Barcelona- a thriving, bustling city, famous for its architecture, revelled for its art, and an excellent example of a city where urban planning and regeneration have enabled it to become a cultural jewel and economic triumph. When I think of this Catalonian capital, all that comes to mind is a seductive blend of sun, sea and sangria. It is rich in cultural history, evident in the well-preserved medieval quarters of the city, which were built on an old Roman settlement, with perpendicular Roman streets visible beneath the buildings in this area in what is the largest underground excavation of a Roman site in Europe. This area within the medieval city is not only an excellent example of historic continuity, but shows that the city of Barcelona has always been an urban hub, for people to live, work and trade. However, Barcelona has not always been the modern, trendy, architecturally rich city we know it as today. In fact, not too long ago, it was defined by unattractive features of city life, such as urban congestion, poor infrastructure and high residential densities.
The historical grid-iron pattern of the Barcelona’s layout, once used to facilitate the easy passage of steam trams, in modern times produced a large number of traffic intersections creating serious urban congestion. With a population that grew larger and larger each day, apartment blocks shot high into the skyline in parts of the urban periphery to accommodate for immigrants from other parts of the country seeking work. A string of social issues underpinned this time frame from the mid 1940’s to the late 1970’s, as these areas became home to gypsy communities and were defined by high levels of social deprivation. Nonetheless, Barcelona had its turning point in the late 1970’s with the administrative decision to promote democratic planning and civic design, and the Olympic Games nomination in 1986 was the main stimulus for change in the spheres of redevelopment and culture, enabling Barcelona to undergo potentially the most radical transformation in its history.
The Olympic Games nomination kickstarted Barcelona’s redevelopment, providing the necessary public resources to finance the city’s large scale public works. City authorities incorporated a range of different approaches in order to tackle all problematic spheres within the city, which was done by integrating urban design and cultural planning with the redevelopment of areas in economic, social and environmental decline. This time marked a change in perspective, in how the citizens of Barcelona viewed their city, and how they wish to present it to the world. Instead of being characterised by social differences, the people and authorities of Barcelona decided that the future success of their city relies on collective, communal and creative action. This philosophy is carried through in the extensive urban design and architectural strategies used to ensure redevelopment and regeneration stretched to all corners of this evolving city.
Selective conservation schemes were brought in to protect and renovate historical buildings which authorities felt reflected true, local, Catalonian culture. The development of flagship urban regeneration projects in order to create cultural spaces, host events, and rebrand the city of Barcelona, not only intensified the feeling of shared identity and culture among citizens, but allowed this European city to capitalise on tourist markets, and make its mark on the map. Flagship architectural projects created opportunities for young, innovative, Spanish architects to make their imprint on their city, and over time, public art and architecture became and emblematic feature of urban politics. Redevelopment projects reached most aspects of the city, and the introduction of new infrastructure projects was a welcome one, with a transportation system in much need of modernization to reduce congestion and increase liveability. Both the physical and cultural transformations in the city of Barcelona reflected the efficacy of combining the two realms of urban regeneration and cultural identity.
Politics also played an important role during the period of regeneration within the city. In 1997, Mayor Joan Clos was elected, whose presence on an administrative level provided the necessary momentum to maintain the competitive drive of city authorities. Clos recognized the need for financial aid for urban redevelopment and ambitious flagship projects, and to renovate the industrial base of the city while regenerating the local economy. Public-private partnerships were consolidated by integrating the entrepreneurial role of companies with public management bodies, making the approach that Barcelona took in redevelopment one of the first that highlights successful urban entrepreneurialism- a method of promoting economic growth through enabling the private sector to flourish. Effective decision-making on an administrative level, combined with a hunger from the citizens of Barcelona to establish an identity, allowed the lens of culture to widen, creating a unique society combining Mediterranean lifestyle, innovation, and urban design.
The success of the urban and cultural redevelopment in Barcelona is undeniable, however it hasn’t come without its challenges. Due to the fact the regeneration process began back in the 80’s, we are now able to see the long-term effects that this process has had on the city, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not all good news. Barcelona is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations for traveller’s from all over the world, and there have been increasing tensions between the city’s aims of global competitiveness and that of ensuring social justice and democratic governance. Members of the public along with the local press are arguing that tourism, which has been mainly generated by the urban redevelopment projects, has encouraged gentrification in the Old City, while creating unaffordable housing in the periphery. Which begs the question- who truly benefits from the regeneration of this great city? Its citizens? Its visitors? Or its government?
Ever since the decline of the steel industry began in the 1970’s Pittsburgh, along with other manufacturing dependent cities in the Rust-Belt, has been searching for a new economic identity. It appears as though they have found their answer in an emerging tech sector, but what are the costs to the local communities?
