr plan in twenty years time.

Since the concept of the city began, and for the next 7,000 years, cities were defined by physical boundaries, boundaries that the city, or it's ruler/patron, designed, built, maintained and constantly expanded and re-built when necessary. It has only been in the last 3-4 hundred years that cities have dispensed with physical boundaries, with most European cities only demolishing their defensive walls in the 19th century, less than 200 years ago.

The encircling walls were much more than a defensive system, the gave a defined image to the city and they set the boundaries of the city in stone, literally. Back then there was no confusion about whether you were inside the city or outside it. The city invested a huge proportion of it's energy and it's resources in building and maintaining it's walls and, in turn, it was repaid by security, prestige and, usually, a good measure of civic order. The city, civic expression, the city's image and the city walls were totally inter-connected concepts.

Concurrently with the abandonment of city walls came the industrial revolution, which introduced two new elements into the urban mix, large scale industrial manufacturing and the concept of social housing. Both of these concepts have now, largely, run their course. Social housing, as a distinct urban category, and smoke belching factories have largely vanished as quickly as they came and the opportunity to re-evaluate the urban form, without these distorting factors, is again possible.

What seems clear is that the city of today is no longer a physical entity with physical edges, it is an abstract concept, an admininstrative area within another administrative area with only notional, not real, boundaries. If you live in Churchtown, for example, you can tell whether you're in Dublin City, or not, by whether your bins are collected by Dublin City Council, or South Dublin County Council, or by DunLaoghaire-Rathdown County Council, but would you know any other way?

The city, and to an extent, citizenship, is an eroded concept. The physical boundaries to cities have been replaced by zoning maps, and the zoning maps are as haphazard and illogical as any set of plans are likely to be that are drawn up by politicians eager to hold onto their seats, or (in the past?) feather their own nests.

To stop the sprawl, to stop the drift to conurbation, the city needs to re-establish the physical concept of the city boundary. The new physical boundary, the edge of the city, doesn't have to be a wall, nor should it be a wall, but it should be a defined, legible, necklace of physical structures designed to be read as the edge of the city and invested with as much civic status and urban prestige as contemporary architecture will permit. Above all, a new physical city boundary should be intended to stand for a number of generations, not just for five years, or until the next election sweeps it away.

Is it completely unthinkable that the one constant in the urban record, from it's inception in neolithic times, through the classical period and up to the familiar medieval model, the template of the city defined by it's walls and it's 'built to impress' inter-mural towers, re-imagined as civic scale, mixed use, spine blocks and glittering apartment towers, could become the potent new symbol of the compact, well defined, self aware city of the future?

Architects have always known the value of constraints. Often, it is the site with the greatest constraints that produces the best architecture. This concept can apply to the city also. A city defined by rigid boundaries will have crystal clear transportation needs and obvious density targets. Defined boundaries will force development into responding to limited, not limitless, space. We know that Dublin has a density deficit, we can see that in every comparative study ever done, yet we keep expanding outwards regardless. It will only be when we impose a conscious discipline, a defined edge that we can't expand beyond, that we will eventually turn to address the density deficit in a planned and a controlled way, and not in the unplanned and opportunistic way that we see developers in Ballsbridge and elsewhere attempt.

The Skehan/Sirr plan has set out, in black and white, what the future holds. With Bremore port. the 'outer orbital route' and the never-ending re-zonings, the conurbation bandwagon is already rolling. I've banged out a knee jerk reaction, if someone has a better plan that doesn't involve nonsense 'gateways', 'nodes' and 'hubcaps', now would be a good time to post it up.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby johnglas » Sun Apr 06, 2008 11:52 am

A real thought-out polemic, but very difficult to respond to within the confines of a blog like this, without writing another mini-essay.
I don't altogether accept your views of the demise of 'social housing'; that seems to me to be a reading of a short-term trend. With the recent cold-water treatment of the housing bubble (here and where you are), we may need to reappraise the need for soc hsg, not povided or (especially) managed by the local authority, but in the form of local hsg asociations,or cooperatives or provided by major institutions (like hospitals, universities). The real future horror may be in the communter suburbs - high mortgages, dear petrol, neighbours who don't talk, no social infrastructure, under the hegemony of Tesco, etc. Do you advocate the return of a concept like the 'green belt' as a development modifier? (No dev within these boundaries, and that includes one-off hsg.) You do seem to be an advocate also of 'Edge City' development - I see what you mean about a 'ramparts' form of dev as a signifier of urban edge (where the city both begins and ends), but in the hands of capitalist developers you will inevitably get overdeveloped nodes crammed with as much floorspace as possible.
No point in going on further, but the issues you have raised are fundamental to the development of cities, but I'm not convinced, in spite of all the smoke and mirrors, that we have the will or capacity any more to design or manage urban spaces with any great degree of conviction. Technocracy and technique swamp vision and capacity.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Sun Apr 06, 2008 12:21 pm

