18 May, 2013

Save Moore Street

Save Moore Street.

Not for the houses that the leaders of 1916 occupied in their last stand after leaving in the GPO, but for the vibrancy of the economic activity that immigrant and Irish retailers and visitors bring to the area, and the wealth of the existing built fabric and heritage that is threatened by demolition.

The phone shops; the vegetable stalls; the French Bakery and FX Buckleys the butchers. For many a stall or a small shop on Moore Street is a step on the first rung of the economic ladder. It all gives  a buzz that doesn't deserve to be eliminated by the Celtic Tiger 'Dublin Central' project. It would be the ultimate irony if tax-payers money were to be used through NAMA to give this destructive project a new lease of life. The drawing of the scheme shows the profile of the project set against the existing O'Connell Street looking west. It is over-scaled and represents a dated approach to revitalising an area.  Perhaps the most bizarre part of the whole proposal promoted by developer Joe O'Reilly and designed by architects  BKD, McGarry Ní Eanaigh and Donnelly Turpin is the north-facing park proposed for the roof of the shopping centre. It is all just plain wrong in its shape and size. It is grossly over-scaled for the area, and involves the demolition of too many buildings.

It reminds me of the Skidmore Owings Merill proposal for a central bus station in Temple Bar from the early 1980s that would have demolished dozens of buildings on both sides of the River Liffey and replaced what was then a bohemian quarter with, well, buses. The Dublin Central project seeks to replace a vibrant quarter with, well, British High Street shops.

When you walk along Moore Street there is a lot of under-maintained buildings, but that's mostly due to the urban blight forced on the area by developers. If the cement blocks were removed from the windows of the upper floors of these buildings they could be refurbished to become artists' studios or living spaces that would increase the footfall and life of the area. Many of these buildings date from the mid-nineteenth century. Some look even earlier.

Dublin City Council needs to take enforcement action against the unauthorised surface car parks that have been springing up off Parnell Street. It also needs to reconsider the support it is giving  for comprehensive redevelopment that failed in the 1960s, and that is set to fail again if it continues to facilitate a deeply-flawed redevelopment proposal. If there is a building to be demolished in the area, it is the City Council's  own cleansing deport which an architectural travesty with a blank ground floor facade covered in advertising at the corner of Moore Street and O'Rahilly Parade. Perhaps it could be replaced with a decent indoor market that could give budding entrepreneurs an affordable stall and a roof over their head to sell their wares. 

Last Autumn my students in the Spatial Planning degree programme carried out a conservation inventory of the buildings in the blocks bounded by Upper O'Connell Street, Parnell Street, Moore Street and Henry Street. They showed that there is  a wealth of heritage and economic activity in the area that deserves to be protected.

Moore Street has a long and fascinating history. Barry Kennerk's new Book "Moore Street the Story of Dublin's Market District" is a great read that documents the history of the area through the eyes and words of traders and local residents. Street trading has deteriorated in recent years. That's partly due to the lure of supermarkets and shopping centres, but it's also due to the neglect of the street by the city council. It has not just turned a blind eye to the creeping dereliction fostered by developers, it has encouraged speculators in their plans.

The area  deserves a decent future. Retaining and refurbishing 16 Moore Street and the adjacent buildings could be the first step in  what needs to happen. The link to 1916 needs to be cherished and celebrated as we approach the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising. However I'm not convinced that another museum is required. Maybe a 'Living Over the Shop' project would make more sense. Minister Jimmy Deenihan is the decision-maker on this one. A Committee of Dublin City Councillors recently called for the 1916 buildings at 14-17 Moore Street to be retained, but they need to go further.  The entire neighbourhood needs to be refurbished rather than demolished to facilitate another Shopping Centre. Comprehensive redevelopment is not the solution to regenerating this part of the City. Maybe an architectural competition could be held to come up a carefully considered master-plan for the area. 

Thirty years ago in Berlin they coined the idea of 'soft' urban renewal in Berlin. Essentially it means refurbishing old buildings in co-operation with the local community, and filling empty sites with well-designed, but not over-scaled buildings. Moore Street could have the buzz of Camden market and a thriving residential community. All it needs is a bit of imagination, and a change of direction from the City Council.

