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Trust Submission on Draft Public Realm Strategy

Dublin City Council's Draft Dublin City Public Realm Strategy, entitled Your City, Your Space, is currently out to public consultation. The Council is looking for citizens' and stakeholders' views on the document, which aims to provide an overarching framework for the integrated planning and management of the public realm of the city within the canals. Submissions are invited up to the closing date of Wednesday, January 25th. The document can be viewed online here.

Dublin Civic Trust Submission 

PavingThe Trust has had a long and active involvement in identifying, recording and promoting a high quality public realm in Dublin, with a particular emphasis on engendering a wider appreciation for, and protection of, historic street surfaces. However, all aspects of the public realm are of interest to the Trust, as we believe it to be a key component in the creation of a high quality, liveable and enjoyable city. This was highlighted in the Trust’s 2010 document Defining Dublin’s Historic Core: Realising the Potential of the City Centre and its Georgian Squares for Citizens, Visitors and Business. The Trust’s wider body of research and street publication work is also charted in the Appendix of the draft strategy, which we gratefully acknowledge.

Dublin Civic Trust welcomes the publication of the Draft Dublin City Public Realm Strategy and makes the following observations:

1. The Trust broadly welcomes and supports the vision of the Draft Strategy and encourages its implementation.

We believe the publication of the report is timely, and is a welcome first step towards establishing an integrated approach to managing the city’s public realm. The structure of the draft document is coherent, logical and constructive in highlighting the progression of the process from understanding what we have, to the vision and challenges, to making it happen. This is useful for stakeholders, related bodies and agencies, and the general public. It is also understood that this is an introductory, over-arching document only, and not a comprehensive overview of proposals, districts or the minutiae of specific projects. This comes across clearly through the well-judged diagrams and flow charts.  

2. Stakeholders Require Prominence

We believe the stakeholders involved in the process need to be more obviously and graphically defined in the document. This need is twofold:

  • Departments and sections involved within the multidisciplinary team in Dublin City Council need to be stated. This is important for the general public and interested bodies to ensure that there is participation and buy-in from all sectors: e.g. Roads and Traffic, Parks, Conservation, Public Lighting etc. A diagram would be useful in this respect. A confirmed title for the future multidisciplinary team, such as the Public Realm Office, is also highly desirable for inclusion in the strategy.
  • External stakeholders require emphasis in the document, such as utility companies, transport providers etc. While these are listed in a paragraph in the document, a graphic illustration or table of such would greatly aid the public in disseminating who is responsible for working on the ground and involved in implementing change through their duty of care. 

3. Welcome Proposed Methodology 

The proposed two-pronged approach to building on the Your City, Your Space document by developing specific Local Public Realm Plans and two Public Realm Design Manuals is a logical methodology. Not only does this allow for more detailed consideration of the character of specified districts and proposed works, it also avoids what one might term ‘reportitis’ – where an all-encompassing, city-wide document becomes so unwieldy that it becomes difficult to manage and is left unimplemented. The ‘statement of intent’ with Your City, Your Space is digestible and a positive discussion point for implementing change. However, it is desirable that the proposed Local Public Realm Plans be listed in the document, or at least the parameters set out by which the subject areas will be decided. We suggest the Character Areas map of the Development Plan as being an obvious method of doing this, unless more street-specific districts are proposed. Projected timeframes for the two manuals would also be useful.

4. Stance on Statutory Regulations

One of the key influencing factors with the public realm are the statutory requirements regarding roads and markings, which the document observes the need for taking into account as part of proposed works. A theme that emerged amongst DCC’s own staff at the Historic Street Surfaces Public Consultation in December 2011 is the need to challenge and engage with national statutory authorities and legislators on those regulations that are not tailored to meet the needs of demanding inner-urban environments – particularly in relation to road markings, pedestrian crossings and road signage. As the pre-eminent planning and roads authority in the State, Dublin City Council should lead on this front and make reference to such dialogue, in a positive and constructive manner, in the document. Otherwise, we strongly welcome the commitment to reduce street clutter and streamline the appearance of streets.

5. Historic Street Surfaces

The document makes welcome proposals in relation to the protection of historic street surfaces, with appropriately committed and rigorous language used. A single observation in relation to this is the somewhat limiting theme of ‘protecting what is there’ that comes across, when a broader theme should be suggested that takes in consolidation of fragmented surfaces, reinstating surfaces where appropriate, and reinterpreting surfaces where necessary. Perhaps terms such as ‘protection, consolidation and enhancement’ of historic street surfaces could be used.

6. Character Areas

It has been a long-standing policy principle of Dublin City Council, through numerous Development Plans and policy documents, to consolidate and enhance so-called Character Areas of the city. One of the best ways of achieving this is through the considered design treatment and management of the public realm. Therefore, this should comprise an important part of the ‘Guiding Principles’ section of the strategy, where the character and physical identity of a district should be considered a key part of the design and management process. Perhaps this could be incorporated into the ‘Protect and enhance Dublin’s character and history’ section or be given an individual entry.  

7. Advertising and Privatisation

Your City, Your Space makes positive observations in relation to the need to tackle advertising and the commandeering of pavement space for cafe seating etc. However, we believe this should be more emphatic in balancing the public’s needs – as well expressed elsewhere in the document – with those of business. In particular, brief reference should be made to a commitment to acceptable pavement widths, control of branding and advertising on terrace banners, fencing and awnings, and fully roofed and enclosed terrace structures that are emerging on places such as The Italian Quarter and Castle Market to the diminution of their quality as public thoroughfares.

The required control of the consistency of semi-public street furniture such as this also needs reference. For example, the recent review of the O’Connell Street Area of Special Planning Control did not make any reference to such works and structures, in spite of their growing proliferation in the city. It is important that a key document such as this strategy makes appropriate reference to a growing trend on the streets that impacts considerably on the quality of the public environment.

8. Shop Fronts and Business Frontages

While private property and businesses are located within the private sphere, their frontages comprise a key part of the public realm, particularly in how they interface with the pavement and define the character of streets and districts. Your City, Your Space understandably focuses on ‘public space’, however we believe that shop fronts and business frontages exercise a powerful influence on this public space and are a critical element in how the city presents itself. We would suggest amending Section 3.2 and Article 11 to reference the importance of managing shop front design and to make a commitment to updating the Shop Front Design Guidelines for city-wide use. Indeed, we believe the latter would also reinforce the suite of documents proposed to follow on from Your City, Your Space, fitting neatly alongside the two proposed manuals in addressing the public realm in an all-encompassing manner.   

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Trust greatly welcomes the above strategy, which achieves a difficult task of encompassing a very broad range of issues, themes, stakeholders and a large subject area in a coherent and engaging manner. We look forward to engaging with Dublin City Council in the future on the implementation of same.

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