Family Life, Movement and Heritage: Reflections on The Kilmainham and Inchicore Development Strategy (KIDS)

In February 2021, Dublin City Council published “The Kilmainham and Inchicore Development Strategy” a document co-authored by Avison Young, Urban Agency, and Systra. While I welcome the inclusion of the “To It: Not Through It” campaign as part of the placemaking strategy for the area, I have serious concerns that this regeneration plan will deliver more under-utilised and tourist-centric places in the Dublin 8 area.

By 2030, 60% of all urban dwellers will be under 18 years old — this demands the greater inclusion and meaningful consultation of children and their families in design and planning processes for the whole city.

For too long, Dublin city has been considered the domain of the adult, with little focus on the role or agency of the many children that grow up here. The domain of the child (and by default, their families and carers) is relegated to schools, parks, and fenced off playgrounds.

Creating a family-friendly environment in Inchicore and Kilmainham will increase safety and sustainability and counteract the exclusion and polarisation that many people feel within the area. But this strategy does not account for children and the people who care for them in a meaningful way. Here’s a table of how many times certain words and phrases are used:

This is a problem. It shows that the report’s authors are not thinking explicitly about how the strategy will impact on family life, and that it is likely to perpetuate policies that have eroded the atmosphere of safety and community in urban areas. Ironically, this erosion also makes our city less attractive to the tourists policymakers are so eager to entice to the area.

The large number of young families living in Dublin 8 help make the area a vibrant community. Parents, particularly mothers, support each other; we are the lifeblood of local businesses and our presence keeps the community safe. We spend our money locally, and we keep watch while we push buggies and lead small children to schools, parks, and shops.

However, the economic and social potential of women in this community is limited due to poor design and lack of representation in the consultation process. A strategy that seeks to remedy these errors is one which will increase the quality of life for all people in the area, and will create a lively community enjoyable for visitors too. I will cover my suggestions under four headings:

  1. Movement
  2. A Playful City
  3. Accessible Toilets
  4. Women’s Safety

Movement

While this strategy champions concepts like the 15 minute city, the plan fails to construct the network of accessible walking and cycling infrastructure necessary to compete with travel by car.

Walking

  • Under the heading “Movement” the report states, in the existing context, “the pedestrian environment is good”. On what basis has this assessment been made?
  • According to the current, mandatory guidelines, the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets, the existing walking infrastructure in Kilmainham and Inchicore does not meet the minimum standards under a variety of metrics: footpath width and gradient, missing pedestrian crossings at junctions and desire lines, insufficient space to pass at bus stops, inappropriate road speeds for residential areas and unbuffered footpaths, excessive corner radii, proliferation of pedestrian pens, etc.
  • Despite stating that the infrastructure is “good” (p.10), the report notes some of the failings of the current context: “At present however, these areas are dominated by vehicular traffic, with some localised gaps in footpath continuity and crossings on desire lines and a lack of legible pedestrian connections to the wider area.” (p.11)
  • The report’s authors may consider these “localised gaps” to be small issues, but they are very serious for pedestrians — particularly for people using a wheelchair, mobility scooter, or pushing a buggy. We would never describe a road as “good” if there were sections missing, or if the motorist was forced to share a lane with a train or a runway, yet this is what it feels like when you have to move into the road, or go home, because the path is too narrow or broken or lacks any of the other mandatory design features for an urban setting.
  • The “solutions” proposed by this strategy do not address these problems in a practical way. While I welcome the two mapped areas of “reimagined, pedestrian focused areas” — for these spaces to work they must be accessible by active travel. This would require a strategy to repair and upgrade footpaths within at least a 2km radius to remove those “localised gaps in footpath continuity” and make the walking infrastructure compliant with the mandatory minimum standards.

