Dublin is a city in desperate need of life support

9 Sep 2019

Image: silvia maidagan/Unsplash

As Dublin’s status as a business and tech hub goes up, the quality of life in the city is going down, squeezing out community, arts and culture, writes Elaine Burke.

By many measures, Dublin is a city on the rise. I mean, just look at all those cranes sprouting skyward. Almost as high as the rents.

As global headquarters and towering hotels go up, the quality of life in the city is going down. It seems to have been forgotten by the developers, city planners and State officials that buildings don’t define a city, people do – literally and figuratively. You need a sizeable stable population to be considered a city, and that potent mix of people sharing space together is its lifeblood.

Yes, the offices can be staffed by commuters and the hotels can keep their revolving doors spinning with tourists, but the city they visit would be an empty shell without its permanent residents.

I am Dublin born and bred. My parents, too, and their parents. I could say the Liffey runs through my veins but my practical nature knows that to be more septic than romantic.

When many of my peers moved away for opportunities this city couldn’t bring, I stayed. I watched this city bear through those losses and eventually start to draw them back. Some of that magnetism came from a café culture serving avocado on sourdough toast, flat whites as readily available as pints, and regeneration efforts in run-down areas. But I’m not here to join the chorus that mocks that brand of gentrification. I enjoyed the mini hipster renaissance adding enjoyable elements to the city, providing inviting spaces for a new generation and sparking some creativity in its template.

Pretty quickly, though, Dublin pivoted on its rise from the ashes of recession, arching its rapid growth trajectory towards the most promisingly profitable: tourism and tech. Pleasing the people has been forgotten in the manic drive to cow to corporates and hoteliers. Once again, it’s driving people away and I’m saying goodbye to friends, wondering how soon before it’s just me, the wealthiest of students and the tourists left.

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The Dublin Red Squirrel was taken down last week. I'm not mad about that as I'm the first one to say that my work is ephemeral, just like everything in life. I also incentivate progress, rebuilding when necessary, the use of the dead areas of towns to make something better, the rehabilitation of the abandoned to give a new life to the city, definetely that's the right way if it respects the environment and the local culture. I m just sad that that company didn't keep their word and didn't wait until Tuesday as had been agreed, because we were making a special plan to try to move the piece to a new location and document all the process. It's easier to destroy than to preserve, but that's not how you achieve the best results. Thanks everyone for the support and specially @trevwhelan @ruameegan & @collins.glen who created the short Doc #bordalo_alifeofwaste Link to my new documentary in bio ⬆ #Bordalo_ALifeOfWaste ♻? #Bordalo_ALifeOfWaste #bordaloii #trashart #dublin #redsquirrel

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And it’s not just the people disappearing. Art is literally being torn down for hotels and painted over in a grey wash by an unimaginative council. So long, squirrel. Hit the road, Horseboy. Adios, Attenborough.

How long before the independent cultural spaces supporting the city’s creatives lose their foothold too? Their studios turned into a Press Up burger joint. Sure, we want places to eat, drink and mingle, but not all from the one monotonous monopoly.

I haven’t even touched on the city’s most serious problems, but we all know how the meme-inspiring ‘Priced out of Dublin? Try X’ very quickly evolved into thousands of people with literally nowhere to live.

Cities the world over have seen the same cycles: run-down pockets are given a new lease of life when the artists move in, then come the young professionals, then the rebrand. Meanwhile, the arts and culture cohort find a new neglected spot to take root in, starting the loop off once again.

Dublin, however, is tiny. I often see its decline of social and cultural values in favour of business development compared with San Francisco, as it’s so readily considered the frontier of tech-fuelled gentrification. But the site of Silicon Valley is at least twice the size of Dublin’s urban sprawl. They have room for the artists to find space to begin again. Dublin is running out of road in that department.

The Liberties, a historic neighbourhood neglected for years despite housing the city’s most popular tourist attraction, is seeing a sudden injection of interest and investment, and a stalwart community trying admirably to maintain its identity while still benefitting from a much-needed economic boost.

While it has been wonderful to see Weaver Park reinvigorate a lifeless site on Cork Street, it wasn’t long before over the road in Newmarket, the site of the Green Door and Dublin Flea markets was flattened – its use as a hive of community activity left in limbo.

Dublin Flea has found a temporary home with help from the Digital Hub, which you can experience for yourself on Culture Night, 20 September. This is the time of year for Dublin’s Fringe Festival, too, working so hard to find space in a city crowding out its culture.

Every Dublin-based business and academic institution wants to attract talent here, but ‘talent’ needs somewhere to live and thrive. And it’s quickly becoming apparent that this city is unwelcoming to all of them. Students from undergraduate to postgraduate, early to late-stage professionals, single people and families, service workers and office workers – practically every demographic is struggling to live here because of the structural failings, and there’s nothing to compensate for that culturally.

After the life of the city is gone, what will be left?

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Dublin graffiti. Image: silvia maidagan/Unsplash

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic