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Dublin: How is it changing and who is it for?

Cities are designed to evolve. And Dublin has seen more than its fair share
of rapid change over the past decade. But what does and should
this change look like? Are particular kinds of development inevitable? Or can we question why and how they are happening? Whose streets? Our streets! Whose city? Our city! Guys, if you can just sit down. We’re shutting down the whole city. Dublin is a city in the grips of
a multifaceted housing crisis that’s having a devastating impact
on many who are homeless or scrambling to keep
their heads above water in a rental market that has seen six
consecutive years of rent increases, and where rents are now
34% higher than ever before. The city is also in the midst of rapid gentrification. Expensive restaurants and bars are opening, cultural venues including nightclubs are closing, and the high cost of housing is
making the capital less liveable for low-income workers, artists,
creatives and casual workers. All of this combines to ask the question
many are posing these days: Who is this city for,
and where is it going? I think the big trend since I’ve been on the
council is how little has happened apart from things like
student housing and hotels. In terms of building houses, either by the
State or privately, it’s been almost nothing. Cllr Éilis Ryan is a member of
the Workers’ Party of Ireland. She represents the north inner city
area in Dublin City Council. She says so much of the
development we’re seeing right now is because of how the term ‘residential’
is defined by planning regulations. So land is zoned for certain uses and that’s really the only way
we have to prevent the entire city being used just
for commercial gain. The residential zoning actually includes certain
kinds of apartments and student accommodation, and so there’s a huge flexibility for
a developer under the residential zoning, and I think that goes to show the
influence that commercial investors have over how a city is developed. So you can build a hotel and call it residential? Certain kinds of hotels, yeah, like
aparthotels and things like that, yeah. That’s a bit of a joke, isn’t it? Oh it is a joke. What is that development doing
to the city do you think? When you think about, what’s the
purpose of a residential zoning? It’s to build communities, you know. It’s not just that somebody happens
to be spending a night there. It’s that it builds a community. So this is kind of the fun hangout space. So there’s a games booth in there, so Playstation booth and an Xbox booth. Cinema room in here, so they can put on movies. Protection from glare while they’re studying, while sill allowing natural light, as well as blackout blinds for sleeping. I remember a good few years ago writing a couple of things about
how we needed student housing, and now we’ve built it and I’m complaining
about it and you’re complaining about it. Yeah, we now have in just the north
inner city alone at least 8,000 beds of student accommodation
either gone up or going up. When these complexes came to be rented out, it turned out that the rent is about
€1,000 a month for one bedroom. You know, we’re not just asking for student
housing, we’re asking for student housing… What is it that students need? They need it to be affordable,
they need it to be reliable. I think the investors know that the shortage
is so great that the State will figure out a way to effectively either subsidise them
or allow lending in order for students to be able to take on that debt themselves. We rarely actually hear from the people
who make these decisions about planning in the city. It’s very simple and it’s elegant. Yeah, well that one’s simple, yeah. Kieran Rose is a former senior planner for
Dublin City Council who is responsible for the planning of Dublin 8 in the early 2000s. All of these buildings that
you’re looking at here now, the student accommodation, the hotel and so on, they were all vacant sites for about 20 years. Yeah. So it’s fantastic to see that kind of development taking place in the area. What’s not good is the lack
of apartments being built. Why can’t these be housing? You mean why are the
developers not developing them? Yeah, like if we look around
this and all these… there’s builders everywhere, putting up these big massive blocks
and they’re for student accommodation. Why isn’t this permanent residential housing? That’s a very… complicated issue. Basically I suppose it’s because
they make more profit. Yeah. If it was more profitable to
develop apartments, they would. Does the planning office, can it say, no, you have to build housing instead? Not on the entire site, you know, because
as long as the use complies with the zoning, then you can build that. And in the city centre, or around here,
it’s a mixed use zoning. Housing activists say stuff like,
the council should make compulsory purchase orders on vacant sites. Can it just be seizing land to make social housing? Yeah, it can, they can yeah. CPOs, that’s what they were intended for in