johnglas: I wasn't intending to say that social housing has disappeared, just that, as a separate identifyable entity, it no longer really exists. Social housing and commercial housing are virtually indistinguishable from each other, over here anyway, I know Glasgow might be different.

Yes to the green belt concept. We never did green belt over here, unless you consider random shifting tattered rags as a green belt. I'm thinking a Byker wall, a clear city edge. Now there's the edge, this is the space you've got, there won't be any more, now work within it.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby johnglas » Sun Apr 06, 2008 12:48 pm

Points taken; let's see how the debate develops. Local authorities have mostly opted out of soc hsg here, but hsg assocs are still building some of the better (-looking) hsg, Much better than the awful rash of suburban private dev. but hsg assocs are not quite the locally-based organisations they once were and have replaced local govt as the predominant social landlords. Private large-scale devs (like Glasgow Harbour) target the affluent either in, or on the edge of, affluent areas - I don't regard them as 'regeneration' in any meaningful sense. We still have green belt, but it's largely ritualistic and is constantly under pressure.
I had a car-ride through Glasgow's East End yesterday; it's truly third-world and we now have 'hollowed-out' cities with large areas of dereliction and not-very-concealed poverty. So, don't believe the hype.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby ctesiphon » Mon Apr 07, 2008 8:42 am

The relevant articles:

Monday, March 31, 2008 wrote:
Planning for a future that is going to happen, not against it

Proper planning is about more than permission to build]
http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/opinion/2008/0331/1206752248397.html

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 wrote:
Proactive planning will make most of regional differences

THROUGH WILFUL neglect of the naturally emerging bigger picture, current Irish strategic policy is trying to plan against the emergence of a naturally urbanising Ireland. Instead, we are trying to plan nationally for what is locally and politically expedient, but either way we are planning to fail, write Conor Skehan and Lorcan Sirr .

To succeed we will need to change and re-invent how we plan - and what we are planning for.

The biggest change we will need to make is to develop new structures through which political and administrative control will match city-based functional areas. This will involve harnessing existing county and regional structures - on an all-island basis - to form new territories united by common opportunities and challenges. This restructuring will require a significant devolution of authority from central to regional and local government]
http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/opinion/2008/0401/1206977159052.html

Friday, April 4, 2008 wrote:
Surprise over suggestion to 'preserve' west

TIM O'BRIEN

WESTERN DEVELOPMENT: REGIONAL ENTERPRISE agencies and planners have reacted with surprise to a suggestion that attempts to foster urban development outside the east coast may be misplaced.

The suggestion that it might be more prudent to preserve the West as an ecologically pure amenity which might attract high net worth individuals to live, while facilitating the development of the Dublin-Belfast corridor into a major, urbanised area encompassing most of the east coast, was made in a series of articles in The Irish Times this week.

However the articles, written by Conor Skehan, head of the department of environment and planning and Dr Lorcan Sirr head of research, faculty of the built environment at Dublin Institute of Technology, have drawn criticism from Shannon Development, Liam Scollan, chief executive, Ireland West Airport Knock and Minister for the Environment John Gormley.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Brian Callanan of Shannon Development said the argument put forward in the articles seemed to ignore the already high level of enterprise in the west.

Mr Callanan said this included a major investment in the knowledge economy through the universities of Cork, Limerick and Galway alongside the institutes of technology, which were already paying off in terms of attracting foreign direct investment and fostering indigenous industry.

The articles appeared to ignore the Limerick-Shannon area in its entirety, while also not considering the development of the Atlantic road and rail corridor and Shannon Development's own fostering of next-generation broadband communications infrastructure, he said. Even if the articles were to be solely concerned with a post-foreign direct investment scenario, he said the west had considerable indigenous industry.

