At the end of June we attended a public meeting in Dunard Community Centre in Dublin 7. The meeting was a presentation of the ‘D7 Parks’ project, which has come about through the collaboration of Oxmantown Rd. community garden, the Dunard/O’Deaveny Gardens football club and a number of O’Deaveny Gardens residents who are horse enthusiasts. It’s a great project with the objective of turning some of the unused land in O’Deaveney Gardens into community facilities including a football pitch, horse facilities and a community garden.
Many of you will remember the aborted ‘regeneration’ of O’Deaveny Gardens which collapsed along with 4 other public-private partnerships in 2008, leaving the area half-demolished and the community displaced. 7 years later and precious little has changed. A part from using urban space in a community-focused, non-commercial fashion, what makes the D7 Parks project great is the mix of people and interests, reflecting the diversity of the North West inner city.
There were plenty of politicians in attendance at the meeting, including local TDs from the Labour Party, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, and a number of councillors. Dublin City Council officials had also been invited, but declined to attend.
Everyone agreed that D7 Parks is a fantastic idea. Yet at the same time there seemed to be the feeling that there were many obstacles, from planning to funding. Some in attendance suggested that a statutory Local Area Plan should be established while others encouraged the project to engage with the consultation process around the new Dublin City Development Plan. Seemingly, Dublin City Council have been non-committal. For us, at least, while there was consensus that this was a wonderful project there was no real clarification about whether or not it could actually happen.
We’ve followed the travails of quite a number of similar projects and their interactions with Dublin City Council, including Mabos, Exchange Dublin and Granby Park. And the feeling we had at the D7 Parks meeting brought to mind something we’ve noticed before, what we call Dublin City Council’s ‘fisherman’s strategy’.
We’re no angling experts, but seemingly when you hook a big fish you don’t reel it in immediately. Instead, you give it some slack and let the fish swim off with the line. You then reel in a little before releasing some line again. In this way, the fish eventually tires itself out, and, exhausted and hopeless, can be reeled in. If you start reeling in immediately, the danger is that the resistance of the fish will snap the line.
Dublin City Council seems to pursue a similar policy. When faced with a proposal or demand in relation to any kind of alternative use of urban space, they won’t say either yes or no. They’ll usually support the idea, but note a number of bureaucratic or technical problems. These problems are never addressed head on and no one appears to be responsible. The steps that need to occur to overcome these obstacles are left similarly unspoken. Over time, something that seemed very simple (using a vacant lot for a garden for example), becomes enmeshed in a web of inertia. Volunteer community projects are hard to sustain at the best of times, but after what in some cases are years of meetings, many great ideas eventually end up being too tired to keep going.
The most disgraceful example of this has no doubt been Exchange Dublin. They were evicted last year with the promise of ‘dialogue’ around re-opening, which turned into an ongoing Kafka-esque project in which the City Council would neither reject nor accept anything Exchange proposed.
We’re not saying this is an intentional strategy cooked up by Council officials. It’s not entirely clear why this happens, but it doesn’t really matter either. The important thing is that groups seeking to achieve something different in the city should strategize for this at the outset. This means thinking about what strategy to take with Dublin City Council, but also means thinking about how to sustain energy and enthusiasm over the long haul. In our experience, people involved in alternative uses of urban space in Dublin are pragmatic do-ers, they want to get out and get their hands dirty. The worst place for them to be is in never-ending meetings that don’t appear to go anywhere. This means finding a way to keep active and stay true to what the project is about can be really important.
All those involved n D7 Parks were extremely passionate and well-informed and the plan they’ve put together is really wonderful. Whatever happens, anyone interested in the issues discussed here no doubt stands to learn a lot from this project and what we hope will be its success.