Modern urban development seems evermore focused on developing what appears to be the keys to a successful 21st century city: Cultural influence, economic growth, and investment opportunities. There is little doubt that these factors might lead to some identifiable economic growth, but the externalities of such a development focus should not be ignored. The obvious side effect of bringing in a completely new class and population to a city in an attempt to build upon economic growth is gentrification. The origins of this now widely used development plan is clearly linked to Richard Florida’s Cities and the Creative Class. Not only did he define the characteristics of the desired class that cities want to attract, but he also coined the term to label them: “the creative class”. The basic logic for the plan goes as follows: as investment increases and a creative citizen base immigrate in, the city can simultaneously achieve a strong cultural identity and achieve expansive economic growth (Florida, 2004). This has to a degree proven true, as cities like Pittsburgh have gained recognition for a blossoming creative centre and healthy job market. The essential nature of drawing in the creative class is not without its issues though. Whether it be through direct displacement or an uneven distribution of services and facilities, eventually some population of a city will suffer when this brand of urban regeneration becomes a city’s focus. That is unless local government and the city provide extensive measures to support such a population. These conflicts between growth and protection of long term residents is what makes Lawrenceville such an intriguing place to study. In this Pittsburgh neighbourhood even though there has been aggressive re-branding and investment, the original tenants have welcomed reinvention as the city surrounding them continues to grow.
Lawrenceville, like many of the neighbourhoods in Pittsburgh, features a historically blue collar community that primarily served the long gone steel industry. Although the jobs have left, the ties to factory work and working class culture remain strong to this day. This blue collar culture clearly comes into contention with the city’s movement to modernize, as tech giants like Google and Uber make their homes in the communities that once served the mills (Kurutz, 2017). Pittsburgh’s landscape has begun to shift towards a new tech era with highly educated members of the creative class, and as those new citizens try to make the city their new home they replace both the people and culture that the city is known for.
Conflicting characteristics between two populations is often where the issues associated with gentrification begin. Lawrenceville however does not fit into the stereotypes of American gentrification. Unlike many instances of gentrification in the United States there is no racial aspect to the displacement of citizens, as Lawrenceville is a historically white neighbourhood (Brown, 2016, p. 4). This means that the contention between the two classes within the neighbourhood have nothing to do with the common notion of whites displacing blacks once they have deemed an area desirable enough for racial reconstruction. In Lawrenceville, rather than going through the typical discussions of “Who can count as the subject who can claim home and land?” focusing on race and colonialism, issues can be viewed through a predominantly classist lens (Roy, 2017). Due to this distinguishable attribute, Lawrenceville has become subject to widespread analysis. The lack of race issues in the neighbourhood is especially interesting, because the integration policy used by the city has resulted in one of the more satisfied populations of original tenants in gentrified neighbourhoods. In fact, in interviews conducted by Brown many original tenants remarked that the policies and business programs provided by the city have prevented almost any atmosphere of political displacement in the neighbourhood (Brown, 2016, p. 40). These results have left many wondering if the working class residents of Lawrenceville have benefited specifically due to their race. It is very possible that policies enacted by the city government were so generous to the original tenants due to their race, or that the use of similar policies in racially divided communities would not work as well due to the stigma attached with whites entering black neighbourhoods. In either racial process of gentrification some level of displacement occurs due to influxes in investment and pricing the former locals out.
In 2017 the displacement of the working class residents had only begun at low levels, but without serious protections for the long term residents this is likely to get much worse (Jones, 2016). As in most gentrified neighbourhoods, displacement begins to come through an increase in taxes and rents because of the incursion of development investment. With incoming residents with greater fiscal means comes general improvements to the physical space of the neighbourhood. Then, these improvements invite more investors and wealthier residents, which will eventually outbid the original tenants. This process that will likely engulf Lawrenceville is truly unfortunate, because by most accounts the relationship between original residents and those who have begun to gentrify has been a beneficial symbiotic relationship.
Long term Lawrencevillians have enjoyed both the renovations to the formerly struggling neighbourhood, and the new cultural events that the creative class has brought with them. All the while, the gentrifiers have enjoyed the authenticity and cultural diversity offered by the community (Brown, 2017, p. 17-8). In fact when interviewed Vanessa Nolan, a local resident, stated that she “believes that the hipsters who came into the neighbourhood played a large role in making the neighbourhood what it is today” (Brown, 2017, p. 17). The level of cohesion between the old and the new here is largely uncommon. Even still Lawrenceville is no utopia, as the shift in population has still brought investors and developers to this Pittsburgh neighbourhood like seagulls to breadcrumbs. Opportunity for investment is of course supported by the city, as it will provide new attractive façades as well as tax income. To combat this complete restructuring of the neighbourhood by yuppies institutional support such as forced public housing on new developments seem to mark a real fight against all out gentrification.