Mr Callanan remarked it was a surprise that leading academics would put forward such a view and he added "it reminds you, how solid the 'Dublin-centric' opinion can be".

Liam Scollan, a former director of the Western Development Commission, said his initial reaction was to consider the date of the final article, April 1st, might be a significant factor. Mr Scollan said he believed the vision presented was "class-ridden" because of its references to the midlands being a place where manual work would be carried out, with rich people enjoying an ecologically better environment in the west and middle-class workers in the East.

However, some of the strongest criticism came from Mr Gormley. While he said he "welcomed the input which highlighted the need for the planning system to be more pro-active and integrated", he would "strongly challenge the notion in the articles that the National Spatial Strategy is misplaced and undeliverable, and that it is futile to try to alter demographic trends on the island, unsustainable though they may be".

He said some people held a mistaken understanding that the strategy was about taking development from the east, and directing it to the gateways, towns and hubs.

"It's not about taking development away from Dublin and limiting the economic growth of the capital, which we all acknowledge is the main international gateway to this country and main driver of our economy," Mr Gormley said.

The Minister pointed to investment in critical infrastructure in Dublin such as the Luas and new governance arrangements through the establishment of the Dublin Transportation Authority and the commitment to a Dublin mayor with real decision-making powers, as evidence that the strategy was not to deprive Dublin.

"The National Spatial Strategy is aimed at tapping fully into the resources and opportunities available to 'Ireland Inc' as a whole, by activating the unique and specific potential of all the regions, while at the same time supporting the development of Dublin in a sustainable manner. This has to be our overriding objective and definitive goal," he added.

© 2008 The Irish Times

http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0404/1207240103506.html
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Mon Apr 07, 2008 8:23 pm

Some of the main points from the Skehan / Sirr articles:

'Planning for a successful Ireland of, say, 2030, means identifying, examining and working with, not against, the forces that will shape our future. To plan a future Ireland on a business-as-usual, or, worse still, on a politican basis, as we have already done with the plan for the decentralisation of government, would be another exercise in folly.'

I think it would be fair to say that most people with an interest in planning in Ireland, think that the plan to decentralise government was an embarrassing shambles. In any other country it would have been laughed out of court.

Having said that, there's little doubt that the original concept was sound enough, but the dispersment to every marginal seat in the state was a fiasco.

'The small size and markedly eastern distribution of Irish settlements is a reality that few policies recognise, or accommodate . . .'

This is true of the Dublin commuter belt towns, everything from Ardee through Mullingar to Arklow, but it's not true of the established regional cities, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Derry and Belfast, which are remarkably well distributed around the full perimeter of the island.

' . . . very few settlements have reached the critical size of 100,000 that allows all of the benefits of city life to begin to occur.'


Well all of the above cities are already on, or near, that threshold! As well as that, they all have centuries of tradition that has sustained them through times that were a lot more problematic than this.

I think it would be fair to say that the attempts to counter balance, what is perceived to be, the disproportionate growth of Dublin, are well intentioned, just ham fisted. Where the government decentralisation plan is daft is that it attempts to take government departments, the most urban of institutions, and stick them in market towns all over the place. The logical approach, surely, would have been to decentralise departments to the regional cities. Centres of gravity, critical mass, all of that stuff could have happened, could still happen! You don't counter balance one big stone on the edge of a plate with a bunch of pebbles in the middle, you counter balance it with a ring of medium sized stones all around the rest of the rim.

I believe what I said at the start of this thread, that cities, and towns for that matter, need to look at themselves as entities not regions, and giving them defined physical edges will be crucial in that process. People constantly go on about the bigger picture, you're missing the bigger picture, this is happening, you can't stop it, but you stick a frame on it, it doesn't look scary any more, it's just a bigger picture and it'll take a few more more people to hang it.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Tue Oct 07, 2008 11:10 pm

This is probably as good a place as any to post up today's IT article on a massive Treasury Holdings proposal for some fields in County Meath, which the IT have decided to give the ridiculus heading of: '€250m Tourism Plan for Boyne Valley'

If we remember back to last April, the gist of the Conor Skehan - Lorcan Sirr thesis was that trying to plan for a balanced development of the island was futile, when the bulk of the country's development and investment inevitably wanted to be concentrated on the east coast.

