Re: Re: Grafton Street, Dublin

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Without being facetious… what difference would it make here if the planners could draw or not? I’m just curious about your thinking.

There was a project similar to what you describe called Designing Dublin which looked at the public’s impressions of the whole area and how it should develop. This in turn was developed into a masterplan for the Grafton Quarter – although we have yet to see this plan from Dublin City Council. The works to refurbish the pavements of Grafton Street, and some secondary projects such as Clarendon Street and Fade Street public realm works, stemmed from this masterplan, although in the absence of the masterplan (or the final Designing Dublin report) its hard to judge how effectively they met the overall vision.

The SPC is specifically designed to affect use on the street and to maintain the street’s position as a high-end retail street. It all sounds like a good idea on paper but I agree in practice it is more problematic. Firstly, the Council are not particular adept at managing these areas in an holistic manner and generally only pay lip-service to the SPC. Most planners in the Council haven’t a clue how to make the lofty ambitions of the SPC and its sister ACA policy a reality. The street should have a town centre manager. It should have a team of knowledgeable professionals managing the area an responding imaginatively to the various challenges that it faces and the in particular the whole revolution of retail streets that is underway at present. Sadly many of the people in the City Council who could affect change on the street are ‘lifers’ who have been around for decades and are at this stage devoid of motivation and good ideas, as well as hamstrung by the inertia of the Council.

In an ideal world, where an important economic entity like Grafton Street was being proactively managed and promoted and curated then you wouldn’t need to adopt SPCs. Clever management and the Market would ensure that the mix of retail and other uses on the street remained in tune with consumer needs and demands and that the image of the street was enhanced and improved, including the important issue of quality and standards of buildings, shopfront design, interiors, public realm etc.

Sadly, as we know we are a million miles away from that world. Perhaps it is ‘elitest’ as suggested in the piece above to try and reserve this street for one type of shopping. But there are plenty of streets in the city where a variety of uses and shops operate. But the reality is that this street is an important economic engine for the city centre and it must compete with the likes of Dundrum SC, Liffey Valley etc. It has to attract and bring people into the city centre. People will not take the Luas in on a Saturday to browse charity shops and mobile phone advertisement shops. They want a high quality shopping environment and a mix of shops, place to eat and sights to see. Its a package they are after and that’s why in my view Grafton Street should be managed as a package or an ‘experience’ if you will. Quality architecture, good design, the impression that the place they area visiting is cared for and respected – all these are essential to the success of the street. If it is elitist to want to preserve quality architecture on Grafton Street as a backdrop to its economic activities then tell me why shoppers don’t flock to Mayor Square on the weekend – with its bland modern boxes. Or why all those shop units in Smithfield remain vacant.

HOWEVER, I do think that in this city at this time, the whole concept of SPCs is just a dead duck. When basic planning permitting is being ignored, where the Council is abjectly failing to enforce its own development plan standards, where senior managers in the Council will ignore a wealthy building owner gutting an historically significant building on the street and allow the developer carte blanche to disney-fy the building and ignore best conservation practice and planning law surrounding ACAs and built heritage, then I agree – writing all this guff and adopting it as an SPC and Council policy is pointless.

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