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Last Thursday evening, local residents trickled into the main hall of the Little Flower Centre on Meath Street.
Inside, fold-out chairs have been put out, facing a PowerPoint presentation. About 30 people are there when the night’s event kicks off at 6:30pm.
This is the second of two public workshops that Dublin City Council put on this week – one for businesses, and tonight’s for residents.
And there will be more, all part of a series to discuss public-realm improvements on Meath Street, which could be made as part of the overall renewal of the Liberties. (There’s a plan afoot to revamp nearby Francis Street too, for example.)
Thursday’s workshop began with a presentation from architect Mike Haslam, and his ideas for what the plan – when it is eventually written – might include.
Afterwards, Haslam invited comments and questions from the audience, and many local residents expressed concerns that the plan would lead to gentrification, and that other, simpler measures, should be taken first.
Improvement vs. Gentrification
Haslam talked about addressing traffic and parking issues, derelict buildings, the visual perception of the street, and linking up better with other nearby streets.
He talked about including designated casual-trading areas, raised pedestrian-crossings, on-street parking integrated with landscaping. He talked about ways to encourage shopping.
Overall, residents at the meeting seemed to be supportive of Haslam’s ideas, but some were concerned that they focused too much on the cosmetic improvements, rather than what they saw as more fundamental problems.
“Every one of us loves Meath Street but, thinking practically, I imagine that I would sort out traffic and anti-social behaviour before the flowers,” said local resident Anita Reilly.
Others were worried that the street could lose its character with too many changes. “Meath Street is very unique because it’s so disorganized,” said a man near the front of the room.
“There’s a fear that it’s going to gentrify, by accident or design. It could change character, and drive up the rents,” the man said. The “huckster shops”, are part of the street, and could be driven out, he said.
Reilly voiced similar concerns. “I’m worried it’s going to create lovely shops on Meath Street, and nobody accessing them,” she said.
Haslam listened carefully to all the comments. “Gentrification, or improvement. It’s a fine line,” he said. “That’s important; that’s why we’re here.”
The Concerns of Residents
Many residents spoke about the lack of bins on the street (there’s only one), which is a particular issue after markets, when rubbish gets left behind, the said.
“Start with the problems that are there. If we don’t sort that out, there’ll be nothing left to invest in,” said Reilly.
Other residents felt more should be done to facilitate shoppers in the area, but that the suggested minimum-width footpaths could cause issues with space, when there wasn’t much to begin with.
Some proposed a “night-time plan” for the area, since after 6pm, and on Sundays, not much happens on Meath Street, they said. And as a result, the side streets could attract anti-social behaviour.
One popular suggestion was the pedestrianisation of the street, either completely or on certain days, but John Paul McCabe, the project manager for Dublin City Council, said this would not be possible.
“If it [the plan] does come to pass, that’d be great,” said Noel Fleming, of Noel’s Deli on Meath Street. “But the glory days from years ago are gone,” he said, along with many of the older shops.
Some other shopkeepers in the area are concerned that the rents could take off, but, “if they’re taking it seriously, it’d be great to have a proper shopkeepers’ association, to work together”, he said.
McCabe stressed at the meeting that no specific changes had been decided for sure yet. “To be clear, there are no plans yet. We’re just here to hear what you have to say,” he said.