Re: Re: The Irish Town â€“ Dying At The Crossroads?
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.