For many years, researchers have stressed that neoliberalism is not a defined range of policies nor does it comprise a specified agenda. Instead, it involves the operation of a palette of economic and social policies which vary considerably from one place to another. Thus, it is imperative to focus on how neoliberalism becomes actuated in specific places and at particular times.
It is therefore useful to bring together a collection of research which focuses on Ireland, a country which eagerly followed the neoliberal path. Neoliberal Urban Policy and the Transformation of the City: Reshaping Dublin, a book to be published in July by Palgrave Macmillan, does exactly that. Co-edited by Andrew MacLaran from the Geography Department at TCD and Sinéad Kelly of the Department of Geography, NUI Maynooth, it focuses on the character and impacts of ‘actually-existing’ neoliberalism, taking Dublin as a key case study.
The book explores the way neoliberalism infused Irish political life and wrought a major transformation of the city over a period of three decades. It shows how the roaring ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy submitted to a dramatic change in fortunes, in which the economy shrank dramatically, unemployment rates soared, large-scale emigration returned, wages and salaries dropped, public services were cut, taxes were raised and new charges were introduced in a programme of austerity aimed at rescuing the Irish financial institutions. In late 2010, the state itself had to seek a bail-out from the EU, ECB and IMF.
The book establishes the contextual background examining the ways in which neoilberalism sought to change the Irish political agenda at national and local authority scales and how this became reflected in terms of two key elements underpinning Irish urban change and development, namely the changing codes of practice of the financial system and the transformation of the urban planning system.
There is a review of the property-development boom and its legacy, focusing on office development, residential over-development and the creation of large numbers of unfinished and unoccupied ‘ghost’ estates, together with more general problems surrounding the financialisation of home ownership and the perceived necessity for the government to bail out the banks as a result of their reckless lending for property development.
The book also addresses the impacts of neoliberal urban policy in reshaping Dublin, pointing first to the failures of public-private partnerships, which had been a key element of Irish neoliberalism. It then reviews the impacts of the use of gentrification as an overt component of inner-city regeneration under this new regime, while the ideological influences on urban policy are shown also to embrace ideas derived from the ‘creative-class’ thesis of Richard Florida. While new formal structures for community participation are noted as having been an intrinsic component of ‘holistic’ urban regeneration policies, participation is shown to have been more apparent than real and largely undermined by an entrepreneurial local-authority pro-development agenda; one in which private consultancies became increasingly deployed to absorb criticism and deflect it away from local-authority managers. The fall-out from the collapse of public-private partnerships in social-housing regeneration provides an interesting insight into the rather predictable consequences of relying on the private market but also demonstrates the potential for community fight-back.
The book concludes by re-examining the more general aspects of public resistance to the operation of neoliberal urban policy, highlighting salient points to be drawn from the continuing Irish experience of neoliberalism and austerity.
As a demonstration of ‘actually-existing’ neoliberalism and the fall-out resulting from such a radical ideologically-based experiment, this volume should be of enormous interest to student and academic readers in geography, sociology, urban studies, planning, political science and related fields.
The book has been written by urban scholars based at a variety of research and educational institutions who have long had a strong association with the Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin, in which many of the authors pursued their doctoral research, or through Trinity’s Centre for Urban and Regional Studies.
Andrew MacLaran is Associate Professor of Geography and Director of the centre for Urban and Regional Studies at Trinity College Dublin.
Sinéad Kelly is Lecturer in Geography at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Neoliberal Urban Policy and the Transformation of the City: Reshaping Dublin. Edited by Andrew MacLaran and Sinéad Kelly. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.