For reference to what the new construction might look like see the image above which features the plans for new construction by private developer Milhaus. This new development does claim to offer mixed-income housing within the 243 incoming residential units, which is due to incentives and policy enforced by the city government (Henry, 2016a).
The work of the Lawrenceville Corporation is largely what has made for this rare pleasant process of gentrification. This local institution both offers assistance and listens to the demands of the neighbourhood has been essential in both the economic development and protection of affordable housing in the area. The balanced nature of this corporation becomes abundantly clear when examining the main principles of the organization. These principles include engaging in visionary and participatory planning, preserving authenticity, and marketing the community’s assets (Lawrenceville Corporation). Lawrenceville residents are obviously very fortunate to have those in control of their local society be so level-headed in regards to growth. Unlike many communities facing gentrification, Lawrenceville’s community leaders have the opportunity to plan cultural events with their planning corporation rather than plan protests against it. This type of policy although effective, is used irregularly when looking at the grand scheme. More often than not harmful policy is in place to regenerate and gentrify neighbourhoods.
This plan for redevelopment in Lawrenceville is obviously something that many cities would like to recreate, but regeneration is hardly ever that simple. For example, in another Pittsburgh neighbourhood East Liberty, the reinvention of the local economy to serve tech companies has led to widespread displacement of the local black community. Braiding salons have been replaced by unaffordable housing and hipster coffee shops, as noted by local East Liberty resident Ua Hayes (2017). Clearly difficult decisions must be made here. Attempting to balance affordable housing for long term residents while also maintaining the unparalleled growth experienced by cities like Pittsburgh is nearly impossible. Pittsburgh’s economic growth should truly not go unstated here, as it is the only major Rust-belt city to achieve income growth in both the lower and upper halves of earners since 1970 (Hartley, 2013). Those leading Pittsburgh such as Mayor Bill Peduto recognize that they have found a rare momentum in the region, and they will not let the economy fall apart again. The question is will the city protect its long term citizens equally, as it continues to grow and attract migration.
To look further into the more common practice of gentrification in American cities watch this clip from East of Liberty: The story of gentrification in Pittsburgh by Chris Ivey. This video discusses the issues of gentrification found the Pittsburgh neighbourhood of East Liberty (Tedx Talks, 2017).
Today humanity stands for more global challenges than ever. According to the World Economic Forum, food security is at the top of the biggest challenges we face. By 2050, the global population increases to 9 billion people, with 85% of them living in a city. With this increase in population and other factors such as climate change, the demand for food by 2050 will be 60% greater than today.
The traditional way we cultivate our fruit and vegetables won’t be sufficient to fulfill this demand. So instead of cultivation on farms in rural areas, the alternative way is to implement agriculture into the city, this is called urban agriculture (UA).
But UA is not only an alternative way to cultivate our food, it is also a good alternative way to use space in a city. The use of UA in the city can differ and the main uses for it are community gardens and urban farms.
Bringing UA into the city in the form of community gardens can be a good strategy for more social integration and poverty alleviation. People who are involved in community garden projects tend to feel more involved in the community because they constructively work together to produce food for consumption and for sale. For areas in the city where people have a lower income, UA can help them eat healthier. Since they don’t have to buy vegetables anymore, this helps them save money as well. For people in more wealthier areas, the community gardens may provide for physical and psychological relaxation.
Community gardens are good ways to reoccupy abandoned places in the city. Detroit is a good example of this. Between 2000 and 2010, 25% of the population fled the city because of the collapse of the car industry, leaving a lot of houses and buildings empty. With all this empty space and food insecurities the city was facing, urban gardeners began planting the seeds for the recovery of the city. Tyson Gersh founder of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) started in 2011 with the idea of an urban farming project in Detroit. Now he produces more than thousands of kilos of organic products each year. His projects take advantage of the existing infrastructure in the city. In his projects, he makes use of a rainwater cistern which is made by waterproofing the foundation of an abandoned house. He also sells added value products like tomato sauce, in a retail store which was a former commercial building. The MUFI started the first year with building a big volunteer presence, to build a good relationship with the existing community. This caused a lot of people in the neighborhoods to get involved, which helped to make the existing community stronger. The story of Tyson Gersh is a good example of UA in the form of community gardens done right. His projects are a catalyst for increased property value, higher demand and they are the driving force of the development of the area. MUFI is in a big way positioning green infrastructure as the main driver of urban development. This initiative is now even called the first truly agri-hood model.
