By Stacey Wrenn
Rern Koolhaas, one of the most renowned urbanists or our time, once said: “Architecture is a dangerous mix of power and importance”, and this statement is as relevant now as it was when discussing buildings of the past. From Grand Canal to Doha, gigantic mounds of glass and steel are appearing at an alarming rate in our neighbourhoods.
The developers behind these ‘quarters’ and ‘districts’ mask reality by using buzzwords like ‘regeneration’ instead of ‘gentrification’, ‘development’ instead of ‘destruction’. These projects consist of nothing but benefits for the few and exclusion for the rest and are prime examples of how classism and racism continue to be live issues in our society. Working class and migrant communities are the most affected by the increased privatisation of our land, being priced out and forced to live in commuter belts – damned to hours on an underfunded public transport system.
But when it comes to the planning process of these projects, ordinary people are duped into thinking that they are included in this grand scheme. In the built-up areas radiating from the quays of the Liffey, what often appears to be a public park or footpath is actually private property. The ground that you walk on has a ‘™’ on it — consider that when walking through the city on a Saturday morning. Dame Street Plaza, aka the front of Central Bank where grassroots activists and young emos mingle on a regular basis, is privately owned.
The developers behind these ‘quarters’ and ‘districts’ mask reality by using buzzwords like ‘regeneration’ instead of ‘gentrification’, ‘development’ instead of ‘destruction’.
In 2012, photographer Eilis Murphy was accosted by security staff whilst walking through the docklands of the IFSC for taking photographs of private property. The extent of the control that these corporate bodies have over freedom of information and expression is constantly increasing – the neoliberal image is so precious to them that they will literally limit it’s exposure to publications and press releases where they have the final say.
Despite these limitations, artists are standing up and fighting back. In July 2017, Kerry Guinan created an exhibition for A4 Sounds studio in response to Dublin City Council’s attempt to create a designated ‘cultural quarter’ in Parnell Square. This was after numerous failed past ‘cultural quarter’ initiatives such as Temple Bar and Smithfield Square, with the positions that former and current residents were placed in testifying to the dangerous outcomes of these initiatives – rising rents, the closure of independent art spaces and sole trader businesses, replaced by international coffee chains and expensive supermarkets.
We can often be easily transfixed by what we perceive to be architectural wonders with their award-winning designs, without taking into consideration the long-term impact of their introduction into the urban landscape. In a country with a usually quite restrictive planning permission process, any attempt at a high-rise building can be awe-inspiring to the passer-by in comparison to the humble Irish bungalow.
We must not get distracted like a congregation of magpies, the shine of millions of euro in government and EU funding should not go by unchallenged. We must reclaim architecture as a fundamental force for good, rather than letting it be utilised by the neoliberal elite to propagandise their authority and control the population under the guise of ‘community works’. Token gestures are not enough. We should build homes, hospitals, and decent infrastructure – genuinely public spaces. We should not have to have this discussion again in fifty years’ time. We cannot continue to let people’s lives be uprooted for the sake of a glossy tourism advert.