many cases was to provide housing. So why isn’t Dublin City Council using them? Is it an ideological thing then? Does the council not want to be pissing
off developers or landowners? Yeah, I think… I think generally we have too much tolerance
for property owners when they keep their sites
or their buildings vacant. There was five vegetable shops here,
now there is only one. The Liberties is a historic working class area, traditionally seen as the
gritty soul of Dublin street life. In the past, students who came to live here,
according to business owners, haven’t necessarily visited local businesses, and now there are
efforts to integrate them. Local historians James Madigan and Liz Gillis
brought students newly arrived from the US around the Liberties on a
meet-the-shopkeepers tour. I suppose it started in March. I gave a talk to about 50 of the new students. And I was kind of shocked to realise only
one of them after being in Dublin for over two months, one one of them had
bought something in Meath Street. Over the last 12 months, four or five shops
that were here for over 50 years have closed. We had one of the best greengrocers in Dublin. He retired because he was squeezed
out because of the Lidls and the Aldis. The local young people born and reared around
the area, they can’t afford to buy the houses. We don’t know what’s going to
happen with all these students. There’s thousands of them. But we wish and hope that it will be something
very positive, and I have a very good feeling about the place that it will good and positive. Enjoy yourselves when you’re here. This is the greatest spot on Earth. There’s nowhere like it, the Liberties. It’s wonderful. There’s huge redevelopment going on in the
area and communities aren’t being built anymore, and that was one thing that really made this
area so special was the community. If yous need to ask anything, don’t go
any further than come to me. I’m over there on the plants and
all that, and my son is here, and we’ll help yous in every way we can, okay? Thank you. Nice seeing yous all! It’s not just neighbourhoods that are being
gentrified, nightlife at large is too. For those who want a capital city to offer
a sense of creativity and edge at nighttime, Dublin often disappoints. Clubs such as Hangar, District 8 and POD,
are being redeveloped as aparthotels and offices. Sunil Sharpe is a Dublin DJ with an international
profile who’s part of a bunch of people trying to emphasise the broader importance of
nightlife to our economy and our culture. We’re standing in front of the
side of what was Hangar. What do you fell about the state
of nightlife in Dublin now? I think it’s at its lowest point
that I can remember since I’ve been involved in
the music scene here. We used to have loads of venues. There were so many different
ones to choose from, but we’ve got to the point now
where we’ve less than a handful. For a capital city and for a city with
the musical heritage that Dublin has, and a country with the musical heritage
that Ireland has, it beggars belief really. How important is it that a nightclub
like this is being knocked down and that others are under threat such as District 8? Well I think it forces a lot of creative
people to think about leaving the country. What would you change to improve
nightlife culture right now in the city? I think there needs to be a loosening on
the regulations around nightclubs and give them obviously more flexible
opening hours, later opening hours. They can be multipurpose
venues during the day. There’s a lot of short-term
decisions being made with no long-term vision for the city and the nighttime economy. I think it helps sell our city. The frustration with all of this,
particularly the housing crisis, has birthed a protest movement. A coalition of ordinary people, left-wing
activists, repeal and marriage equality veterans, students, pensioners, renters and everyone
in between have been taking to the streets and occupying buildings to demand change. Nearly every second or third doorway in
Dublin city is full of homeless people. Ireland in our eyes is a corporate state. Once you’ve money, you can
come in and exploit people. The idea for me buying a house is laughable. Even the idea of paying rent is difficult enough. I’m doing it with the help of my parents. I’m 43 years of age. It has been lying vacant for many many years. The activists who occupied it told
me that it could easily be restored. Dublin should be for everyone, but perhaps those struggling
with rent and with finding a creative social or cultural
foothold in the city are increasingly seeing it as a
place that’s drifting away. Whether this is inevitable or not,
the conversation about Dublin’s purpose and who it’s accommodating figuratively and literally is happening right now. As the journalist, activist Jane Jacobs once wrote: “There is no logic that can be
superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to
them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

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