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Old March 3rd, 2012, 06:10 AM   #1
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Exclamation Why the Dublin Docklands is completely unsustainable

The Docklands is a prime city centre location and I would like to compare and contrast between Ireland and the Continent in relation to residential housing.

The European Model:

- Minimum of 8-storey blocks of affordable apartments
- Ground floors split into several units and leased to small businesses
- Generous public spaces: wide footpaths with benches; open plazas; and parks with facilities for families.

- A sizable and permanent population of residents
- A large choice of small businesses selling affordable goods to the local population (groceries, cafés, etc)
- Lively streets with sustained footfall throughout the day

The Irish Model:

- Low density buildings resulting in overly priced apartments snapped up by 'buy-to-let' developers and landlords
- Ground floors leased to overly priced convenience stores, bagel bars, wine bars and bistros.
- Private gardens within blocks, fenced-off to the public. Narrow footpaths with no benches; limited open spaces and no facilities for families.

- Sparse population of residents exasperated by low density buildings, short-lease rents, empty apartments, and no permanent population
- Grossly overpriced rents on massive ground floor units preventing any small businesses from setting up shop
- Residents use private gardens and shop elsewhere in the city resulting in dead and windswept streets throughout the day.

Case Study - Hanover Quay

In this absolutely prime location (marked in red) facing Grand Canal basin, we have a small 5-storey block with one set back.

Above: On the ground floor we have one convenience store (Spar) and one restaurant (Milano). That's it. They are the only commercial units provided for the entire block.

Above: The north-east side of the block consists of a few 4-storey apartments. No commercial units here.

Above: The west side has several 3-storey town houses, not dissimilar to these units also in the Docklands. No commercial units here.

Above: The south-facing block shows the dead frontage of the restaurant (Milano) and convienicence store (Spar). You can also see the small town houses to the west of the block.


So, that's just one block in the Docklands. The rest of the Docklands, both north and south, suffer the same low density and over-priced commercial units.

Considering the prime location of this area in the south Docklands, it strikes me as absolute madness that we have a mishmash 3 to 6 storey buildings here.

This area is served well by public transport with the Grand Canal DART station and the Luas across the river - not to mention the abundance of bus services.

Had we built consistent 8-storey blocks throughout the Docklands and divided the ground floors into smaller commercial units, we may now have something sustainable for future generations.

I am genuinely worried for the future of Dublin if the people in government continue with this ridiculous mindset of "low density = good" for urban planning. It is simply not sustainable.

These are just the thoughts that go through my head every time I walk through the Docklands.

What a wasted opportunity.

Would like to hear your thoughts on the matter.
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Old March 3rd, 2012, 12:43 PM   #2
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If I came into power tomorrow then I would go to the Docklands with a bulldozer and knock everything down and start fresh. A nice new area of Dublin with highrise development. Dublin is just a city gone wrong because of awful planing. That needs to change but I doubt it will
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Old March 3rd, 2012, 07:49 PM   #3
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Great post Gaillimh!!

Just on my way out the door now so hopefully I will be able to post a suitable reply tonight or tomorrow morning
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Old March 5th, 2012, 08:36 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Gaillimh View Post
- Ground floors leased to overly priced convenience stores, bagel bars, wine bars and bistros.
This is a very good point. What is it about Ireland & most towns in Britain that mean that all these new blocks of flats are built in areas where shops or the vast majority of non-residential uses can't afford the unrealistic rents. It's a weird set up where people can live in high density areas but not have access to all the benefits that high density living has in Europe. The biggest example of this in Ireland is the domination of Spar and all the other chain convenience stores like Mace, Centra etc. Out of town superstores offer okay prices in inconvenient locations but with free parking. Independent fruit & veg/ butchers and the shops of the past offer okay prices in convenient locations albeit without good parking. But the likes of Spar charge way too much without having a redeeming feature- they have no business case yet manage to thrive on the high street.

You only have to look at London to see how warped Ireland's retail scene is. It must have the highest rents ever but Spar type shops are a rarity, instead there are thousands of great value corner shops ran by immigrants.
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Old March 6th, 2012, 01:38 PM   #5
thebig C
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Great post Gaillimh.

Firstly, to deal with the issue of the parapet heights I think you have a definate point. The 6 storey norm currently set by IFSC phase 2 was the brainchild of Terry Durney who was DDDA director of planning. Typically, if he had proposed 16 storey it would have generated acres of collum inches in the papers and howls of protest from An Taisce, but, because it was low-rise it sailed through without a whimper.

However, just as building with excessive scale can have an adverse impact likewise not building to the appropriate scale can be just as negative both visually, in opportuinity cost and in artificially lower City densities.

Supposedly, 6 stories was chosen because it is 50% higher then the 4 stories that is the norm above O'Connell Bridge. However, the liffey above O'Connell Bridge is only 30-40m wide, so 4/5 stories leads to a rather intimate feeling. The Liffey beyond the Custom House is over 100m wide with the result that 6 stories looks like the buildings have had a crew cut and look forlorn. Purely on a matmatical basis, to maintain the same urban feel, it would suggest that with a 100m River 8/9 story parapet height with 9/10 set back penthouse is a more appropriate scale. Due to different ceiling clearance between commercial and residential buildings, apartment blocks may be 2-3 floor higher.

Away from the River frontage I would agree that 8/9 floors would halp attain proper density without losing any sense of space and light. I do feel though, that taller elements 12-20 floors should be used in corner positions or to denote street intersections or public the great urban tradition of the Campaniles the are a feature of Italian piazzas.

Likewise certain locations, such as the NCC, Point, Grand Canal Basin due to their topography and importance could host much taller buildings 25+ floors. Rather then grouping all the highrises together or spreading them far apart...I feel a dispersed cluster would be the best option, as each building could be appreciated on its own whilst also being seen collectively in context with its neighbours.

To deal with the issue of retail, I think again you have raised a valid point. As somebody who previously worked in property I know that you would require at least some large floor plate retail units as these are necessary to accommodate certain types of retailers. However, I would agree that there is much greater scope to providec smaller units to more traditional shopkeepers.

The DDDA have been appalingly bad in the provision of retail. The IFSC phase 2 which you picture is a host to every symbol group and chain available. To compound this....the DDDA realised the problem they had caused and decided to do the opposite when it came to leasing CHQ. The building sat fitted out but ready whilse they himmed and hawed and eventually decided it would be a chic luxury emporium. Numerous operators were aparently turned down because they didn't match this criteria. The result was that whilse some of the outlets were a good catch, eg Mitchells Wines, many were over priced celtic tiger driven tripe. Consequently, most have since the recession due to people no longer being willing to pay the inflated prices they needed just to stay afloat and in any case the DDDA waited so long to open CHQ that it was only 33% occupied when the crash came. Now its more like 10% occupied!!

The Net result is that "social engineered" planning rather then the organic formation that happens in all cities has left the Dock with a poor retail offering!!

Likewise, it could be said that the retail provision was too conservative. The focus was always on neighbourhood shops when there was a case for trying to establish the docks as a new retailing location to counter Henry/Grafton Streets.

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