The community gardens are very focused on the community and volunteering as a non-profit organization. But there are UA uses who want to gain more profit of the new trend of producing food in the city. These are the urban and entrepreneurial farms, where the projects go beyond home food consumption and grow produce for the market. These farms are more focused on mass production and growing fruit and vegetables in the most efficient way. One of the biggest entrepreneurs in this form of UA is Kimbal Musk, yes it is the younger brother of Elon Musk. With his company Square Roots, he made a platform for entrepreneurs in urban farming, in whom he invested a fair amount of money. The idea of this platform is to bring entrepreneurs, researchers, and engineers together to try to find the best way of cultivating fruit and vegetables with the most advanced techniques. So this can be transferred into large-scale production and implemented in multiple cities. The farms are located in old industrial areas in Brooklyn, New York. At the moment they are experimenting in containers but the idea is to bring the farms to the larger industrial buildings. This initiative is an example of giving the creative class, in this case, the entrepreneurs, engineers, and researchers an incentive to move to the particular city. And to give old empty buildings a new purpose.
But UA has its shortcomings. Most projects around UA have a social component that meant to benefit the public. Most of them are located in low-income areas and are mostly non-profit. But because of the class and race-based inequalities of the gardeners and farmers in lower-income communities, fundraising, grants, and the information for funding are not easy to access. Actually, the culture around healthy and local food is mostly associated with people who have a higher education and higher income. And most of the projects are implemented from that point of view. Therefore lower-income communities where food access is limited are most of the times not considered and do not always benefit from these projects. But when the strategy of implementation is more focused on cultural preferences and needs of the local community these barriers can be overcome. Also, the products of the larger urban farms are still very expensive due to the technologies that are used. But with the fast progress in technology, there is a good chance these products will become cheaper
But despite the shortcomings, urban farming can be a good tool for regeneration. UA creates more liveability in the city, communities and whole neighborhoods are based on this. Which causes neighborhoods to flourish again as in the case in Detroit. Also has the innovation UA an attractive force on the creative class which gives the city a competitive advantage.
Wold economic forum on biggest challenges humanity (2016)
Urban Agriculture as creative city politics in the city of Rotterdam, Merging neoliberal and radical agendas, Stella Bünger (2014). http://edepot.wur.nl/309151
Elon Musk’s brother is building vertical farms in shipping containers, Leanna Garfiel. (2016) http://www.businessinsider.com/kimbal-musk-vertical-farms-shipping-containers-2016-8?international=true&r=US&IR=T
Urban agriculture, what and why? RUAF Foundation. http://www.ruaf.org/urban-agriculture-what-and-why
Urban Agriculture Impacts: Social, Health, and Economic: A Literature Review, Sheila Golden (2013). http://asi.ucdavis.edu/programs/sarep/publications/food-and-society/ualitreview-2013.pdf
The Dublin Docklands in recent years has seen some of the most modern architectural design in the county, with a stream of business locating in the financial sector. But is this investment benefiting the existing surrounding communities? The derelict sites and neglected communities adjacent to the thriving economic hub seem to have been overlooked in the rapid development process. This post will attempt to investigate the reasons, and potential solutions, for the rapidly polarising inequality in these areas.
The Docklands prior to development
Prior to development, the Dublin Docklands was considered to be a problem area of the city centre. The area was once home to the intense manual labour of the port industry, but this quickly began to spiral with the increase of mechanisation and containerisation from the 1960s, making the majority of dockland workers redundant, giving rise to ongoing social problems of crime and drugs (Reflecting City, 2008). Due to this decline in traditional work and the rapid suburbanisation of Dublin from the 1970s onwards, Inner City Dublin also suffered massive decrease in population of 50% by 1991 (Haase, 2009). This destabilisation of the dockland communities is what spurred on the action plan of the 1990s for the redevelopment of the derelict area by Dublin City Council, formerly known as the Dublin Corporation at the time.
As a response to the hardships faced by the dockland communities, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Act 1997 established the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) who proposed a ‘masterplan’ which has since been updated on a 5 year basis. This plan aimed to tackle the socio-economic problems faced by the docklands, focusing on maximising the productivity of the area by promoting an ambitious local working population and developing attractive and sustainable architecture and design for potential public and private investment. Furthermore, the socio-economic objectives of the city supposedly intended to maximise local community involvement and the provision of new opportunity for the local people, while attracting business and employment to the area in sectors of finance, law, and technology (Reflecting City, 2008).