Soft urban renewal is what we need.

07 May, 2013

How about a new island for Dublin Bay?

Now there's a thought.

This might just be the answer to the challenge that Dublin City is facing over what to do with almost a million tonnes of spoil from the bottom of Dublin Bay. A new island might just be  what's needed.

It's part of the final phase of what is known as the Dublin Bay Project. This is an ambitious plan to improve the water quality of Dublin Bay by improved waste water treatment, and building a pipe to send some of the waste water further out to sea.

The Liffey Estuary was designated as a nutrient sensitive water body by the Department of the Environment in 2001, and so the city has to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that discharge into these waters close to the shore. The plan is to invest in further sewage treatment at the Ringsend Waste Water Treatment plant, and to construct an underwater tunnel four and a half metres in diameter that will discharge the treated sewage nine kilometres out into Dublin Bay. This is not cheap. It will cost around €222 million to build, and around €3 million per year to operate.  Dublin City Council made an application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to construct the works and dump the spoil at sea. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)  estimates that the rock spoil from the  excavations will be in the order of 847,500 tonnes, or around half a million cubic metres in volume. In April 2013 Dublin City withdrew their Application because some of the documentation regarding assessments and environmental impacts was not received in time to allow members of the public to make observations. 

An other proposal put forward in the Environmental Impact Statement is to truck the waste through Dublin City for re-use or disposal in landfill. This would involve thousands of truck movements and wouldn't be that popular an option from those who live close to the proposed route. 

Maybe now is the time to consider an alternative approach?

I'm wondering could we carefully place the the rock spoil out at the edge of Dublin Bay on top of the Burford Bank and create a new island.  the Burford Bank is the vertical bar that can be seen on the right hand side of the chart above. The water is fairly shallow there: only about three fathoms or five and a half metres deep at the lowest tide. Arranging the spoil in a ten metre high mound resting on the sea-bed could produce a new island ten kilometres to the east of Ringsend. Such an island could be an amenity that Dubliners could sail, motor or row out to on a summers evening, you could even plant a few pine trees, put in a pier and and a few picnic tables. The island itself might be roughly one hundred metres in diameter, with a rock reef to protect it from erosion. The area around the island could be designated as a marine park, and might protect vulnerable marine species from over-fishing in the water s nearby. Needless to say there'd need to be an architectural competition held to come up with the best design for the project. It could be a great way of celebrating the improvement in water quality in Dublin Bay that would result from  the new outfall pipe. Of course the underwater hydrology would have to be carefully considered, but it might have a secondary function of helping to protect vulnerable coastal areas such as Clontarf from Easterly gales. Any proposal would have to respect the OSPAR Convention that protects the north-east Atlantic from pollution, as well as the various European Union Directives that protect our coast.

What would such an island look like? Well, here's a link to a similar island  located a few kilometres away from Copenhagen in Denmark. There's also a useful article by Wheeler, Walshe and Sutton from University College Cork on the seabed of Ireland's east coast near Dublin here, and some seabed mapping from the Celtic Voyager seabed surveys here
Currently the City of Amsterdam is building new islands by using rock and sand from dredging shipping channels. It's just an idea, and something that perhaps the Dublin City Council and the EPA could consider in their deliberations in advance of a new application for Dumping at Sea.

In 1801 Captain William Bligh, of Bounty fame surveyed the Liffey Channel and proposed extending the harbour walls so that ships could travel safely into Dublin Port. As a bonus Bull Island was created. Perhaps today’s plans to upgrade Dublin’s sewage treatment could give the city an amenity that would improve Dublin for the next two hundred years.  If we’re going to spend €220 million on Dublin’s sewage treatment upgrade, then let’s do something interesting with the waste rock and mud. In my mind a new island sounds like a good idea. 

Currently the options for dealing with the waste from digging the 9km tunnel are to make it disappear, just like Steve McQueen did in “The Great Escape” where the earth from digging an escape tunnel was spread all over the prison yard.  The alternative is to truck it out through Ringsend and the Dublin Port Tunnel to a landfill site. I’m suggesting a third option, and it might be cheaper, the building of a new island in Dublin Bay.