If I understand their argument, it was that the forces seeking the conurbation of the east coast would prove irresistable and therefore, instead of wasting precious resources in a vain attempt to re-balance the island's infrastructure and development, the thing to do is to go with the flow and landscape everything west of a slightly grim starter home/service zone in the midlands.

If that was their thesis, this would seem to be an example of the plan in action:

[INDENT]€250m TOURISM PLAN FOR BOYNE VALLEY[/INDENT]
[INDENT]ELAINE KEOGH

PLANS BY Treasury Holdings for a €250 million development in the Boyne Valley, including tourism facilities and housing, were outlined yesterday to councillors in Co Louth.

Dermot Dwyer of Treasury Holdings told councillors it wanted to develop "an integrated tourism-driven site" which would bring together the elements needed "to make the Boyne Valley not just a day visitor attraction but somewhere people would stay".

Treasury Holdings is also the developer of a planned national conference centre in Spencer Dock, Dublin.

The development outlined yesterday would be located on a site adjacent to the M1 interchange at the Boyne cable bridge in Co Louth.

The project, on a 70-acre site spread over four pockets of land in Tullyallen, includes:

• holiday cottages in addition to 368 houses and apartments;

• a 3,000-sq m visitor centre;

• a mini-landscape of the Boyne Valley;

• a design centre focusing on the Boyne Valley;

• a four-star hotel and spa;

• designer gardens, an activity centre and botanic gardens.

A landmark attraction such as a tethered balloon on the site which would rise to 150m and provide a bird's eye view of the Boyne Valley is also proposed.

Outlining the details to councillors yesterday, Ralph Bingham of Murray O'Laoire architects said it would be similar to the €200 million development by Treasury Holdings of the five-star Ritz-Carlton hotel at Powerscourt in Co Wicklow.

A planning application for 368 houses, which forms the first phase of the mixed-use development, is to be lodged in the coming weeks.

The houses would be on a single site to the east of the cable bridge.

Asked by Cllr Jimmy Mulroy (FF) if there was any guarantee "that once you have built the 368 houses" the rest of the plans would proceed in light of the current economic climate, Mr Dwyer replied: "There is no guarantee."

However, he said from a developers' perspective "housing development is not what Treasury Holdings does; we are not speculative housing developers, we deal with large sites with mixed integrated uses. There is no guarantee it is part of a master plan."

He said the Boyne Valley site was one of a number of large sites the company was involved with in Ireland, and it took "a long-term view".

He said it had been involved in the site since 1999, but the area was not zoned for development until 2004. The project was a joint venture with the landowner.

Mr Dwyer said the development would create "several hundred permanent and sustainable jobs", and referred to the Powerscourt development where there were 250 people employed in the hotel and up to 150 in the retail and garden end.

An economic impact study and assessment will form part of the planning application for the lands.

© 2008 The Irish Times
[/INDENT]


There are a few things that stand out in this proposal, as reported:

1. The first phase of the 'Tourism Plan for the Boyne Valley' is to consist of building 368 houses in the Boyne Valley!

2. The 'Tethered Balloon' is getting another outing.

3. Developers of the standing of Treasury Holdings appear to have no trouble getting qualified architects to participate in this kind of defecation.

I could be way off the mark here, but I wouldn't be surprised if the first phase of any new Treasury Holdings super-port at Bremore, isn't another 368 houses.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby johnglas » Mon Oct 13, 2008 2:29 pm

Oh, you cynic, gunter, you cynic! (That's my job.)
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby keating » Mon Oct 20, 2008 1:18 pm

The Skehan Sirr Proposal does not propose to give Carte Blance to any development in the East coast. Its thesis is to plan for a future that will happen, not against it. This would be done with proper planning mechanisms which would identify the areas best suited to certain activities and Land uses. Developer lead planning , weak detached local authorities with a mere toolkit of coloured map forward planning and ineffective planning enforcement and toothless National planning policy along with clientilism and croneyism by elected officials is the problem here. Meath county council and the OPW should be providing the Boyne Experience and not Treasury. Unfortunatly the value accrued from Land rezoning which should have gone to fund local Authorities and local services has instead gone to private investors and we now have to pay a second time for those services. The alternative, to incentivise the private sector to provide public buildings results in 300 houses and a cheap shoddy centre, with maybe a baloon thrown in. Architecture can't thrive without a good planning system. It is important for Architects to have a better understanding of how National Planning Policy or Lack of it, affects our built and un-built environment.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Mon Oct 20, 2008 2:21 pm

Keating: I don't know Lorcan Sirr, but Conor Skehan is one of the most respected figures in planning and education in this country, as far as I'm concerned, but he's a fatalist, you can see this in every furrow of the big man's brow.

