26 September 2002 Edition

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Possibilities and Pitfalls

'Dublin 2002-2012 - A City of Possibilities' is the strategy document that will guide the city's development for the next ten years. But will it have the clout to match its ambitions? JOANNE CORCORAN asks the key questions.

It is without doubt that when the Dublin City Development Board (CDB) set itself the task of mapping the trajectory for Dublin's currently frantic development into the next decade, that it was facing a mammoth task. Not least because of current economic uncertainty, government cutbacks and local needs that are at odds with state priorities, this task is further complicated. 'Dublin 2002-2012- A City of Possibilities' is therefore, though at times ambitious, commendable and idealistic, a document that may nevertheless see its possibilities become pipe-dreams.

The strategy will, it is anticipated, effect everyone in the city; students, visitors, children, business people, community and voluntary groups, state services, and government officials. Its aim is to improve the quality of life in Dublin by changing the face and feel of the city.

'A City of Possibilities' was debated by many prominent politicians, social partnerships and development agents. Among the politicians to shape the document was Councillor Christy Burke, who contributed to some of what he terms "the more realistic aspects" of the strategy.

Invoking the words of Irish Times development correspondent, Frank McDonald, 'A City of Possibilities' outlines what is arguably a blinkered vision of the Dublin that is:

"The city has a palpable buzz about it and this liveliness makes a huge impression on first time visitors".

With its congested traffic, spiralling crime rates, the exorbitant prices of food, drink and hotels, its unfriendliness to visitors and the sheer filth of the place, those who negotiate the same Dublin could be forgiven for thinking that McDonald was referring to an entirely different place.

The city, however, badly needs to be improved and the CDB has done its best to establish where those improvements can be made.

'A City of Possibilities' is divided into 15 key areas. Among the areas are 'neighbourhoods, a diverse and inclusive city', 'a connected and informed city', 'a democratic and participative city', 'a safer city', 'a greener city', 'a moving and accessible city', 'a family friendly city', 'a city of homes', and 'a learning city'.

Providing a run-down of the problems in each area, it then lists what CDB would like to see happen over the next ten years. While there are a few good suggestions made, 'A City of Possibilities' can't be read without an element of scepticism. The expressed ideals of the board and the reality of what these ideals entail doesn't appear to be entirely compatible, particularly seeing as what they suggest in many areas runs contrary to what the current government, which will hold power for half of the strategy's lifetime, actually advocate.


In addition to this, at times, the strategy appears to tell us (itals) what needs to be done, (itals) and yet neatly avoids coming up with an answer to how it (itals) will be done. (itals) For example, in the area of 'a diverse and inclusive city' it talks about income inadequacy, saying the CDB wants to ensure 'every individual has an adequate income to enable them to live with dignity.' To create this it suggests establishing an 'Income Adequacy Working Group' to collect data, report on the level of poverty in the city and monitor change. It also suggests researching what would be an adequate amount of money on which to live and creating a city-wide debate on social income for all.

Laudable this may be, but while anyone can see the proposed working group will make us more well-informed about poverty in the city, the nuts and bolts of bringing an end to it are not outlined. Nobody living below the bread line is going to thank the CDB for being able to tell them just how poor they really are.


There are, however, some very progressive sections in the booklet. 'A city of homes' is anchored by the concept of expanding the renting sector as an alternative to home ownership. Rent controls are mentioned and it is recognised that the renting sector will need an entire ovehall if it is to become in any way attractive to residents in the city. Although renting has proved a success on the continent, in Dublin it is an experience tinged with greed (on the part of Landlords) and despair (on the part of tenants).

It has been widely recognised that reforms will have to involve landlords being severely reprimanded if they attempt to curtail their tenants' rights. Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke, who sits of the CDB, is supportive of this measure:

"There are landlords out there who take advantage of their position. People need somewhere to live, and with the current housing crisis they are turning increasingly to the renting sector. Here they are facing exploitative landlords, who incur no real penalties if they abuse their position.

"Rents are through the roof. Renters rarely have security of tenure, or any other support from the government.

"I brought up the problem with renting at the meetings on this strategy, and I also brought up the issue of 'over-shop' accommodation," Christy adds. "Recently Dublin Corporation has decided to open up a section of Capel Street for over-shop renting and I welcome this, but there are many more streets out there where this could be availed of."

Unfortunately the strategy doesn't deal with the needs of travellers, who are currently facing the wrath of the government which has passed a law allowing them to be evicted from undesignated sites, when the number of sites being provided is diminishing.


