We know that where you live can strongly determine your level of well-being. In 1971, Carrigaline had a population of 971 people. In the last census of 2016, it recorded a population of 15,770. In 1978, Cork county council and corporation published the Cork land use and transportation study (LUTS) and it has had a defining impact on shaping Cork. The commissioning of the study was to deal with the traffic problems in the city. People had faced congestion when navigating through the city, whether going East, West, North or South. The answers to the problem were car-driven and divided into a dichotomy of either build elevated roads on the quays and flyover motorways at key landmark points in the city or spread city growth to the county with circling roads connecting suburb to suburb living. Instead of tackling Cork’s congestion in its core, they decided to continue with a greenbelt policy and spread development to county towns.
Cork’s satellite town suburbia model was born. And, leapfrog development, the cars, and congestion followed. The city’s core population growth stagnated. Forty years after LUTS, Cork is now designated a sprawled city, one of the most congested small cities in Europe and has 70 per cent car dependency. This has implications for our pockets, as evidence from America indicates that sprawled cities can cost residents more than 10,000 dollars extra per capita, each year, in development and congestion costs, relative to, smart compact cities.
When I was studying in college, an educator described Carrigaline, (as memory serves me) as containing no admirable and attractive urban quality, whatsoever. A bit of a strong description, I thought. But nonetheless, the description stuck. More, recently, at a gathering of urbanists, one of the contributors described Carrigaline as ‘a sprawling estate’. How fair are these characterisations? In the podcast ‘99% invisible’ (worth a listen to), the authors identify the defining feature of suburbia to be the concentration of ‘cul de sacs’. How many cul de sacs are in Carrigaline? Waterpark? Forest Hill? The interesting aspect of cul de sacs is that they are highly sought after. Houses within close proximity of them often fetch a higher sum of money from prospective buyers. In many ways, they typify what is attractive about suburban life. They are often quiet. They are a good space for kids to play, are normally accompanied by a green space, experience less disruption from the dangers of the private car and they often provide more privacy. For families with young children, the cul de sac makes sense.
Many architects and urbanists would have design complaints about many housing estates. And, many of these complaints are probably valid, but the significant problems I identify with ‘planning design’ in Carrigaline is not within the estates themselves, but are experienced, more in the public realm. How far are the cul de sacs in new developments from the business centre, the nearest shop, the nearest bus stop, and general public amenities? Since we haven’t supported mixed developments, they are quite far, and in turn are making the car ‘king’ and the only type of viable ‘get-around’ option.
Car dependency is at 78 per cent in Carrigaline. The area is highly congested in the morning and evenings. Less than one per cent of Carrigaliner’s commute to school or work by bike. Despite, so many local schools and the industry hub of Ringaskiddy only being four kilometres away, planners have failed to design a safe, segregated cycling route between Carrigaline and Ringaskiddy. Further, provision for safe cycling can only be described as terrible. For instance, there is an isolated 50 metre cycling lane created outside the new health centre that serves little purpose. It actually doesn’t even go into the health centre. Even walkability is poorly served. Despite the development of two new schools around the corner, Ferney road is still awaiting a safe pedestrian route. And, we all know how poor the bus network is. Improving walking and cycling routes would be ‘cheap wins’ on the congestion front and would encourage healthy urban living.
Despite much of this column being negative so far, there are some spaces that work extremely well. The playground and the new skateboard park show that if you design spaces effectively for the community, they will be used by the community. And, the tidy town group do an amazing job in making Carrigaline look great. But, we need more public spaces and local services, mixed in, amongst the estates. And we need to ask ourselves, is Carrigaline’s town centre worth coming to? Do we even go there ourselves? Or do we go elsewhere? How does it compare to the streets of Kinsale, Clonakilty and Kenmare?
If we look at the best street models; they have less cars, are one-way or they are fully car-free. This is not a war on the car. If cars produced great spaces, where people would like to spend time, then that would be great. But, they simply don’t. Pedestrians and cyclists need to be put to the forefront of our public spaces if we want the public realm to thrive and we need to design good community streets. If you plan streets for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan streets for people, you get people. Carrigaline has a young, hardworking, tax paying demographic. It deserves good transit links within the city-region, more investment in its walkable and cycling environ, better designed mixed development and more investment in its public realm. But the way we have set up the game (like the LUTS plan) undermine the potential for viable transit between Cork’s urban centres and undermines the potential to build strong integrated, well designed communities.
The LUTS plan was replaced by the Cork Area Strategic Plan (CASP) in 2001. CASP included a planned expansion around Blarney and the creation of a new neighbouring town in Monard, which are rural-ish areas currently outside the higher dense urban areas of Corks functional urban region. They are also located North-West and relatively far from where the key employment ‘hotspots’ are (Harbour, Little Island). The recent extension of the Cork city boundary suggests that the model of ‘spread-density’ development that has cursed Cork for 40 years will continue. The counter model would be an ‘integrate-density’ retrofit model. Where, development focuses on bridging the harbour area, little island with the city core, increasing land density, transit and cycling viability. There is ample space to do this.
In the past decade, worldwide, an urban renaissance is building in the core of cities. The nature of jobs are changing and smart people living and working in close proximity is a key force of growth. In Cork, we are actively planning through plans like LUTS and CASP to dilute this force. The millennial generation have been found to be happiest in cities and many are turning their backs on the problems of surburban living and the ‘spread-development’ sprawl ideology of the past. The millennial employees of Apple and Voxpro don’t want to spend hours in their car each day. Let’s not force them to do it, or worse, lose them from our region, with our ill-conceived plans. Plans set up the game. We need to create a new chessboard that includes plans for innovative, inclusive, integrated and liveable communities. Repair of our city region from the decades of sprawl damage is now required.