Our urban sprawl is not so bad – yet

From the first reading of the census it appears that Dublin’s urban sprawl has been slightly exaggerated. But the trends are clear and the time to do something about it is now.

For many years Dublin has been expanding outwards into a vast low density suburbia. This has some advantages. People can have front and back gardens. People can live in cul-de-sacs. The living quarters are a bit bigger.

It also has some major disadvantages. People are absolutely dependent on cars. Shops and schools are not within walking distance. Huge shopping malls have sprung up to cater for the car-borne suburbanite. Thus, traffic jams have become a way of life.

So you have the situation that in the last six years, throughout the heyday of the Celtic Tiger, the population of the Dublin City area grew by just 13,000 people while the population of Fingal grew by 29,000. Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown, which is already a largely urban area, grew by just 1,300.

At the same time, the outer parts of the Greater Dublin area showed phenomenal growth. The figures are: South Dublin – 21,159; Kildare – 29,003; Meath – 24,204; Louth – 9,636.

I suppose that not all of this growth can be attributed to people working in Dublin city. There are major new employers operating to the west and north of the city. Yet the evidence on the three or four major routes into Dublin can’t be ignored.

The staggering fact is that most areas within Dublin city have actually shown a decline in population in the last six years. (The population of Inchicore, for example, has fallen by over five per cent). These areas have the best public transport links, the best access to local shops and services and are just a short hop from town.

What needs to happen is for the town centres within Dublin to be developed. Places like Artane, Kimmage, Dundrum and so on, need new planning guidelines to allow for a higher density of residential accommodation next to the main streets.

The next 100,000 inhabitants in Dublin could live in these twenty or thirty town centres.

Such developments actually enhance local areas by supporting pubs, libraries and shops providing greater services to the people who already live there. In fact, it might be the only way to save local commerce from the ravages of the out-of-town shopping centre. The crucial element is transport and the new residents should be largely public transport users.

One further point. This new planning thrust, building within urban areas, should be carried out with the least amount of coercion.

Many of the planning zealots are against building in rural areas. Fair enough. But you can’t (and shouldn’t) force people to live in urban areas if they don’t want to.

Instead, well designed urban developments are attractive in themselves. The inner city has shown a population increase because of the tax incentives and the amount of work Dublin City Council has put into trying to regenerate these areas.

The census results are a wake-up call for Dublin. The need for contained and sustainable development has never been clearer.

As Well As That. . .

Luas going in the wrong direction

If the new Luas system is supposed to meet the growing areas of population then it is going in the wrong direction.

The Luas will serve the city, the south city and the south west of the city. But the figures show that the vast bulk of population growth has taken place in the west and north of the city.

The census shows up some very strange transport priorities.

For example, Lucan is the fastest growing area in the state with some 40,000 inhabitants.

Lucan has two railway lines running through it.

And no railway station.

What can the Northerners be up to?

The Central Statistics Office have taken just three months to produce some results from April’s census. A damn fine job.

Our Northern cousins have also had a census and are still counting the results. The only difference is that their census was held some eleven months earlier. What on earth is taking them so long to produce some figures?

And they are being eagerly awaited.

Not to find out how many people there are in Northern Ireland. Or to find out the net migration. Or even to find out the balance of males or females.

On no.

Everyone’s waiting to find out how many taigs and prods there are.