The lesson of how not to do something (the bad and ugly..!) and the positive story of lessons learned and how something can be turned around and a much more positive story generated (the good..!) Ballymun flats seemed like a great idea at the time. Representing forward thinking, progressive planning and new modern construction techniques. It was well intended for sure; the idea of construing a new town to respond to what was a serious housing crisis. Sadly the approach was fundamentally flawed; it was 100% public housing, built around a roundabout, without any appropriate supporting infrastructure such as shops or schools. Easy to look back at it now and wonder what they were thinking, but hindsight is a great thing..! Work first started in 1965.
Irish Times Mcdermott Tower 2005 Photographer: Alan Betson
It was planned that most people would be housed in high rise flats. Other amenities were to be constructed at the same time, in time for the first tenants, but these were delayed and tenants were left largely in isolation without having some basic services to support them. A bad start to the projects. The development also suffered from a range of other problems such as poorly maintained lifts and faulty heating, all critical issues for families living in high rise buildings. Ultimately Ballymun was a failure and the area and its peoples experienced huge social problems and widespread deprivation; with consistent drug use, poverty and crime. In his book “The Construction of Dublin”, architectural journalist Frank McDonald called it the Irish state’s “worst planning disaster”. But at the time it was considered a wonderful vision of the future of planning and many people wanted to move there. Ultimately it was decided that the high rise Ballymun flat scheme was a failure and the only solution was to demolish the flats. Now the challenge was to recognize what had gone wrong, learn from the mistakes made and avoid repeating them. Some key lessons learnt were that housing and people must be supported by infrastructure from day one and that social mix is very important. With regard to this latter point in the Rowntree Publications (2205) “A good place for Children” it is noted that regeneration is more likely to be successful by creating the right mix of people including involving some residents who are better off financially. The authors feel it provides
many benefits to include an understanding and appreciation of social difference, provides a balanced demographics to an area, broader educational influences and exposure to different ways of life for all. A specialist company was set up by Dublin City Council to demolish the existing flats and to plan and undertake the construction of a new town of Ballymun. Critically the new Ballymun moved away from the high rise flats model previously used in favour of lower rise accommodation. Most importantly the new housing is a mix of public, private, co-operative and voluntary housing. Delivering one of the key criteria of urban renewal, namely social mix. It also included and delivered at an early stage in the regeneration project parks, sports areas, a major city Council office, health and leisure facilities, a new hotel and a shopping centre. All contributing to local employment and people working and doing business in their own community. Ballymun now is viewed as a positive and enlightened example of urban regeneration, but maybe most importantly it shows that mistakes can be fixed and that we can learn from our mistakes.
“The only real mistake is one from which we learn nothing”.John Powell
Ballymun Regeneration (2007) Terenure Diversity In the Ballymena Regeneration Catchment Area.
Peter Bodkin (4th March 2015) ‘This is everything that went wrong with Ballymun’, The Journal, 15/11/16.
Olivia Kelly (2016) ‘Regenerating Ballymun: new aspirations, old problems? ‘, IrishTimes, 15 11, p. .