Poetry reading by Stephen James Smith. Designing space for mooching and smooching. Planning for a Donald Trump visit. It was all going down in the Mansion House Round Room yesterday at an event organised by Happenings Dublin / Connect the Dots with Dublin City Council and National Transport Agency. The event was a public discussion regarding the design of a Civic Plaza at College Green and I was delighted to be asked to be one of the facilitators. The aim was to get citizens, interested parties, focus groups and designers to discuss the challenges and opportunities at College Green.
College Green is one of the most important architectural-set pieces in the city, between Dublin Castle and the Parliament House (Bank of Ireland) and the façade of Trinity. In recent decades, the Green has become a polluted and choked traffic artery, hostile for pedestrians and most certainly not a place to linger or enjoy. However, the current LUAS Cross City works offer an opportunity to create a new public realm space at College Green. With this in mind, the workshop offered a chance for stakeholders and the wider public to address a number of key questions about how to highlight the existing monuments and architecture, how to facilitate different types of events and activities, the nature of hard and soft landscaping and accessibility to all citizens.
At the outset, City Architect Ali Grehan set out the parameters to be considered during discussions. The new plaza will be a pedestrian priority area but permeable for cyclists. The two existing monuments (Henry Grattan & Thomas Davis) will remain, as will the railings to Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland building. East – West through traffic will be removed from College Green but access for emergency vehicles and service delivery will be provided. At the western end of the new plaza buses heading towards College Green will turn back on a loop back up Dame Street and at the eastern end of the new plaza LUAS, buses and taxis will travel along the tram tracks in a north-south direction.
My discussion group echoed many of the hopes of other tables – for a flexible, accessible, welcoming, safe space with high quality hard and soft landscaping materials. Some were concerned about the impact of high volumes of buses continuing to use the north-south route. Much of the discussion touched on how cycling would be accommodated, be it on a shared surface or segregated lanes that might protect vulnerable pedestrians better. One contributor suggested an underground tunnel for cyclists, but this was dismissed as unfeasible due to safety and security concerns. Who would want to cycle underground? It never works… But thinking about this a day later, I think that possibly this idea was shot down too quickly. Maybe a well-lit, sunken cycle route along the north side (Bank of Ireland) boundary with a glazed roof at street level could work! Pedestrians on the plaza would be able to traverse this glazed roof, looking down at the cyclists below. It could add a strong visual and dramatic element to the space, which should probably be quite simple and uncluttered in its overall design. Or maybe thats just a crazy idea.
Another thing I have been thinking about since the workshop is related to my particular interest in green infrastructure for the inner city. I think most or all of the mature trees on Foster Place should be retained, but I would be happy enough to see the existing trees around the monuments go as they impede sight-lines. Provided there is not too much shading from buildings, it would be great to see additional trees planted along the south and west sides of the plaza – and in proper tree trenches rather than planters. I think some form of sustainable urban drainage needs to be considered, particularly with the likely extent of hard landscaping. Drainage rills set into the plaza could provide a lovely feature, provided they are designed so as not to provide hazards to the visually impaired. Some people suggested grass, but I am unconvinced that this would be appropriate due to the high pedestrian volumes and activities. Maybe it would work if the space was larger.
Overall there was a great buzz to the workshop and well done to the guys (DCC, Happenings, Connect the Dots) for making it happen. It was great to partake in positive discussions about the public realm. The current state of Dublin’s public realm is pretty shocking but one gets tired of hearing only the negatives or indeed dealing with apathy. Of course, Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority need to stay the course with this project and ensure that we get a world-class public space in the heart of the city.