Friday, 12 January 2007

This week Simon Carswell spoke to Dick Gleeson Dublin City Planner

The Sunday Business Post had this story at the weekend. I only read it today, finally. It was in my pile ...

As the city's planner, he would like to see Dublin's becoming one of the best city centres in Europe by 2016. To that end, Gleeson has a long wish-list. He'd like to see uninterrupted walkways and cycle paths linking Sutton to Sandycove - taking advantage of Dublin Bay - and from Sandycove to Chapelizod.
He'd like to see the banks of the Liffey improved along the quays, with redeveloped areas of the city - such as Smithfield, O'Connell Street and the new square being built as part of the Spencer Dock project in the docklands - being linked by a continuous pedestrian route.
He wants Henry Street and Grafton Street and the large shopping area between the two to remain the number one shopping centre in the country. He believes there is enough space between the two streets to build the equivalent of three Dundrum Shopping Centres.
As an example, he cites the areas behind the old Habitat building on St Stephen's Green and areas of Dawson Street and Molesworth Street that could be developed into shopping streets.
Gleeson says Dublin City Council is probably going to meet its target of building 40,000 new homes in the city centre by 2010, but he recognises that there will be relatively little land left after that.
''If we are going to significantly address the challenge of the sprawl of Dublin, we are going to have to look at the consolidation of the city in a sustainable and well-designed way," he said.
Gleeson has warmed to the recent suggestion of moving the port out of Dublin - perhaps to Balbriggan in north Co Dublin - and developing the eastern side of the city as a residential centre, rather than an exclusively commercial and industrial hub.
''The port represents a major opportunity to think in a very adventurous way about what type of urban form might constitute an extension of central Dublin into that area," he said. ''I don't think it should be just a model copied from Manhattan. We can achieve very sustainable densities at six and seven storeys."
To the west of the city, Gleeson is enthusiastic about plans for the area around Heuston Station where a mostly residential 32-storey building is being built. He said the area could accommodate 5.5 million square feet of space and about 3,000 new homes.
At the other end of the west-east city axis, at Poolbeg, another six million square feet and about 3,000 new homes will be built. Gleeson doesn't see the city just expanding to the port, but westwards as well.
''The inner city now extends from Heuston to the Point Depot," he said.
''But that is not the end of the story. We still miss out on a strategic relationship of Dublin to the bay on one side and to the Phoenix Park on the other.
''It is absolutely amazing that a park of 1,700 acres is so physically and psychologically separate from the city. People say it is the largest urban park in Europe. It is - I have seen the city maps of Europe. We need the park and we need to integrate the park into the city."
Gleeson would like to see a French-style brown grit boulevard lined with trees running down the side of the park from Parkgate Street to Chapelizod along the Liffey so something can be made out of ''an old road out of the city'' that he acknowledges is not really used to a great extent anymore.
He would also like to see more made of the west end of the city centre and to use the river more, even for swimming. He uses Copenhagen – a city he admires - as an example.
He said the Danes have cordoned off part of the harbour in Copenhagen for swimming.
Gleeson said the council was undertaking a feasibility study to examine whether traffic could be banned from the area in front of Heuston Station.
This would involve redirecting traffic coming into the city from the west over a new bridge northwards across the Liffey to Conyngham Road along Parkgate Street and Benburb Street at the back of the Croppies Acre. This would open up the area in front of Heuston Station and along the river to pedestrians.
''The central concept is to link the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) through the rear of the CIE building on a raised new urban space and link it across to the Phoenix Park," said Gleeson.
Gleeson said the city would open up to the west with a new public park, linking IMMA in Kilmainham, south of the river, to the Nat ional Museum at Collins Barracks, north of the river, via Heuston Station.
He envisages a new entrance for the National Museum modelled on the Louvre in Paris. Gleeson's high ambitions for Dublin do not necessarily involve high buildings.
''There isn't an automatic case for high rise in Dublin. Most of those cities that I have mentioned - Copenhagen, Vienna, Barcelona and Paris - have not embraced high rise as the answer to everything," he said.
''A lot of debate goes into high rise because it is the easy way out, grabbing attention on a site or a flagship project. Relatively few of those buildings actually translate into flagship character and quality.
"Some architects can handle it, most can't.
''I would restate our commitment - Dublin will remain largely low rise and we will protect the area between the canals."
However, Gleeson acknowledged that there might be a place for high rise in the docklands.
''What we are stating is that we won't consider high buildings without a plan, which has got to look at all things on the ground – its context, its relationship with the historic legacy of Dublin," he said.
Planning and building well-designed skyscrapers in Dublin would be a challenge, said Gleeson. Office buildings need such a large ''floor plate'' that, when they rise into the sky, they tend to be ''inelegant and fat'', he said, whereas residential buildings tend to be ''more elegant''.
''The problem is that residential buildings are so expensive to build because the floor plates are so restrictive," he said.
Gleeson is not just focusing on the city centre. Ringsend, Ballsbridge, Rathmines and Grangegorman are also in his sights for a revamp.
He said the Irish Glass Bottle site - which was bought by a consortium led by property developer Bernard McNamara and including the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and wealth manager Derek Quinlan -offered the potential for an intriguing new suburb.
''It has to maximise the relationship between two very different characters - the character of the bay and the river. It presents one of the most interesting living environments anywhere in Dublin," he said.
Ballsbridge presented an opportunity to bring ''design energy'' to the suburbs, where it had been lacking, said Gleeson.
''It is probably the most famous suburb in Ireland in terms of its icon status," he said. ''Major institutions have been locating there for the last 100 years. It went through radical change at different times in its history and is probably going to go through radical change again."
The big question is whether or not the council will allow high rise in Ballsbridge, as envisaged by property developer Sean Dunne, who bought some of the most expensive land in the country when he purchased the Jurys Doyle site in 2005.
Dunne wants to develop the area in a radical plan. ''We are looking at more than just the lands owned by Sean Dunne and Ray Grehan [who owns land in Ballsbridge next to Dunne's]," said Gleeson.
''We are looking at the whole of Ballsbridge. It needs an additional number of facilities. It has very poor local shopping. It is dominated by traffic.
''For an area of the city that is so well known and so famous and has such amazing institutions as Lansdowne Road, it sometimes falls down at its heart."
The council is preparing a local area plan that will be put on public display later this month.
Gleeson said this would involve ''creating an urban form that answers the questions of creating a character and identity for Ballsbridge - one that marries well with the wonderful legacy of Victorian Dublin''.
As for traffic problems in the city centre, Gleeson believes that more Luas lines around the city will provide a solution, citing the fact that Luas carries 27 million passengers a year (compared to Dart's 24 million) and transports more people at night.
''We are so close to saturation with the traffic that, when a small incident happens, it can cause serious problems," he said.
He believes the Port Tunnel will ease traffic in the city centre and give the city's planners an opportunity to develop public spaces along the river.
''If you ask me how we are going to pull together the newly-developed areas along the north city centre," he said, ''the answer is the river."

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