This strategy that they've come up with is laced with fatalism.

This is not the route to go IMO.

The people who proposed this Boyne Valley nonsense are the kind of people that take comfort from these strategies. 'Scallywags' I believe Skehan calls them.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby keating » Fri Oct 24, 2008 10:36 pm

Gunter, it may sound fatalistic as a plan, but Skehan and Sirr suggest 4 possible scenarios to projections based on trends, policy and the Authors knowledge of foreign direct investment. The projections are pessimistic, but they are correct. It's difficult to argue that the future for many regions Ireland is not good under current policy's. These projections don't begin to factor in the economy in a long tern descent curve. If anyone has a more optimistic projection or a better solution, great.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Sat Oct 25, 2008 10:50 pm

OK, I've re-read the articles, without doubt, they are absolutely fascinating.

I wonder whhat happened to the debate that the authors called for?

In a nutshell, the Skehan/Sirr manifesto is that: ''There is a need to plan for the future that is more likely to happen - the continued urbanisation of the eastern region - instead of trying to prevent it.''

I think ''more likely to happen'' is a polite way of saying inevitable! The danger with adopting this mantra is that inevitability seeps into the thinking at every level, if you let it in the door at all. What will be the next ''future that is more likely to happen''? the next inevitable trend that it will be hopeless to resist.

We're living on a small island where communication is now instant and travel times from even the remotest urban centre are capable of being reduced to just a couple of hours, but still we want to see one part of the island as having a favoured location over another. When that condition genuinely existing, in previous centuries, we still managed to distribute the urban centres around the island in a reasonably balanced way.

What I see as wrong with current spacial planning in this country is not the motorway network fanning out of Dublin, or the investment in a rail network that does much the same, or the slightly fanciful concept of 'Balanced Regional Development', it is the failure to hold the line around our urban centres. We just refuse to deal with sprawl.

Obviously this is a political issue, as Skehan/Sirr assert, but it is also a Urban Planning and even an Architectural issue.

IMO we need to develop strong urban models that have strong outer edges. As long as the edge is always the weakest element, the urban centre will always be tempted to spill out. Even strong urban edges will, in time and with growth, be supplanted but this type of growth can be periodic (in numbers of decades), predictable and organic, like tree rings, not constant and malignant like a tumour.

Every debate about urban form is inevitably hijacked by the particular conditions of particular examples. We need to look at the problem in a more abstract way.

I've often thought that it would be a useful exercise to design a new town/small city from scratch on a open site, not ancilliary to anything else, just out there on it's own. We're probably the only generation, since civilization began, that doesn't do this. What would the elements be? How would a compact new small city differ from historic models? How would we deal with cars? Would it have edges (gunter's would) ?

Maybe, since there isn't going to be much else going on for a while, one of our planning institutes would sponsor a competition!
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby keating » Sun Oct 26, 2008 9:25 pm

Gunter, what about Adamstown and Clonburris?

There will be no urban planning as long as there is no distinction between those that gain from property transactions and elected decision makers.

Transport Infrastructure and a national spatial policy would be a precursor to a new town, but why build in a green field, when we have plenty of underutilised urban area's. When Dublin Port moves to bremore near balbriggan, the old port will get this opertunity
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Sun Oct 26, 2008 11:35 pm

keating wrote:. . . why build in a green field, when we have plenty of underutilised urban area's?


I wasn't proposing that we build a new city in a green field, I was proposing that we look at what we would build, if we were to build a new city in a green field.

This would be an exercise to force ourselves to examine the contemporary urban form, as a stand alone entity, without any of the get-out clauses, or make-do compromises we live with because we're always dealing with extensions and alterations to existing centres.

