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Behind the Headlines panel asks if we are ‘Falling out of Love with Dublin?”

11 February 2022 - A discussion held on the planning and civic issues threatening Dublin and its historic landscape took place online Wednesday, 9 February 2022, at the Trinity Long Room Hub as part of its latest ‘Behind the Headlines” discussion.

In 1922 -- the year of Ulysses, James Joyce’s love letter to his native city -- Dublin of the future: the new town plan was published by Patrick Abercrombie, Sydney Kelly and Arthur Kelly, having won a competition launched by The Civics Institute of Ireland to gather ideas for the city’s development. One hundred years later, with the publication of Dublin City Council’s new Development Plan, 2022 – 2028, the Trinity Long Room Hub asked, where next for the capital’s civic future? 

Introducing the five-person panel discussion, Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub said that this was “a topic about which people are rightly passionate”, and arises out of “several controversial planning applications, decisions and campaigns that have hit the headlines in recent months.” She asked the audience to consider what a civic vision of Dublin means for us today and whether we can “fall back in love with Dublin.”

David Dickson is currently an Emeritus Research Fellow in the Trinity Long Room Hub and as a professor in Modern history at Trinity College Dublin has published widely on Irish urban history, including Dublin: The making of a capital city (2014) and The first Irish cities: An eighteenth-century transformation (2021). Taking the audience back to 1920s Ireland, Professor Dickson argued that this was a great missed opportunity for changing Dublin.


Referring to Abercrombie’s report on the future of Dublin, which by the 1960s was a “quaint and distant” memory, Professor Dickson outlined the nature of the “plain speaking document” which had a vision that was “brimming with optimism.”

Asking “what happened?” to Abercrombie’s vision, Professor Dickson said that we needed to “dig deeper into Dublin’s history” and explore the historic forces that had control in determining Dublin’s character, as he outlined a number of times when Dublin faced systemic change through the concentration of political power to pursue a specific agenda, including new spatial ideas drawn from London and Paris.

He argued that the greatest positive change by the late 1940s was the “huge growth in social housing and the partial eclipse of the tenements” but this, he said, was less about planners’ advocacy than the pressure of electoral politics, and the “upspoken fear of social unrest.”

Valerie Mulvin is a co-founder of McCullough Mulvin Architects, an award-winning Dublin-based practice focusing on the design of sustainable cultural, educational and civic buildings.

Ms Mulvin focused on the unique nature of the capital’s position, and said we needed to better understand Dublin and its context. 

“James Joyce - writing Ulysses in 1922 – imagined Dublin Bay into all our consciousness: from Sandymount Tower to Howth Head – he invented that coherent semicircle facing the sun and made it poetry.”

A new plan for Dublin needs to be about small-scale brilliant ideas in all kinds of places. No magic bullet, no grand gesture – just imagination.
Valerie Mulvin

“Our challenge now is to be ingenious, in a patchwork of tiny ways, with all sorts of people involved. We’ve evolved new ways of thinking since we’ve lived through a global pandemic--it goes against the old model of continuous globalisation, continuous expansion.   A new plan for Dublin needs to be about small-scale brilliant ideas in all kinds of places. No magic bullet, no grand gesture – just imagination.”

Owen P. Keegan, Chief Executive of Dublin City Council, highlighted the Council’s current public consultation for the new Development Plan, 2022 – 2028, which will close on the 14th of February. “The future development of Dublin is a matter of major public interest and concern”, he said as he outlined a number of challenges facing Dublin which provide the backdrop to the new plan, including the impact of the Covid pandemic and hybrid working, the need to respond to climate change and the urgent need to address difficulties in the housing market.

He argued that while many of the ideas contained in Abercrombie’s 1922 plan “fell by the wayside”, the “proposals for suburban development are often lauded”, although he argued “that the city has paid a high price for decades of suburbanization.”


Returning to the issue of the housing crisis, Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, a musician and activist with People Before Profit, said it was impossible to talk about the future of Dublin without talking about housing, adding that the solution has to be to build social housing on a large scale. Eoghan is also part of the ‘Dublin Is Dying’ group which has been campaigning against a proposed hotel development at the site of the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield, Dublin 7.  "We deserve more than to just exist in this city", said Mr Ó Ceannabháin, who noted that the same people who are paying exorbitant rents for small spaces and no garden find that when they get out of the house “their public and cultural outlets are also under attack.”

“The needs of the people who live here must trump tourism and the needs of those who want to profit from it.”

Frank McDonald is an author and former Environment Editor with the Irish Times. He has published widely on planning and development of Dublin, from the demolition of parts of the historic city to the impact of Airbnb, as well as on global climate change. 

Commenting on the current crisis in Dublin’s planning, Mr McDonald said that one of the most serious issues in Dublin in recent years has been the “commodification of housing in Dublin as an “asset class” for investment by cash-rich private equity funds and institutional investors, aided and abetted by mandatory ministerial guidelines dumbing down apartment design standards to facilitate “Build-To-Rent” (BTR) developers.”

Concluding the Behind the Headlines panel discussion, Mr McDonald said “we owe it to those who went before us to look after the city in all of its aspects, including the protection of its human scale against random eruptions of high-rise buildings on the skyline” and also “to protect its indigenous culture.” 


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