Cycling

  • Within a 5km radius of the “reimagined, pedestrian focused areas” this strategy must advocate for a network of safe, segregated, cycling infrastructure to bring people of all ages and abilities into Inchicore and Kilmainham. The language of this report, the maps, and artist renderings, show a weak understanding of what is required to make cycling a practical choice for families.
  • For example, on page 10 the report states: “There have been recent improvements to the cycling network such as the provision of bus lanes, shared by cyclists, along Emmet Road.”
  • Bus lanes are not improvements to the cycling network. A cycle lane is an improvement to a cycle network. If the space we are allocating to cyclists on our roads is not safe for a child to use it cannot be counted as infrastructure. Paint is not infrastructure. It greatly concerns me that the authors of this report do not understand this very basic concept of mobility.
  • Emmet Road is a significant road connecting thousands of homes with schools. It is also the site of the St Michael’s Regeneration Project which will see the building of 500 homes, a supermarket, and other community facilities. Under the current strategy there is no provision for cycling infrastructure on this road despite 80+ submissions by residents to Busconnects. The “off-road solution”, creating a Camac Greenway for cycling is a poor substitute for re-allocating space for cycling on Emmet Road.
  • Cycling on Emmet Road is treacherous. As engineers will tell you, “speed is a function of width” — motorists drive in a manner they feel appropriate to the carriageway. This makes walking in the area stressful, decreases residents’ quality of life, and makes cycling a dangerous and frightening experience. There is plenty of room on this road to provide a two way cycle path segregated from the road with hedging and trees. (Image 1)
  • While designing this cycling network, we must learn from the mistakes made in the design and planning of the Kilmainham Gaol Plaza which did not take seriously the recommendations of the NCBI and the Dublin Cycling Campaign on appropriate design for all road users.

Greenways

  • Under the heading, “What Can Be Achieved” this report advocates for “Greater utilisation of existing natural assets in the promotion of active travel.” This is the wrong strategy for a variety of reasons.
  • Firstly, while greenways and blueways are lovely amenities for a Sunday cycle, we need active travel that connects homes with schools and services in a direct way. If the cycle path does not get you where you need to go on a daily basis, why would you use it? To get people out of cars (a shift 93% of people supported at the Citizens Assembly on Climate Change), we have to make walking and cycling the easy option, the default.
  • Reallocating road space from cars does this quickly and cheaply, and boosts the attractiveness of active travel. It also has the benefit of removing congestion, so that people who have to use a car are not stuck in chronic traffic.
  • There are other problems with putting infrastructure in natural assets in terms of biodiversity and safety. In the recent TII report Travelling in a Woman’s Shoes a survey showed the level of intervention required to make greenways feel safe for women’s use. One respondent said:

“I don’t like places with bushes, I’m not saying they would but someone could jump out and fight you, that would put me off for good, then I’d never go anywhere” Josie (45–54, Dublin)

  • Similarly women in Inchicore feel unsafe using the existing canal walk after dusk. The following exchange occurred in a local mother’s Whatsapp group with more than 250 members.
  • It is also unclear if the strategy is proposing a walkway or a cycleway for the Camac Greenway. Combining both modes on the same structure is problematic and would require greater interventions to provide the necessary width and segregation to make walkers comfortable sharing the space with commuting cyclists. (Image 2)
  • To illustrate, there is already a sense of conflict and annoyance expressed by walkers and cyclists using the Chapelizod Greenway (connecting Chapelizod and Islandbridge). Walkers enjoying the natural surroundings drift into the cycle lane and are upset when cyclists “close pass” them or alert them to move out of the way.
  • A practical strategy for the Camac would be to provide increased resourcing to two projects: the Rehabilitation of the Camac River under the Water Framework Directive led by Mary Liz-Walshe, and Mapping Green Dublin’s collaborative action research project funded by the EPA.
  • Where the Camac restoration effort can be joined with improved permeability and accessibility that should be taken advantage of. However, to cite the Camac project as as reason not to deliver active travel infrastructure on Emmet Road would be poor urban planning and a disservice to the thousands of households it connects with schools and services

A PLAYFUL CITY

Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people. — Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogotá

