Category Archives: living in ireland

One thing we can learn about making Dublin a better city…

Niall Harbison wrote this piece on his LovinDublin site and some joyous person shared it via my twitter feed last night or this morning or some time. I’m not absolutely certain as I am in exam prep mode and the days and nights just blur.

If you’re reluctant to click through, basically he’s listing 7 things we should copy from San Francisco so that Dublin keeps learning.

Dublin, in my view, could be a fantastic city if – and only if (we express this as IFF in mathsy terms) – it stopped trying to be somewhere else. When Niall Harbison lists 7 things we should copy from San Francisco to make Dublin better, he’s missing that point.

Dublin, in certain parts, is a stunning looking city. Walk down Grafton Street and look UP at the buildings above eye level. They are stunning. Look at Georges Street Arcade. It’s a masterpiece of gothicry. Look at the Pen Corner, look at all the stunning buildings on O’Connell Street. Building a bunch of street food stalls and opening a branch of Whole Foods doesn’t answer the right question. Are we making the most of our assets? I don’t think we are.

When I consider the question “How can we make Dublin a better city”, I don’t think of real drip coffee (seriously, what the actual hell). I think of “How do we make Dublin an easy city to live in”.

My number one item – above all else – is pour money into a coherent, integrated public transport system. Yesterday, I was waiting for a bus on Westmoreland Street, when a taxi parked in a bus stop to do what looked like a pre-arranged pick up. The bus stop in question is used by 6 different bus companies.

There are several problems there. 1) no one other than a bus should be stopping at a bus stop 2) six companies at a single bus stop including the main city service with about 7 routes is not evidence of a coherent well thought out transport system.

Now, I could write a complete essay on public transport in Dublin, but really, I wanted to use this to illustrate a single point: living in Dublin can be hard. If you drive, you spend hours in traffic (took me 90 minutes to get home on Friday) or you plan massive amounts of time to cater for changing buses in town (2 hours yesterday for a four mile journey). Ultimately, the point is, when we look at improving Dublin, our singular question shouldn’t be “what can we copy from somewhere else” but “how can we make life easier for the inhabitants in Dublin”. May god forgive me for this but “what are the painpoints of living in Dublin”.

When I think of the problems I experience on a day to day basis of living in Dublin, they aren’t the sort of problems you solve by making more hipster food joints available. To be frank, if you want a decent food market, Dublin City Council is working on that and you don’t need Wholefoods.

What we need is less expensive accommodation (rents are up, house prices are up, salaries not so much). What we need is a comprehensive effective public transport system whose remit is not to be as cheap as possible but to be as comprehensive as possible. What we need is a change in how we approach high density housing.

Most of the stuff that Niall Harbison is on about is the sort of stuff that happens if the infrastructure of your city is working effectively and it’s not specific to any city in particular.

But mostly, the problem with Dublin that I can see – and it hasn’t changed much in 15 years – is it wants to be somewhere else. It wants to rub shoulders with London and New York, and San Fran and Berlin and all those other hip places without realising that it’s the annoying school friend who wants to copy everything you do.

All these cities, they aren’t great because they have street food. They’re great because to some extent, all of them answered a question of “how do we make life easier for our inhabitants” at some level and at some stage, and they answered it in different ways. Here, the answers would be different as well. And they all started from the premise of being themselves. No one in Berlin woke up one morning and said “you know the place would be a whole lot better if we were a bit more like San Francisco”.

When you look at the other cities in the country, the Galways, the Belfasts and the Corks, they aren’t sitting there working out how they can be more like Dublin. They’re working out how they can make themselves better rather than aspiring to be somewhere else. There’s a subtle difference, absolutely but it matters.