These sectors tend to seek employees of higher education and skill, and attracting such investment and job opportunity to an educationally disadvantaged area seems to portray the governmental plan as one with investment opportunity as priority over the local struggling people. The lower levels of education and unemployment combined with the introduction of predominantly professional work opportunity is a recipe for polarising a community rather than advancing it. Acknowledging this, the plan generally suggests the support of initiatives to overcome disadvantage in the area, however, to date this mainly includes a mere tax incentive for employers to hire people who have been unemployed for 12 months or more (Citizens Information, 2016).
The masterplan also highlights the DDDA’s intention of providing various amenities to aid the implementation of a cohesive community (Reflecting City, 2008). This included the development of the Point Village, which to date is home to a shopping centre predominantly comprising of empty rental units and a cinema, leaving the skeletal building of what was meant to be the ‘community enhancing’ source of amenities.
Development in Action: Has the Community Benefited?
Today, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority advertise their social project as one of success. On their official website, they proudly state how the project has succeeded since 1997, creating 40,000 new jobs, and 11,000 new homes; 20% of which is social and affordable housing. However, have they aided the original struggling inhabitants or simply replaced them with highly educated, working professionals? According to Haase (2009), although the level of higher education in the docklands spiked from 1.0% of the population in 1991 to 46.6% in 2006, this is not a major applause to the DDDA for helping a struggling community, but merely shining a bright light on the displacement of these struggling communities, and replacing them with an inward migration of a more affluent population. In 1991, social housing in the dockland areas accounted for 74.4% of households in the area, which dramatically dropped to 26% in 2006. However, this was not due to over 52% of households quickly benefitting from development and suddenly privatising their homes. When the Sheriff Street flats had been cleared, the majority of the tenants were relocated out of the area to other areas including Coolock, Darndale, Ballymun and other areas which are still facing the ongoing issues of education and unemployment (Haase, 2009).
Towards a Better Future: the Mulvey Report
A recent report, carried out by Kieran Mulvey in the area of the North East Inner City (NEIC), was requested by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to be reported to the Ministerial Taskforce. The study was initiated in response to a rise in social crime in the area including gangland murders and aimed to assess the true social issues currently facing the communities, despite the supposedly ‘positive’ development statistics provided by the DDDA.
According to Mulvey, over a third (26) of the small areas in the NEIC are considered to be classified as disadvantaged or very disadvantaged and a further 19 areas are marginally below average. In some of the very disadvantaged small areas, up to 50% of the population have only attained primary school education and less than 5% attained third level education. This is then compared to the notable difference in other smaller areas still within the NEIC, where over 62% of the population have attained third level education. This inequality in education within such closely situated areas is typical of the gentrification of the docklands, where the original inhabitants are left behind while the newly attracted young professionals benefit from the local development, and Mulvey predicts this to worsen with further dockland development plans.
As outlined in Figure 1, Mulvey continues to highlight the overlooked potential of the NEIC, and suggests various development programmes to replace the existing ones as they are described by the locals as poorly managed and implemented. Also, there is a key fear that reoccurs throughout the study of the local communities; the fear of false promises of development. The unequal development between the IFSC and the long-standing residential areas creates a possibility of ghettoisation in the future, and to deter from this, Mulvey supports the idea of a locally respected representative of the NEIC communities to be heavily involved in further development plans of the disadvantaged areas.
Governmental Response to Mulvey Report
As a response to the comprehensive report by Kieran Mulvey, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, along with the support of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, allocated a further €5 million for the implementation of effective regeneration programmes in the NEIC going forward. The progress on the previously existing development programmes worth €4.7 million can be found here, and an additional €5m would surely make an impact in the reform of the social issues within the NEIC, but will not compare to NAMA’s €1.9 billion investment in the DDDA (MerrionStreet.ie, 2015).
In conclusion, in order for the long-term regeneration and development of the NEIC areas, there needs to be a convergence between the disadvantaged long term residential areas and the heavily invested areas of the IFSC. The rigid implementation of the governmental aims is vital for the reform of tackling the issues of education and crime in the disadvantaged areas, bridging the two worlds through the accessibility of opportunity.
As cities have become the focal point of modern society in the post-industrial age, it is unavoidable that different interest groups will clash over the allocation of finite space in urban centres. In using the examples of urban sport spaces in Dublin, both new and old, the relationship between both culture and neoliberalism will be examined. It will also be asked, can the two coexist? Two spaces will be examined to demonstrate this peculiar relationship. The first being an AstroTurf football pitch on Digges Street, and the second, a newly opened skating area and public park in Weaver square.
