Car dependent cities such as Dublin exacerbate social inequality, conference on public transport and urban design told

Posted on: 21 September 2007

Car-dependent cities such as Dublin exacerbate social inequality, a major international conference on public transport and urban citizenship was told on September 21st last. The conference, ‘Making Dublin the Capital of Ireland’ which was organised by the TCD Policy Institute aims to contribute to the debate on the relationship between public transport and urban design, and making Dublin a more environmentally sustainable city.

“If you are poor, you are doubly disadvantaged if you live in a car-dependent city”, said Professor James Wickham of the TCD Policy Institute, referring to findings from a recent research project. According to Professor Wickham, a dramatic improvement in public transport in Dublin would not only contribute to environmental sustainability but would enhance social inclusion and quality of life in the city

“Public transport enhances the quality of urban life, by enabling the creation of public spaces in which everyone in the city participates. Where the private car is restrained it becomes possible to create public squares, parks, pavements that pedestrians will use”, he commented.

In his concluding remarks to the conference, Professor Wickham called for the pedestrianisation of College Green in order to create a major public space at the centre of the city: “The pedestrianisation of College Green needs to be put back on the agenda. By removing traffic from the area between Trinity College and Bank of Ireland, it could be transformed into one of the great public spaces of Europe, on a par with the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna.”

Professor Kevin Leyden of West Virginia University drew on US research, his work with the World Health Organisation and his research examining the effects of car-dependent planning in Ireland to argue that pedestrian and transport-oriented, mixed-use planning designs are vitally important for health, active citizenship, and community engagement:

“The costs associated with having to own a car affect more than the poor. Car dependency affects average families, communities, and government. In addition, car dependency has been found to have negative consequences for human health, community well-being, and the environment”.

“When people drive more they get far less physical exercise; this translates to a rise in obesity and healthcare costs. The best communities enable residents to walk, cycle, or take public transport to attain their daily needs. It is all about good land-use and transportation planning. One shouldn’t need a car to be a functioning member of society”.

Addressing the conference on the role of streets in creating successful public places, Louise Duggan of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), the UK government’s advisors on architecture, urban design and public space said that Dublin faced some critical challenges in relation to urban design and transport.

“Big challenges present huge opportunities and Dublin has these in spades. Many European cities which sell themselves on ‘quality of life’ have used major infrastructure projects to rewire their centres for the 21st-century city life. Nottingham, Strasbourg and Freiburg have all pursued citywide improvements to streets and spaces in association with the development of tram systems for their cities”, Ms Duggan told the conference.

Ms Duggan warned, however, that if Dublin failed to take full advantage of the planned Luas expansion, it would miss a landmark opportunity.

Other speakers at the conference, included the architect, David Sim of the world-renowned Gehl Architects in Denmark who discussed some of the major Dublin projects such as the Cherrywood development in Loughlinstown in which he has been involved.

According to Mr Sim, in terms of urban design, Dublin, should be kept “low and slow”.

“Human beings are small, slow creatures designed to walk at 5km an hour and seldom see anything above 3 metres – our senses work best at this speed and scale. Since cities are designed for human beings we should think small, low and slow.”

“What makes Dublin a memorable place is not its multiple-laned roadways or tall buildings but the wonderful slow and low places like Grafton Street, Temple Bar, the Markets and Trinity College.”

Other speakers such as Frank McDonald, The Irish Times Environment Editor in his presentation ‘Re-imagining the city’ discussed how the pedestrianisation and restraint on traffic in Dublin could be achieved. Professor David Banister, Professor of Transport Studies at Oxford University Centre for the Environment explored sustainable transport within the EU; Dr Jeff Kenworthy, Professor in Sustainable Cities in the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University in Perth outlined how the nexus between transport and urban design are at the heart of developing a more sustainable city; Salvadar Álvarez Cortizo, Engineering Director at Tramvia Metropolità in Barcelona discussed the Barcelona Tramway systems.

As part of the conference an exhibition and multimedia event, organised by the TCD Graphics, Vision and Visualisation Group (GV2), Urban Design Ireland, and students from the UCD Masters in Urban Design showcased designs for the redevelopment of Dublin’s city centre, including the pedestrianisation of College Green.

About TCD Policy Institute
The Policy Institute is a multi-disciplinary public policy research institute. Based in Trinity College in the heart of Dublin, the Institute has close links with the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, the School of Social Work and Social Policy, and the School of Business.
The Institute acts as a forum for interaction between the College and the diverse policy communities of the city of Dublin. It runs a series of seminars, lectures and occasional conferences on issues of major importance; it hosts a visiting research fellow in conjunction with the Combat Poverty Agency, and it publishes a series of Studies in Public Policy (informally known as “Blue Papers”), which provide short, rigorous, but accessible analyses of policy issues.