THERE’S nothing like the announcement of a plan to give us all a bit of a lift. It makes us feel that we haven’t been forgotten in what they picturesquely refer to as the bigger picture.
Limerick woke up to a grandiose new plan last week, and naturally everyone was delighted.
There was a new confidence in the air. I was even cock-a-hoop myself at the news that the city is to undergo a complete renaissance over the next 17 years in a major €250 million plan, because to be honest, I had been missing the beat of the city’s heart for some time.
If I may say so, however, the money sounds pretty modest in the context of what it cost to build a cardboard housing estate a few years ago.
Sean Dunne bought a single house for a fifth of that amount in 2006, and even now Larry Goodman wouldn’t get more than half a dozen new jets for the estimated cost of re-building Limerick city.
Nevertheless it does sound like an act of faith in the future of Limerick and it is expected that the private sector will respond to the impetus. I hope I’m still around when the plan is completed.
As a Tipperary woman, I may be smarting after the hurling defeat two weeks ago, but Limerick was my metropolis when I was a child and it was the place where I spent most of my working life. It would be nice to re-live those days in the heart of the city before I pass on.
However, my own heart sank when I saw that one of the first things mentioned in the plan was ‘spatial strategy’.
I can’t stand the term ‘spatial strategy’. It reminds me of the Celtic Tiger and the myriad meaningless buzz words that robbed us of our wits, giving a license to uncontrolled development and sending us all spinning off the rails into cloud cuckoo land.
Thank God I managed to remain grounded myself in those giddy days. If you really want to know, I was spatially challenged then and I still am. But this is no time to be raining on the parade. These are exciting times for the Limerick.
The face of the city, we’re told, is set to change forever and very much for the better, and whether we like it or not, one of the guiding forces to that change will be ‘spatial strategy’.
But wasn’t it spatial strategy that robbed us of such treasures as Cruises Royal Hotel and the charming old façade of Cannocks, and replaced them with soulless shopping areas and a brash commercialism that was nothing more than a minor reflection in glass and steel of every modern retail centre in the world?
You’ll find the same shops everywhere and the only difference in High Street global shopping now is that prices seem to be cheaper everyplace else.
Having said that, there isn’t a doubt in the world but that something needed to be done in the city, and done fast. Seventeen years seems a long time now to have to wait for a resurrection.
Last year a study found that O’Connell Street was the worst performing main city thoroughfare in the country, with 16 per cent of its retail premises vacant.
The study also found a disproportionate number of fast food restaurants on the street and not enough women’s fashion shops.
The fashionista haven’t gone away, it seems, but do we really have to call on spatial strategy to respond to a demand like that.
There were many facets to the decline of O’Connell Street and most of them can be traced back to some form of ‘spatial strategy’ that wasn’t good for the heart of the city – from the doughnut effect of ring roads and the proliferation of large suburban shopping centres to an increasingly hostile parking regime in the city centre where harassed motorists weren’t even afforded the facility of an on-street parking disc dispenser as they were in most other towns in the region.
I never thought I’d be saying something like this, but I fear that the plan that was launched with such fanfare last week, is doomed if we don’t all become more spatially adept. For a start we need to locate where our ‘heart’ lies.
There’s no point in having a spatial strategy or even an ‘iconic destination’ if we can’t make up our minds which is our main thoroughfare. In recent years we’ve been turning our backs on O’Connell Street to open up the riverfront.
Now we’re going to develop three main thoroughfares – Catherine Street, O’Connell Street and Henry Street. On a side street the other day, someone asked me for directions to “the main shopping street” and for the first time in my life in Limerick I had to think where to send her.
Edmund Sexton Pery, the man who rebuilt Limerick 200 years ago, must have been turning in his grave.