Map of Dublin: The red circles indicate the location of Weaver Park and Digges Street Football pitch Source: Google maps
Digges Street Football Pitch
Rules of Pitch
On January 30th, 2009, the Lord Mayor of Dublin officially opened Digges Street Football pitch (Construction Ireland, 2009). It is a bizarre space. Although planning began before the economic crash, the fact it was completed is astounding, considering the broader context of Irish society at this time, as the effects of the recession were being felt nationally (The Irish Times, 2009). Digges Street shares a corner with Aungier Street in Central Dublin, and is quite literally across the street from DIT Aungier Street. The pitch remains currently open, despite the recovery of the Irish construction market and consistent rising rent prices in Central Dublin (Hearne et al. 2018) that has made the space particularly profitable.
On October 2nd, 2017, a new communal space was opened in Weaver Square (Dublin City Council, 2017). Located mere minutes from such inner-city landmarks as St. Patricks Cathedral and DIT Kevin Street. The park “features a lawn, for games and activities and [an] enclosed play area, a skateboarding terrace, benches and a pergola” (Dublin City Council, 2017). The aim of such a plan was to provide “a meeting place of new and existing residents of Dublin’s exciting quarter for living and work” (Dublin City Council, 2017). It was said the park “reflects Dublin City Council’s ambition to ensure that every community has access to a quality park” (Dublin City Council, 2017). The question remains how did this space come into existence? Considering the recent “housing crisis” that has gripped Ireland and, more specifically Dublin, this would make this space allocation contentious (Hearne et al. 2018).
Weaver Park can be considered contentious when one considers the condition of its establishment. This park came into existence after the demolition of the Weaver Square flat complex as well as Chamber Court in 2009 (Dublin City Council, 2017). It was initially designated to be used for redeveloped apartments and social housing, that would be developed under a Public Private Partnership agreement (Hearne, 2011). However, due to the 2007 financial crisis, the space was left derelict. The idea of creating a park came as a result of “city councilors [passing] a motion not to dispose (pass the site to private developers) of the site in 2013 after local groups and individuals within the area campaigned for the development of the park” (Caspelich, 2014).
Neoliberalism and Sport: opposites?
Whilst neoliberalism has become the guiding ideology of modern Ireland, this does not mean these sporting spaces should not exist. Considering a neoliberalist perspective, spaces such as these would generally be sold to private interests under PPP (Hearne, 2011), with the association of the pursuit of profit and neoliberalism. With the bailout debt still hanging above Ireland and the position of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA) (Hearne et al., 2018), it is surprising these spaces have not been used to regain revenue.
But, sporting spaces and neoliberalism are not opposites. The introduction of this sporting space has been seen pushed as an expansion of culture. Indeed, “in conceiving of the city as a purely physical space, sport can be said to have had a significant impact upon moulding the structural and spatial constitution of the urban environment” (Wilcox, Andrews, Pitter, & Irwin, 2003, p. 3), giving the city life, so to speak. Sport has become a major “element in city marketing”. The introduction of “sport facilities may be seen as triggers to further growth” (Gratton & Henry, 2001, p. 4) as the area becomes more appealing to the public as “high-quality amenities, such as bars, restaurants and good quality public space” have become major selling points in cities (Lawton, Murphy, & Redmond, 2014, p. 189).
Sport For All?
Socially, the benefits of sporting spaces such as these, according to former Lord Mayor Byrne, is that “football [pitches] [and other sporting facilities] like this offer local people, especially children and young people, the opportunity to exercise, play sport and, most importantly, spend time outdoors and meet each other” (Construction Ireland, 2009). Gratton and Henry refer to Sport as a “welfare service” (2001, p. 4), a means of improving a region. Similarly, the area of Weaver Park, the Liberties, “has not enjoyed the benefits of benevolent green spaces on any significant scale” (Dublin City Council, 2014).
However, is this sport for the described social benefits, or as a tool of gentrification? Critics of redevelopment, who simply rebrand it gentrification argue that these changes only occur with an influx of new residents into a previously rundown area. Notably, director Spike Lee famously commented how conditions and facilities improve only after certain new, more affluent groups moved into an area (Micheal & Bramley, 2014). It is fair to say that this criticism is founded in some fact. When examining Weaver Square, an area initially proposed for social housing, it should be noted that the area was left empty for nearly 8 years. It was only upon significant reinvestment in the region, as an attractive and up and coming neighbourhood, that it became a park. By this time The Liberties had undergone significant changes in the residency and had become significantly wealthier since the 1990s. This suggests that these sporting spaces, despite their social benefits, exist only as an extension of gentrification.