  • While the benefits of child-friendly urban design is felt by everyone, there is a moral imperative to make this strategy one that focuses on creating brilliant places for children due to the history of the area and the soon to be completed Children’s Hospital. This is largely done by providing safe spaces for them to walk, cycle, explore, and play without the danger of being hit by a car, and also through public realm design.
  • More than a decade after the Ryan Report was published, which detailed the horrific abuse of children at Inchicore’s Goldenbridge Orphanage and other institutions, there is still no site of remembrance, reconciliation or understanding of what happened anywhere in the country. The setting up of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was due in no small part to the work of activist Christine Buckley, a survivor of the institution in Goldenbridge.
  • We have many sites and museums commemorating 1916, the War of Independence etc. But we have yet to grapple with the legacy of our revolutionary history for women and children and the incarceration, exploitation, and abuse that occurred since the foundation of the state.
  • We have an opportunity to make that story part of our urban environment. In Germany “stolpersteine” (stumbling stones), embedded in the cobblestones of the street invite the walker to remember a Holocaust victim at the site of their last known address. Our placemaking strategy could also provide points of remembrance, reflection, and play. This could be done by placing colourful cobbles among the new paving treatments for children to navigate, or furnishing pedestrian areas with benches and installations children can climb, and explore.
  • With the new Children’s Hospital on our doorstep, we have the opportunity to be an urban centre for kids and discovery. So many of these proposals could be child-centric (or have child-centric elements) yet they have been completely overlooked. There are five schools within the mapped area, yet none of these are referenced at all. Their consultation and inclusion is essential for local revitilisation.

ACCESSIBLE TOILETS

  • Designing for women and families in the urban environment requires the installation of many public, accessible toilets.
  • Women spend three times as much time in toilets than Men. When you have children, the availability and accessibility of toilets is a real determinant of where we spend our time and money. Menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, nappy changing, toilet training, these are real issues people in the community face that need to be incorporated into the design of this strategy. Otherwise parents will travel to Liffey Valley and Dundrum to shop, where there are ample toilets that can also fit a buggy.
  • Toilets should be designed to be attractive to women and children, well maintained, and could have accompanying kiosks to help cover the costs and boost local trade.

WOMEN’S SAFETY

  • A regeneration strategy built on accessible active travel, vibrant streets, and providing necessary facilities like toilets and footpath lighting, will make Kilmainham and Inchicore safer for women without additional spending on policing and surveillance technology.
  • In The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs coined the term “eyes on the street” — the activity taking place in city streets that keeps the movement and security of the street intact. Sociologists widely agree that where there is a crowd of diverse people, our streets are safer to use due to the presence of others to assist and protect from anti-social behaviour.
  • During the pandemic, our streets and homes have become more dangerous for Irish women. 2020 saw an increase in pedestrian deaths due to excessive motorist speeds on empty roads; and rates of domestic violence has been called a “shadow pandemic” in this Safe Ireland report. We have an opportunity to design our public spaces to provide respite for women and children experiencing abuse and fear in their homes.

CONCLUSION

Shifting the focus from tourists to local people will create a better strategy for revitilising Kilmainham and Inchicore. This effort must particularly cater for the needs of women and children in the area whose quality of life is seriously impacted by traffic dominated streets, and amenities designed for the convenience of tourists. There is much that can be done now to trial and test improvements to the public realm with reconfigured junction design, cycle paths, and safer pedestrian crossings. These changes will help create local buy-in for the enormous changes ahead with the redevelopment of the St Michael’s Estate and the BusConnects project.

Designing for local children also gives us an opportunity to address our painful history of child abuse and suffering, and to do it in a place with high rates of child poverty. Families who are using services at the new National Children’s Hospital will also benefit from safe and engaging public realm. I look forward to future iterations of this strategy engaging meaningfully with the needs of local children and families.

Emmet Road/St Vincent Street West (Entrance to Emmet Road Regeneration Project): Today

Emmet Road reimagined for Child Friendly Active Travel:

Greenway Design for Walking and Cycling

Find me on Twitter! @lauren_tuite

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