Re: Re: The Irish Town – Dying At The Crossroads?

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Apologises about the lenght of the above. I had to re-read it over quite a few hours last night to see if I could un-cover the meaning in what I had typed myself. Late last night I was thinking about it. It occured to me what I have been trying to do all along in recent time at Archiseek. I have been struggling to find some broader definition of what is a sustainable neighbourhood or community. So I wrote down briefly my thinking on that here:

http://designcomment.blogspot.com/2009/06/multi-layered-definition-of.html

Yeah, I can appreciate reading KB’s response above what the problems faced by towns on the ring of Kerry are. I am judging Kerry towns by Dublin standards for sure. I still believe though, that more life might grow within these towns if the pedestrian realm wasn’t such an afterthought. There are two approaches towards development. On one end of the spectrum where you dicate something to happen. This was the approach taken during much of the Celtic tiger by developers like Dunne, Carroll, Treasury and so on. The other approach is to create conditions, in which something can grow and develop. That is the approach I am suggesting here.

In one of the photos shown above, the parking on either side and thoroughfare of ‘traffic’ through the centre of the street is given way too much priority. (If Caherciveen is so deserted a place for much of the year, then why does it need so much space for automobiles) In Caherciveen (note picking on it specifically) and in the majority of Irish towns, the pedestrian is confined to being a second class citizen who has to navigate along a miserable one meter width strip, shoved tight into the buildings.

The pedestrian never enjoys the street for what it really could be. Most of the time, the pedestrian hates using that narrow strip of walking pavement, because it ensures you are within other pedestrians ‘personal space’ all of the time. You are bumping into the kinds of people all the time, you don’t want to meet. That becomes a major problem in a small place such as Caherciveen I am sure. In order to walk down the narrow pedestrian realm, you almost have to plan your journey so as not to bump into certain people.

There is a safe sort of distance that pedestrians can maintain between each other, if the space is provided. I noticed this very much on O’Connell Street in Dublin, where in the past it was a very exhausting experience to navigate from the bottom to the top of O’Connell Street with all the ‘hassle’ you got from people along the way. If the pedestrian realm is provided for, that leads to a much more relaxed and healthier co-existence of different age groups and different cultures. If one wants to build a multi-cultural urban environment, the first place I would start is with the pavements.

I know from observation of the town of Abbeyfeale for instance, that is spread out across its hinterland. I wonder would people prefer to make their working places, the streets and buildings that are in the town? If the central and more compact areas of the town could be organised better, with less dominance given to the cars. An awful lot of people in Irish towns spend a lot of their time avoiding one another. It is part of human behaviour. But the squashed together pedestrian experience on pavements does not facilitate this behaviour very well.

I seriously believe if the urban space in towns was better organised they might begin to look more like places, that people would want to live and work in. Even to live and work beside un-married mothers and whatever else, if I am not stretching the realms of possibility too far. If we want to fight against urban sprawl and bad pheripheral development, then we have to start with how we manage and design our pedestrian realm in the centre.

I watched a documentary on BCC4 television about airports in Britain. There was one example from the 1960s, where Heathrow airport had not introduced ‘international’ pictogram signs to help airport users to navigate their way around. Not everyone using an airport could read the English signs. The spokesperson for Heathrow airport (bear in mind, this was the 1960s) said, it would be too risky to put a pictogram sign of a female with a dress to indicate a ladies toilet. The gentlemen from the middle east might get the wrong ideas! We will probably look back on this chapter of decayed urban values and bad pedestrian realm, like we look back on those comments about ladies toilet signs now.

The main streets of towns like Abbeyfeale have next to no pedestrian realm worth mentioning. The only function the main street seems to have in the Irish town is some baudy, dis-reputable and boozy thoroughfare for people to stagger around in the later hours. (Nothing wrong with that some times) It occurs to me that many of the late night town visitors live beyond in the suburban land and merely use the village or town centre as their nightime amusement centre. That seems to be a very poor functionality for towns and villages with good potential to be restricted to.

I also included a post about architectural heritage here:

http://designcomment.blogspot.com/2009/06/architectural-heritage.html

Brian O’ Hanlon

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