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22 July 1999 Edition

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Living in The Shadows

By Michael Pierse

     
Exclusivity and exclusion have accompanied the advent of the myriad new residential and commercial developments jutting up in working-class areas of the city
The refusal by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for a 13-storey development on Dublin's Barrow Street has been the second such victory in as many weeks for inner-city residents.

Juxtaposing high rise developments with considerably smaller existing residences is an exercise symbolic of the growing contrast between Dublin's rich and poor. Docklands development plans, which have been rejected by all Liffeyside community groups, are characterised by incongruity of appearance and socio-economic disparity. Yet the financial might of those proposing them continues to pose a threat to the democratic right of the community to monitor and control their own area's development.

The slogan ``No High Rise'' is already a common sight in the local area, a reference to the massive 20-storey George's Quay development still pending.

Most local objections to such developments are rooted in much more complex factors than dodgy architecture or aesthetics. Local Sinn Féin representatives Councillor Christy Burke and Daithí Doolan have demanded that adequate environmental impact, urban height and, most importantly, socio-economic surveys precede any further development. ``It is ridiculous'', Doolan asserted, ``when you consider that all motorway developments require extensive flora and fauna surveys, yet the physical and social impact of the docklands development, the biggest planning application in the history of the state, has not so far been subject to an Environmental Impact Survey''.

North of the Liffey, amidst the dreary cobblestone and grey walls that stultify the Docklands atmosphere, plans are afoot for a massive car park of 7,000 spaces in Mayor Street. The area is already subject to heavy through traffic to and from Dublin Port, yet has a scant supply of public transport. Córas Iompar Éireann has not thus far provided any blueprint for upgraded transportation facilities, despite the enormity of the proposed developments and likely influx of new inhabitants. ``This part of the development plan is of particular concern to locals,'' Councillor Burke said. ``Government policy is supposed to promote public transport, especially in areas of such proximity to the city centre. The environmental impact of 7,000 extra vehicles in an area where many families reside would be immeasurable, and unacceptable to my constituents.''

  There is little research into the social impact of development. Most emphasis seems to be put on bricks and mortar rather than the actual impact on peoples' daily lives. The appearance of the area is also important - people don't want to feel they are living in the shadow of the Black Hills of Dakota.  
Councillor Christy Burke

 
Developers are holding out a carrot to the local community. Tentative promises of new jobs and upgraded architectural and precinct features are the chief tools of persuasion. However, this tactic only serves to remind people of the empty promises they secured some years ago from the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). The IFSC project, overtly separated from the community by a high wall barrier, has provided little, if any, of the promised employment for locals. A paltry ten per cent of registered companies in the development have contributed to the local community. Entering the development from security gates on the Sheriff Street side could be likened to jumping through a porthole to a new, aloof and affluent world which has nothing to do with the local community and makes little efforts to facilitate integration. Only a handful of apprenticeships arose from the development, while the long-term jobs have been provided only for those whose place of residence does not impinge upon their employment prospects.

Exclusivity and exclusion have accompanied the advent of the myriad new residential and commercial developments jutting up in working-class areas of the city. The private sector has chosen, in some instances, to ignore completely the existence or validity of surrounding long-term residents and the social impact development might have upon their lives. Trendy nouveau riche venues have cropped up in deprived areas. They in turn have been accused of refusing the custom of locals, preferring instead to cultivate an atmosphere in which the more elitist elements of society can comfortably imbibe and avoid contact with or knowledge of the less financially fortunate. In the Smithfield area, residents have complained that promises that they could avail of facilities in a new hotel were reneged upon. After two years of tolerating noise and construction pollution, they claim they are now barred from the premises on the basis of their address or accent.

Stringent security measures are also a common feature of new apartment blocks and their precincts. This, South East Inner City Sinn Féin argues in its documented submission `Ringsend Beyond 2000' (RB2K), ``confronts the intrinsic inclusivity of the community''. According to Daithí Doolan, there is ``an emphasis on avoidance of the established community which effectively amounts to ghettoisation''. This failure to integrate residential developments between diverse social classes is known to be a cause of drug abuse and feelings of alienation among young people.

``There is little research into the social impact of development. Most emphasis seems to be put on bricks and mortar rather than the actual impact on peoples' daily lives,'' Christy Burke explains. ``Such considerations as the impact on the age balance of an area and the provision of normal family housing are essential to effective planning. The appearance of the area is also important - people don't want to feel they are living in the shadow of the Black Hills of Dakota.''

This week, following a request from Councillor Burke, the City Manager has agreed to produce a layperson's leaflet for Liffey-side residents who remain confused by glossy propaganda and awkwardly worded explanations of the development and its impact on the community. Burke has also called for the setting up of an inclusive public forum. Doolan has expressed hopes that An Bord Pleanála's current reluctance to accede to the demands of developers will ``set the precident for any future developments, especially the proposals in George's Quay''.
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