What would a totally new Irish city's characteristics be? Would it be a bunch of Adamstowns stitched together? Would it be a mini Paris with boulevards all over the place? Would it be just an pale imitation of the nearest established city, only with less depth? Would we want familiarity? would we want a Longford version of the glistening corporate towers of a standard U.S. or Asian city? Would we want a bit of all of these, only twisted and welded together to make it funky? Remember now there are no excuses, no existing property interests to contend with, nothing but maybe a couple of railway lines and a blank canvas to work with, what would we do?

I think if we could answer that question, we'd go a long way towards being able to plan places like Navan and Drogheda, and maybe even stop them losing their identity in a swirl of Dublin style housing estates, satelite towns adrift in a Greater Dublin Regional orbit.

The Skehan/Sirr strategy aims to change our whole planning outlook to go with the flow of a 'future that is more likely to happen', but that's like saying that Irish people are getting fatter, so lets make door openings wider and bus seats bigger, instead of saying; this is wrong, we have to stop this from happening.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby johnglas » Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:41 am

gunter: daparting from the 'ideal city' mode (always a tempting, but in the end fascistic notion), surely any attempt at thinking of a 'new' urban model would be predicated on what is already there and. critically, on a 'hierarchical' ('functional') notion of city/town? That is, what does the town 'do'? What is it 'for'?
Adamstown is a suburb, but with a 'local centre' feel, focused on a railway station and a town square (like a small provincial continental town). Drogheda and even Navan are more historic sub-regional centres where you would expect a wider range of function and a wider range of facilities. The present downturn gives a chance for a breather and a rethink. Maybe with some of the frenetic heat out of the road, the Dublin region will be given a chance to consolidate and coalesce round 'natural' functional nodes (OK, I know this is very Christaller, but he wasn't all wrong). There is even room in this model for the Poundbury-style, neo-Garden City form of development, on a smaller scale. (One is not advocating the Middle-England Hobbitland of HRH.)
The only form of development not suitable here would be the 'one-off' rural house, although historically there is a precedent in Ireland. (One-off is OK, thousands-off is a problem.) Things like the Co. Cork design guide for rural housing surely point the way forward here.
Anyway, this is a fascinating debate; let's hope more join in.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Mon Oct 27, 2008 11:45 pm

johnglas wrote:gunter: daparting from the 'ideal city' mode (always a tempting, but in the end fascistic notion), surely any attempt at thinking of a 'new' urban model would be predicated on what is already there and. critically, on a 'hierarchical' ('functional') notion of city/town? That is, what does the town 'do'? What is it 'for'?
.


I don't accept that johnglas. A vision a new 'ideal city' doesn't have to be a 'fascistic notion' any more than it has to be the inhuman machine city of Metropolis or the concrete pigeon coops of Corb's grim vision. Neither would a new city (in a desperate search for the humane and the familiar) have to follow the Garden City model, Portmerrion, or Poundbury, these are all experiments to learn from, not follow.

As far as 'function' goes, the notion of the 'coal town' has passed into history, every urban centre of any size today needs to be multi-functional and permanently adaptable. It doesn't matter if a new city were to start off with an 'Intel' as it's initial primary employer, or a Thornton Hall style super prison, the point is it starts off with a demand for a huge volume of employment accommodating space, closely followed by a housing requirement and associated service facilities.

What I was suggesting was that, as an exercise, instead of always tacking these significant embryonic urban opportunities onto the outskirts of Dublin, or worse, the outskirts of some existing minor orbital village/town, what if the state, in conjunction with a local authority, took the plunge and pre-planned a new urban centre, free from vested property interests, subtandard service infrastructure and the restraints of an existing 'context'?

Again, I'm just interested in the concept, would a totally new urban centre necessarily follow one or more of the existing patterns we touched on above, or could it be something completely different? If it could be something completely different, could we not learn from this in making new planning strategies for existing towns?

If we keep going the way we're going (and assuming the current recession isn't actually the end of the world as we know it) towns like Navan, Naas and Newbridge (Drogheda probably wasn't a good example) may have achieved proto-city scale (in terms of population numbers) by the Skehan/Sirr time frame of 2030 or so, but probably without having the slightest aspiration towards real urban identity. Maybe at that stage, these sprawling dormer towns could be retro-fitted with urban/shopping centres, Tallaght style, but we will still have the disconnected estates, the wasteful housing models and the unsustaining densities.