A Final Thought
This case highlights the perplexity of space allocation in a city as small as Dublin. In a neoliberal environment, it would be assumed these spaces wouldn’t be used socially for sport, but sold for profit. The reality, in these cases, is the opposite. This shows that these spaces can coexist with a neoliberal agenda. Whilst alleviating debt seems logical economically, it does not mean it is logical socially. These spaces may be seen as an extension of gentrification, only arising after a significant change in residency. Despite this critique, these spaces provide children of the city an area in which they can play, where previously, there have not been areas for children to play sport. Reintroducing sport to the centre of the city improves these regions, as reintroducing culture makes it more appealable for further investment. Despite the apparent contradiction of their existence, this does not mean these sport spaces should not exist.
Gratton, C., & Henry, I. (2001). Sport in the City: The role of sport in economic and social regeneration. New York: Routledge.
Hearne, R. (2011). Public Private Partnerships in Ireland: Failed Experiment or the Way Forward for the State? Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Hearne, R. O’Callaghan, C., Di Feliciantonio, C., Kitchin, R. (2018). The relational articulation of housing crisis and activism in post-crash Dublin, Ireland in, editor(s)Gray, N , A Century of Housing Struggles: From the 1915 Rent Strikes to Contemporary Housing Activisms, Boulder, Roman and Littefield
Lawton, P., Murphy, E., & Redmond, D. (2014). Neoliberalising the City ‘Creative-Class’ Style. In A. McLaren, & S. Kelly (Eds.), Neoliberal Urban Policy and Transformation of the City: Reshaping Dublin (pp. 189-202). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
The Holyland is a residential area of Belfast that dates back to the late 1800’s. It has a unique history in the city and as a result of the boom in student numbers in the 90’s, coupled with the universities inability to cope , it has become the student neighborhood of the city and is now marred by a reputation for anti-social behavior and drunken riots.
Source: Google Earth
The Holyland was built during a speculative housing boom in the 1890’s by Sir Robert McConnel, owner of R J McConnell & Co, one of the largest building firms in the city. McConnel was a devout Christian and, having recently returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, decided to name the streets, Jerusalem, Palestine, Damascus, Carmel and Cairo Street. Thus the area gained its moniker. The houses were bought or rented by families and this would remain the primary demographic till the 1990’s.
The Holyland also particularly stood out in contrast to the segregation of communities during the troubles, as young married couples in mixed marriages, often shunned by their families for having entered a relationship with a member of the other community, began to live in the area.
This led to the Holyland being a relatively peaceful area that lacked the sectarian attitudes and violence that defined the era.
The Labour government elected in 1997 brought with it a new policy that at least 50% of all school leavers would attend higher education, leading to the massive increase in student numbers that would radically alter the area. The local universities didn’t have the facilities to house so many students, so the Ni Housing Executive (NIEH) turned to the private sector to solve the burgeoning student housing crisis.
The NIEH set up grants for houses with multiple occupants (HMO’S) to facilitate the conversion and subdivision of houses into multiple flats. The Holyland proved attractive to landlords, with its close proximity to Queens University and between 1993 and 2009, more than £40 million was given out by the NIEH as grant aid to landlords (Holyland And Wider University Area Strategic Study)
Source: Holyland And Wider University Area Strategic Study
By 2001, Students had become the main demographic of the Holyland and the wider university area as a whole, and it was here that issues of anti-social behavior began to arise. Unlike a student hall operated by a university, the Holyland was part of the private sector so there were no wardens or academic staff to oversee students, many of whom where in their first year and as long as the occupants paid their rent on time, land lords were not particularly concerned with the behavior of their tenants.
The task of maintaining order fell to the Belfast City council along with the PSNI and from 2006 to 2010, the council spent approximately £1.5 million dealing with issues in the Holyland. Costs included cleansing services (£221k), wardens in the Holyland area (£479k), addressing specific noise complaints in the Holyland area (£612k), anti-social behaviour issues in Botanic Gardens (£104k), CCTV installation throughout the area (£40k) and costs for particular events in the Holyland area such as St. Patrick’s Day (£17k) and Fresher’s Week (£3k). (Holyland And Wider University Area Strategic Study)
The Holyland has become a good example of what a lack of planning and over reliance on the private sector to solve a city’s problems can cause. It illustrates what happens when grants are deregulated and given out with little forethought to their longer reaching effects and how population change can radically alter an area in a negative manner.
I recently moved to Dublin, Ireland to study. I was accepted to Trinity and was ready to move here to start my new chapter in my life in which I would learn to be independent and take care of myself in an unfamiliar environment. But the residential prices here totally throw me off. I found out that Dublin right now was having a housing problem and for people who move here to study or work, they had to rent from civilians which mean that they are in control of the market.