In its section on an inclusive city, 'A City of Possibilities' talks about building education, and developing training courses to create equality in the workplace. It is salutary to point out that on the CDB there are 21 men, only eight women and no travellers, disabled people, or members of other races, and this scenario is merely a reflection of the pervasive inequality in 26-County government. Employers might ask why they are being expected to create equal environments for women, disabled people, refugees, travellers and so on, when the powers that be are not willing to practice what they preach.

Envisaging co-ordinated campaigns in schools, businesses and the public sector to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism, 'A City of Possibilities' does, however, go some way towards offering a remedy to the malaise of racism in the capital.

In the section on integration, the document suggests numerous ways through which everyone in Dublin can pull together, to give the city better direction and to get things done. It doesn't tackle, however, the real obstacles in the city to integration. For instance, it fails to outline how can asylum seekers begin to integrate when they are forbidden from working.


The section on 'A Democratic and Participative City' is important, especially in light of the government's undemocratic decision to re-run the Nice Treaty Referendum. It is pointed out that, in the next few years, Dublin citizens will be able to directly elect their City Mayor, replacing the current system by which mayors are chosen by councillors.

In the section on 'a safer city', we may see the repercussions elsewhere of the Patten Report on Policing in the North, with the establishment of community policing partnerships for Dublin neighbourhoods suggested. This seeks to nurture an environment of local policing which, many have argued for some time, is sorely needed in Dublin.


'A greener city' would appear to be relying on the goodwill of businesses in helping to create a more environmentally friendly Dublin. People in the city know at this stage that they are going to be lumped with shouldering the expense of recycling. The bin charges are being imposed on a rebellious public, instead of charges being directed toward businesses that create the waste. In addition to this, the 26-County government, again contradicting the Dublin strategy document, is planning to erect incinerators - hardly conducive to a greener city.

Likewise, 'a healthy and active city' cannot be achieved whilst the health system is in such disarray. The strategy encourages the development of local sports, but the government is clearly more interested in pumping more money into a national stadium. 'A City of Possibilities' does suggest development of sports trails across the city, like the jogging, walking and roller blading tracks in Sydney, Australia, which have proved popular there. This is a good idea, not least because it may contribute to the city being more enjoyable for younger people.


Finally, in 'a learning city' the strategy talks idealistically about an "attitudinal change" in State Agencies, to develop "learners, not just earners."' Fianna Fáil and the PD's in their latest price hike in student fees, are pushing the boat out on ensuring that those who want to learn have to be earning to pay their way through increasingly expensive courses. Cllr. Burke also tried to influence the strategy here, he says, by proposing a more open avenue to education.

"The government has helped to nurture a two-tiered education system. This has been further highlighted recently by the report in the Irish Times which showed that the majority of students entering Trinity College and UCD are from fee-paying schools and middle-class neighbourhoods."

"The hike in fees that the government decided to introduce this year needs to be reversed, and means testing for grant aid students needs to be reviewed. If school leavers from working class areas aren't taking the straight route to college that their middle class counterparts are, some positive action needs to be taken. They have to be given all the financial support that they need. Hopefully the strategy will help to achieve this."


Dublin City badly needs a change. The city is crime-ridden, overly expensive, unsightly, prejudiced against foreigners, and lacking in real communities. The CDB, with its heart in the right place, is attempting to change this. The strategy is the work of a committed team, but it is relying on the commitment of others to fulfil its goals. Unfortunately this will require vast sums of money and the full co-operation of a capitalist government on implementing socialist policies to be a success.

It also relies on the full commitment of businesses to start putting people before profit, an ideal that is appearing more unlikely in an increasingly materialistic city.

However, some aspects of the strategy can work if they are implemented. Christy Burke is hopeful that inadequacies in the transport and education systems, as well as the accommodation crisis can be dealt with if certain agencies push 'A City of Possibilities'.

"The strategy needs to be backed by the government. All of the problems in these areas can be removed if the government is committed to removing them. I brought up real problems when I was at the meetings on this strategy. Problems like there being a lack of back-up services for people with addictions. These sorts of problems are prominent in my constituency and I will be doing my utmost to ensure that the suggestions for them in the strategy are implemented.

"Some of this booklet contains ideals, that may or may not be realised. But Dublin is a city of possibilities, and Sinn Féin, myself included, will be working hard to make sure that its possibilities are developed."

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