College Green – Making space to create a Place

15 Feb 2016

Dublin is my home and I love it. It has been my home for 17 years now. However, before then, my references were all based upon what I’d see in the news and the odd movie. It was, therefore with a mix of shock and dismay that I arrived at what I soon labelled as “the largest village I have ever been to”, rather than the capital city of the roaring Celtic Tiger. Having come from Lisbon, the lack of infrastructure, height, small things like ATMs, etc, were aspects that struck me first. Of course I soon grew fond of the way people live, the way they interact, their resilience and quiet confidence.

But something wasn’t quite right, and I kept asking myself: How can a city that has people as its most endearing asset, deprive its citizens from quality urban spaces where they can interact with each other and with visitors? Why was Dublin a city that was better experienced from a stool in Mulligan’s pub than from a jaunt along College Green?

As an urban planner (stuck in traffic for most of my career) I had my own ideas of how the redesign of some of Dublin’s streets and public spaces such as College Green, could be a step-change towards an even more attractive city, one that shows itself to the visitor (and its citizens) rather than hiding itself to be discovered by those lucky enough to explore beyond its surface.

It was, therefore an absolute pleasure to be invited to take part of the Hidden Rooms event in late 2014, and even better, when I realised the group I was to join was going to focus on College Green. The event was one of the most enriching events I have participated in. Despite the broad section of participants, which included supposedly conflicting interests such as traffic engineers, disabled groups, architects, business representatives, public transport operators and cycling groups, was surprisingly engaged (and engaging) and a real design brainstorm resulting in a “proposal” for the Green.

Just over a year on, DCC has presented a real proposal, very much on the same lines as the one that was discussed at the Hidden Rooms. The proposal for College Green reflects a number of design principles and aspirations, which in my opinion, can be encapsulated in the desire to reallocate urban space from the motorised vehicle to the pedestrian.

The principle of reallocating space is a simple one: Due to the over-engineering that was prevalent for many decades across Irish cities and towns, we have a legacy of redundant road space that is neither used by car or by pedestrians. For example, if a junction is designed with wide radii to accommodate the occasional simultaneous movement of two large vehicles, there will be a significant chunk of road that is seldom, if ever, used. Also, the design often assumed higher speeds than what is suited for city centres. This has given us in some cases, four-metre wide lanes on city streets, where three metres would be sufficient. If we “take” two metres from the cars and “give” them to pedestrians, we are in effect increasing significantly the provision for pedestrians while having no impact whatsoever on the traffic capacity. If on top of that, we reassess the need for a given street to accommodate general traffic, as it was the case with College Green, we then create the space for create a Place.

This is something that isn’t new to Dublin. The top of Grafton Street is a much better place now than before the suppression of vehicular presence to a minimum.  But College Green is perhaps a more emblematic example, as it is still operating as a key node on the city’s transport network, which wasn’t the case with Grafton Street/ St. Stephen’s Green.

I am confident that the scheme proposed will prove a success and the desire to apply the principle of making space to create a Place will spread to other parts of our city centre.

Tiago Oliveira, Associate | Transport Planner, Arup