I could almost live with the Skehan/Sirr strategy if their 'Eastern Region' was to be a tightly planned and well serviced zone with Dublin at the centre of a network of separate, well defined, urban centres (big and small, new and existing) running, as they suggest, from Cork to Belfast, but, without drifting into the inevitability trap, you just know that this is not what's going to happen. Instead, talk of 'Swords City' and 'Airport City' will soon be followed by 'Ashbourn City', 'Balbriggan City' and 'Bremore City' and all the time Treasury and the like with be out there turning every random field in between with coloured zoning and road frontage into housing estates, joining everything into one sprawling sub-urban mess and sucking all the life from everything beyond the Pale.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby johnglas » Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:18 am

gunter: good solid stuff; will digest and relaunch the offensive.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby keating » Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:27 am

Back up the bus lads, You may be specifying the taps before you've designed the building. You need to address the politics first, before you start re-arranging land uses. It will be difficult to consolidate an existing urban area under our current development model. Taking the Skehan/Sirr study as the most likely scenario, the first necessary step is reform of Local Government. Our local elected representatives should reflect our aspirations, we'll get a chance to replace most of the current crop of clientalist estate agents. Giving local or preferably regional Authorities greater control over revenues collected in their functional area, The ability to purchase land before rezoning it, so integrated land use and planning can be applied using the flipping value to fund services, blueprint masterplanning which legally compels the landowner to comply with the plan designed by the people who represent us.

In US shopping centre design, the mall is a thing of the past, the current fad is for a town, with shopping centres mimicking real urban streets(1). In Ireland our streets are already designed for this end. Each town should have a retail strategy, such as Ballina's. Where the town is designed as a large shopping center with a Major retailer at either end of the mainstreet, a one way circular ring road around the urban centre with clearly defined parking areas could result in Irish town centres such as say Navan's looking like a natural Dundrum town centre.

(1) see page 120
http://books.google.ie/books?id=nQFBtGZSznUC&pg=PA148&lpg=PA148&dq=shopping+centre+design+town+streets&source=web&ots=Z9JCC3Lv9q&sig=AritdrykrYek9PQ5ABeBS1eSoJU&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA90,M1
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby phil » Tue Oct 28, 2008 11:55 am

keating wrote: a one way circular ring road around the urban centre with clearly defined parking areas could result in Irish town centres such as say Navan's looking like a natural Dundrum town centre.



I have to say that I think this is a terrifying prospect. As well as shopping centres, such as Dundrum, withdrawing people from (in theory anyway) democratic town centres, the knock-on effect of the real towns becoming like another Dundrum 'town centre' would be a really worrying development for the future of our towns and city-centres.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:47 pm

keating wrote:Back up the bus lads,. . . You need to address the politics first, before you start re-arranging land uses. It will be difficult to consolidate an existing urban area under our current development model. Taking the Skehan/Sirr study as the most likely scenario, the first necessary step is reform of Local Government.


That depends on how you define 'First step'.

I'm thinking of a first step that imagines where we would like to be, as a urbanised, developed, island, in 2030, as opposed to predicting where we're likely to be in 2030 (based on an extrapolation of existing trends) and tailoring our planning strategies to suit that, as with the skehan/Sirr strategy.

Knowing where we'd like to get to ought to be the first step an any journey, then we'll gas up the bus, get out the map and hit the road.

That's interesting about U.S. shopping trends, although I have to say I find it hard to believe that Americans are going to start living without their malls, maybe this is the end of the world after all!

Phil: Obviously the very thought of Dundrum Shopping Centre ought to send a shiver down the spine of any right thinking person, but I imagine that keating is talking about the urban qualities of the place, rather that the horror of it's actual shops. In terms of the miserableness that was Dundrum before the the DSC, it could be argued that the centre has given Dundrum something of an urban focus, some paving and a water feature.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby phil » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:54 pm

gunter wrote: In terms of the miserableness that was Dundrum before the the DSC, it could be argued that the centre has given Dundrum something of an urban focus, some paving and a water feature.


Indeed, and all possible without resorting to monolithic construction projects such as Dundrum TC. My point is more related to dangers of managing a town as a purely shopping environment. It is about taking away those intangible factors that make a town a town and replacing them with the sterile ethos of the shopping centre mentality. This is obviously down to a political perspective, but in my view, such alterations would be largely negative in the long term.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby keating » Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:24 pm

phil wrote:I have to say that I think this is a terrifying prospect. As well as shopping centres, such as Dundrum, withdrawing people from (in theory anyway) democratic town centres, the knock-on effect of the real towns becoming like another Dundrum 'town centre' would be a really worrying development for the future of our towns and city-centres.



