We Need the Buzz of People Not Cars in Downtown Carrigaline

Teagasc published a report in 2014 that ranked towns in Ireland on their economic strength using an index based on unemployment rates and inward migration figures. Carrigaline was identified as one of the worst performing towns in the Cork area. 31 other towns in Cork had a higher ‘strength index’ with only Macroom, Dunmanway, Youghal, Buttevant, Mitchelstown, Bandon and Fermoy identified as being in a worse position. We can gauge from this that Carrigaline businesses have come through a very testing decade of weak consumer demand. Presently, the economy is recovering with economic growth likely to hit 6 per cent this year and with unemployment falling to only 6 per cent.

This means Carrigaline consumers should have more disposable income in their pockets. Businesses in Carrigaline respond well to the needs of time constrained consumers looking for convenience with excellent supermarkets, barbers and hair salons, off licences, pharmacies and many takeaway options. However, Carrigaline struggles to cater for people looking for retail clothing shopping, restaurant options, artisan shopping, entertainment, recreational and an overall local shopping experience.

The government are aware that many Irish town centres are struggling and in April of this year they launched the framework for Town centre renewal. It outlines the key characteristics of a successful town centre. The objectives of the plan are to help town committees get the best from the town centre, encouraging people to comeback, developing an evening economy and enhancing the quality of experience for local citizens.

This is a good start but from what thinkers is the report drawing its ideas from? This is not apparent. When I think of the great urban economic thinkers – Jane Jacobs comes immediately to mind. She has been highly critical of modernist planners, particularly in their separation of uses around residential, industrial and commercial areas and planning for cars and shopping centres. We live in one place, work in another and then shop in another place meaning people do not really need the Town centre in their daily lives. They don’t need the local butcher, baker or fruit and vegetable shop.

When we think of Carrigaline, this is definitely the case. Most people live in sprawling estates, these are separated from shopping centres that are located around the town centre and our places of work are generally outside of Carrigaline. Our activity is highly reliant on having a car. It appears planning in the area has been arbitrary in the sense that it has been along the lines of where will we put the Lidl shopping centre? Where will we put the next estate? Where will we put the Carrigaline Educate together school? Where will we put the new Carrigaline health care centre? Jacobs claimed that planning like this will destroy innovative communities by creating isolated unnatural urban spaces as the spaces are separated and not integrated.

For her, ideas for planning should emerge from our use of spaces in the community. Where is the heart of the community in Carrigaline? Where are people meeting most? Where is all the action? Is Carrigaline an interesting place to walk through? Would you like to spend time there? From my observations it’s the Owenabue car park and outside the SuperValu area where there is a lot of motorist and pedestrian activity. Is this an interesting area – no. Is it pleasant- no. Would I like to spend time there –no. There is generally chaos caused by the cars coming in and out of Owenabue car park and Super Valu and pedestrians trying to dodge cars as they cross the road.

Carrigaline has spaces that people enjoy like the community park, playground area, walks down Crosshaven road and sports grounds. But these areas are all disconnected from the business centre of Carrigaline. You observe very few people integrating their daily cycle or physical activity in the community park with a walk or cycle to the town centre for a coffee or lunch. Moving from one space to another is difficult because you need to cross roads and car parks. Jacobs was highly critical of the motor car. And it’s fair to say that our planners are generally putting motorists first. As a disclaimer, I don’t cycle and I love my car. But the next time you go for a walk, observe the activity of cars, their noise, emissions and the effect it has on your experience. We need to make this integration between spaces easier for pedestrians and cyclists and we need to encourage people to ‘hang out’ and experience the town. It needs to become an interesting and relaxing place.

I am not suggesting we eliminate the car from all town areas but we need to make a large area in the centre of the activity that is pedestrian and cycle friendly. We need a place of enjoyment that is in close proximity to Carrigaline businesses. I have identified it as the Owenbue car park and Super Valu area – but it needs to become permanently car free. We need to remove the buzz of cars and replace it with the buzz of people. Ideally we should have music festivals, youth days, culture days, markets and so on that will get diverse people interacting, sharing ideas, stories and ‘hanging out’ in our town and in turn creating an innovative environment to be in. Encouraging this type of interaction allows creativity to flourish and the ideas for new innovations to emerge.

But I am only one opinion. We need everybody’s opinion. Jacobs identified the need for the community to drive development of their urban space from a place-making perspective that is bottom up. For this to successfully happen, every household in the community needs to be surveyed. What do the citizens want their community to be like? This will inspire people to collectively reimagine and reinvent our public spaces. We need to think about the social and cultural importance of spaces. Businesses need the community and the community needs businesses. For too long development has been arbitrary, reactive and top-down, focused on the motor car and in turn this is leading to the death of town centres. We need a community consensus, embrace young and old people in our urban spaces and their ideas. By involving everyone, we side-line the NIMBYs (not in my back yard), CAVE people (citizens against virtually everything), STPs (same ten people) from influencing the long term development of community spaces, and in turn we will retain and develop the vibrancy of our business centre.