Cycling from Drumcondra, down Clonliffe Road in the shadow of Croke Park, the trees canopy the avenue.
The red, yellow and orange leaves rustle in the wind and then fall, colouring the ground, where they’ll be swept away soon enough, gone for another year.
But then, crossing Ballybough Road onto the ironically named Poplar Row, this all ends and there is nothing but bare concrete, not a tree in sight.
Looking at trees would be “better than looking at a streetlamp,” says Trish Kenny, resident of Poplar Row. “Or worse still when the elections are on and they’re looking at you in your window.”
“There’s no trees in Ballybough, there’s none along the main roads or anything,” says Zara Gavin, a resident of the flats behind Ballybough Community Centre.
Sitting in the busy community centre on Ballybough Road, Kenny talks about her love of greenery, and how she can’t understand why there isn’t any – not a tree or even a hanging flower basket – on her street.
“I do know that they have barrels up that way and that way”, she says, gesturing towards Ballybough Road, “but there’s none on Poplar Row”.
A Socio-economic Issue?
Looking down Poplar Row towards Fairview Park, it’s striking how bare it is of any hint of green.
A 2016 study found that in this part of Ballybough, there was only one tree for every 317 residents, while in Dublin 1, there was one tree for every 34 citizens, and in Dublin 4, the ratio was one tree for every 7.7 people.
Comparing property prices and tree-canopy cover, there seemed to be a significant correlation between the socio-economic status of an area and the amount of greenery there. The wealthier the area, the more likely there was to be more trees per resident. The poorer, well, the opposite.
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe says he hasn’t seen much change since then. “I think we’re not planting enough trees in the north inner-city,” he says.
He asked the council’s chief executive on 12 December 2017 whether there would be a “comprehensive planting programme from 2018/2019 for streets currently without trees”.
The response said 14 trees were due to be planted on three streets in the north inner-city: three plane trees on Ryder Row in Dublin 1; eight plane trees on the North Circular Road by Mountjoy Prison; and three Pyrus trees on Wellington Street Upper in Dublin 7.
“Park services have been active in planting trees in Dublin North Central over the past decades and as a result most of the locations that were found to be suitable for tree planting have been planted,” a council spokesperson had told Cuffe in response to an earlier query.
The council’s Parks and Landscape Services Division has been developing a “greening strategy” for the north inner-city over the past year, talking to different community groups.
The draft document identifies a number of vacant sites, derelict open spaces, roof spaces, and wide roads that would be suitable for tree planting.
One of these is Poplar Row, which is down for “residential street planting” during phase one of the strategy’s implementation.
The area has previously had difficulty in maintaining even its modest green areas, says Gavin, who was preparing to give an exercise class upstairs at the Ballybough Community Centre.
“They didn’t keep up the maintenance of it,” she says, after some local children took exception to it being in the spot where their annual Halloween bonfire takes place. Now it’s gone.
About a month ago, the council said the draft greening strategy for the north inner-city would be online for another six weeks for further review.
Increasing the Space for Trees
Finding places to plant trees really is a problem, says arborist Joe McConville of McConville and Sons.
One of the main challenges to planting trees in the inner-city is the lack of space and the fact that the traditional place to plant trees, the footpath, is congested with services, he says.
“The solution to this, then”, says McConville, is “planting on the road” and also, to “create planter beds within the roads and subdivide the car parking space” and move away from planting on the footpath.
“We know that green space improves health and happiness,” says Cuffe. “At a time when we’ve had a lot of gangland crime in the north-inner city, I think we should be doing lots of things, but planting trees is one of the issues we should be addressing.”
Local resident Kenny tends to agree that green space improves health and happiness. “You’d see them hugging the trees there in Fairview Park,” she explains, “and a neighbour says to me why are they doing that and I says there’s something in it that makes you feel good.”
Is it something she has ever done herself? “No,” she laughs, “I’m mad enough.”
The council’s Parks and Landscapes Services Division didn’t respond to queries, sent via the press office, about the lack of significant tree planing in the north-inner city, how many they had planted in the last three years, and whether they are addressing the low ratio.