Sorry, I was a bit vague there. I agree Dundrum is just The square in Tallaght with recessed downlighters and 'delta cream granite'. In its favour though it has a nice outdoor square with restaurants and a pond and now an outdoor street leading to the largest toyshop in Europe. Its nice to see a plaza in Ireland where people congregate and mix. Sure most those people drove to within 400 yards of the plaza with conspicuous consumption on their minds, but its footfall. Most of our towns were built as the shopping centres of their day. The market square was the Major of the day and the speciality shops that lined the streets were the concession stores. If each town saw itself as a shopping centre and used the psychology employed by shopping centre designers, it would benefit those towns. It would also force retail use closer to town centres and force certain strategic pieces of land to undertake a particular use and density. For example incentivise an anchor to locate at the top of mainstreet or develope a multstorey carpark in the town centre. Security is a big draw for shopping centres but is not considered by local Authorities or chambers of commerce. If towns were designed by women this would be a big consideration.

In a shopping centre or mall for instance, you have Anchor stores on each end, such as Debenhams and Tesco, These stores pay little or no rent but they generate the footfall moving between them, this gives business to the mini-major's such as lifestyle and monsoon who pay a nominal rent and generate footfall for speciality stores like high end retail and food stores who pay highest rent per square foot.

The biggest driver of urban form has always been retail.

What do we want our country to be like in 2020 or 2030? we set that agenda when we voted for Cowan, Lenihan, Noel Dempsey, Dick Roche and Jackie Healy Rae. It'll be a great place for builders and Land owners. We'll get the future we deserve.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby phil » Tue Oct 28, 2008 5:32 pm

keating wrote:
The biggest driver of urban form has always been retail.


Not sure about that really. Think it is a dominant factor alright, but not sure if it is the biggest driver. Many other economic, socio-political and religious factors have also been dominant in terms of influencing urban form throughout (Western) history. Anyway, that is probably another day's debate. I think I see where you are coming from though. I would still be very wary of allowing shopping centre design to be the driving feature of urban change in our towns. On a base level I would far prefer to see policies such as the living over the shops scheme being pursued further in our towns. I also worry about the democratic legitimacy of the shopping centre mentality.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby SunnyDub » Tue Oct 28, 2008 9:50 pm

If you look more closely at the square in Dundrum, while it looks nice and works reasonably well, they've still designed it so most of it is unuseable for people to stop and hang out like is done in most squares. This is because of the lake and the multiple change in levels. It's presumably related to the privatised space of the centre and the perceived need to police the place.
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Re: The Skehan/Sirr plan

Postby gunter » Fri Oct 31, 2008 9:40 pm

keating wrote:If towns were designed by women this (the security offered by shopping centres) would be a big consideration.


That's a minefield I'm going to tip-toe around, except to say that 'towns' are now essentially designed by nobody and all the inherent characteristics and traditional patterns (outer defined edges and primary and secondary street hierarchies) that would have been understood when most of our towns were first developed, have fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by much more vague notions to do with zoning and distributary roads.

Image
Galway in the 1500s

Image
Youghal also in the late 16th century (from the same school history book)

keating wrote:What do we want our country to be like in 2020 or 2030? we set that agenda when we voted for Cowan, Lenihan, Noel Dempsey, Dick Roche and Jackie Healy Rae. It'll be a great place for builders and Land owners. We'll get the future we deserve.


I would agree with you, except that we can't really say that urban form is on the agenda of any political party, so it's not like the guys who would have re-imagined our towns and cities as tidy, ring-fenced, urban entities, just didn't get elected.

phil wrote:I would still be very wary of allowing shopping centre design to be the driving feature of urban change in our towns. On a base level I would far prefer to see policies such as the living over the shops scheme being pursued further in our towns.


I share your misgivings about shopping centres, but I think keating is right in that, often, they really are the only show in town and if they could be harnessed properly to extend and reinforce the commercial core of a town (or district), they could be a huge force for good, as, it could be argued, Dundrum TC is. Located in a vast car-park on the outskirts of town they achieve nothing, in urban consolidation terms, and contribute further to the decline of the established historic core.
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