Social housing in Stockholm
I am originally from Stockholm, Sweden and my city is well known for having a housing problem, especially in 2015 when Europe had the so called “immigrant crisis”, which was when people were running from the war and misery in the Middle East and taking themselves with unsafe boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. In Europe, Sweden and Germany has some of the most generous asylum policies. Measured on a per capita basis, Sweden granted refuge to the largest amount of applicants in the EU (317,8 per 100.000) and Stockholm even offered permanent residency to all Syria asylum applicants in 2013. (Park, 2015). There are different opinions about if this has contributed to the growth of Sweden’s economic welfare or made the country’s economical state worse but one fact is that the housing situation in Stockholm particularly has become worse and that the segregation between native swedes and immigrant has increased. The Swedish currently political state is socialism which means that the public sector is what contributes to most of the country’s welfare and also why the taxes are so high. It also means that the government is very involved in housing issues. In Sweden, about a third of the country’s population live in rental housing, and over half of that live in so called public housing, in which meaning municipally owned rental housing. This is a popular choice for many swedish people and you can see the allure in the freedom that comes with it and the predictable accommodation prices (SABO, 2016). Sweden also had the so called Million Programme which was initiated in the 60s by the government to regenerate properties that could be affordable housing for the population and unlike lots of other countries, Sweden’s public housing has never had any income restrictions.
Million programme in Tensta, Stockholm (Wikipedia, 2017)
Social housing in Dublin
Back to Dublin, as I have understood from studying about the housing situation and observing, the city has focused more on regeneration of the city than building more social housing for the population, this is something we have noticed lately in Sweden as well. The only difference is how the regeneration is prioritized but one thing they both have in common regarding this is that there is a shortage of housing but at the same time it is harder to build affordable housing for ordinary people (SABO, 2016). Something I think have to do with the fact that government fundings for new social housing fell by 88,4% between 2008 and 2014. In Ireland, social housing has always been a central part of the overall housing supply during periods of economic growth as well as throughout several recessions. It has played an important role as an economic stimulus and source of employment when there had been an oversupply of labour. Also providing a big source of accommodation for lower income households. All of this because rents for social housing are linked to incomes (Byrne & Norris, 2016).
Property prices also boosts combined demand in the state economy and in Byrnes & Norris (2016) article they explains the property booms and the busts in Ireland. Between 2005-2007, as they describes as the boom peak years, more than ⅓ of all the loans that year were made for housing equity withdrawals. Budgetary dependence on property related taxes explains the importance of the private property market for the Irish society.
Docklands, regeneration area in central Dublin, the irish has the ambition for this to become of of the greatest urban environments for living in Europe (The Irish Times, 2014).
To further compare the housing situation between Stockholm, Sweden, and Dublin, Ireland, I think the countries taxes play a great role in what decides the property market prices. If you compare the countries income taxe you can see that Ireland has a tax rate of 48% on incomes over 40,696 dollars, while Sweden has the second highest income tax rate in the world, and the highest in Europe, with 56,6% deducted from an annual income. Ireland also has a relatively low income tax rate on corporations with just 12,5% which benefit major corporations as Google and Apple to move their industry here (WorldAtlas, 2017). This however, makes the irish economy suffer though since there is not enough tax money for the government to get rid of the housing shortages. Sweden with its very high tax rate on both social och corporation housing contributes to the overall economy and gives the government for fundings for property housing projects. The global financial crisis in 2008 hit the world hard with recession and led the Irish government to nationalising the entire country’s banking system and forced to take and emergency loan from the European Union. This was when the government’s fundings were cut and Ireland’s tax rate is a sequence of this. For Sweden this crisis has been easier to recover from, probably because of the isolation of its currency.
Private and public housing
Like in all urban cities, there are different areas that are more expensive and others that are cheaper to live in and the root of that is of course money. Cities also consists of public and private housing and the difference between them is that public housing is properties owned and managed by a local or central government and is often much bigger than private housing. The umbrella term for these two is social housing referring to rental housing in a city. Sweden is a country which has a very strong government funding when it comes to public housing which makes a lot of cities in Sweden contain of a lot of public housing, while Dublin on the other hand has a limited budget when it comes to housing and therefore have more private housing as you can see going around town. Unlike public housing, private properties are liable to one form of tax or another. Sweden’s economy more stable than that of Ireland, partly due to the political state of the country, but also due to the government´s involvement in housing.
Maybe Ireland would need to start working on a change to turn this situation into a positive spiral rather than the negative one that is the present situation. It would take a strong political movement and loyalty from the people and corporations to accomplish this change, but perhaps somebody could persuade the general public that it is the way to go for the future. If not, the situation will most likely worsen.