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At Croppies Acre Memorial Park opposite the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks on a recent sunny Sunday, couples and small groups sit and chat.
Two young men are working out – one is skipping while also keeping a conversation going with his friend who is lifting weights.
This small park near Stoneybatter is believed to have been a graveyard for soldiers in the 1798 rebellion and was used as a military training ground in the early 20th century.
Now Dublin City Council have developed a plan to revamp the park, to increase biodiversity and to provide a new “green route” to connect it to the Phoenix Park.
Carol Andrews, a small woman with a short blonde bob is messaging on her phone. She lives in apartments nearby she says, and hadn’t heard about the council’s plans for the park.
“A green route to the Phoenix Park from here?” she says. “That would be unreal.”
That is just one of many ideas outlined in the detailed document presented to local councillors on the Central Area Committee on Tuesday 14 July, the Greening Stoneybatter Strategy.
The plans, if implemented, would see Stoneybatter transformed into a hub of green infrastructure and biodiversity, streets closed off to cars could be turned into mini parks and cycling and walking routes opened instead.
Funding is not yet in place for these projects and they are all still concepts says Suzanne O’Connell, landscape architect with Dublin City Council.
But if the residents want the changes she believes the funding will follow, she says, and hopes to implement most of the projects in the next three to five years.
A similar strategy for the Liberties launched in 2015, the Liberties Greening Strategy has resulted in some new green spaces, but five years on some say that there is still a shortage of trees on the streets there.
The Stoneybatter Plan
The 163-page Greening Stoneybatter Strategy resulted from extensive consultation with locals.
Dublin City Council Parks Department, working together with public-realm designers Urban Agency, ecologist Mary Tubridy and facilitator Dave Dunn ran a consultation process to work with local residents to develop a vision and strategy for a greener Stoneybatter.
They hosted workshops and meetings, including in schools, and invited residents to make written submissions, 250 people participated.
The strategy aims to boost biodiversity and green infrastructure throughout the area and open up cycling and walking routes to the nearby Phoenix Park – perhaps also linking Stoneybatter to the planned new development at O’Devaney Gardens.
The plans envisage upgrading existing parks and greens, creating new “pocket parks” in disused spaces and “tree planting on strategic routes to create interconnected ecological corridors”, says the document.
Dublin City Council carried out detailed mapping of existing amenities, trees and green spaces.
The strategy aims to increase biodiversity by planting an array of native trees and shrubs, such as bird cherry and crabapple trees, as well as dog rose and elder shrubs.
Species currently in the area have also been ranked according to their biodiversity value.
If the full plans get the go-ahead, some streets could be shut to cars instead allowing for walking and cycling routes and added green spaces on the streets.
Some car parking spaces could be taken away and that space used for bike parking, trees and plants, outdoor seating and children’s play areas.
Halliday Square currently has a strip of parkland that runs down the middle of the road. The strategy contains a proposal to change that road to a one-way system and then extend the existing parkland over to meet the footpath in front of the houses on one side.
There is also a suggestion that a communal garden could be provided at Montpelier Gardens.
On Carnew Street, the strategy proposes closing the middle section of the road to turn it into an informal play area for young children to play sports and games, skate and ride their bikes.
“This type of intervention should move beyond standard fixed playgrounds and explore the development of an outdoor environment as an ‘artistic multi-sensory environment’ where the outdoors facilitates big expression, big movement and big ideas,” says Debby Clarke, Dublin City Council play officer, in the strategy document.
The strategic document envisages a new plaza at Arbour Hill and a miniature park including a water feature at Viking Place where Lilliput Press is located.
A mini woodland could be developed at the St Bricin’s Park and the polished lawns at Collins Barracks could be transformed into a more natural park environment.
As well as boosting biodiversity the changes would result in increased sustainable drainage solutions by adding natural grass verges and trees, which would reduce flooding.
Will It Ever Happen?
“You put together a plan that is the vision and then you go and get the funding,” says O’Connell.
The ideas are all concepts at the moment, she says, and the next move is to speak to everyone who lives in the area. “I’m hoping now in August I’ll be working street by street,” she says.
She will display images of the project on each street or site and ask for feedback.
If residents are on board they can flesh out the details and apply for funding.
“The hope would be that we can get all of them in the next few years, this is a three- to five-year plan,” she says.
The Liberties greening strategy was largely successful, she says. The only major difference with Stoneybatter was “we experimented with a deeper process of community engagement”, she says.
All of this work is really expensive. O’Connell says it can cost as much as €15,000 to put in one tree in a built-up area with a lot of traffic. You have to dig a massive trench she says and then wrap up all the pipes under the road.
Then the builders do special works to make sure the roots can grow and the tree can “thrive and strive”, she says.
In a less complicated environment but still on the street “you can probably get one in for €7,000”, she says.
There are also maintenance costs involved in looking after them for the first few years.
Despite these costs, O’Connell does not seem very worried about securing the funding to roll out the strategy. “The main thing with these is getting public support and that becomes your framework for getting funding,” she says.
The main source of funding is the council’s capital fund within the parks department, which allocates money each year for greening projects and improvements to parks, she says. “The main stream of funding is the capital programme.”
There are other European funds too, and Fáilte Ireland gives funding to projects like this, she says.
“I’d like to see a generous amount of initial funding to get things going and then to have a timescale for its implementation,” says Labour Party Councillor Joe Costello, who also chairs the local Stoneybatter Pride of Place.
He is confident that some of the proposals will be implemented in the next couple of years, he says.
The council has around €40,000 or €50,000 in seed funding to kickstart the implementation of the strategy, which will likely be used to start improvements to the parks as well as commission some murals, he says.
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam chairs the planning committee in Dublin City Council and lives in Stoneybatter, He is “delighted”, with the strategy, he says.
The Central Area Committee will meet in September to prioritise short-term projects that can be completed this side of Christmas as well as medium-term projects to be rolled out in 2021 and 2022, says McAdam.
He thinks that tree planting at Arbour Hill and Cowper Street, as well as the new pocket park at Viking Place, could happen quickly, he says.
There is a huge amount of commitment and participation from locals in Stoneybatter, says Costello.
Dublin City Council has been working its way around the city centre, tackling the lack of green space, says Costello. They worked on a strategy for the Liberties first, then they moved to the North-East Inner-City, he says, so Stoneybatter is next.
BusConnects could get in the way of some aspects of the Stoneybatter plan though, he says. If they lose space to bus lanes that could cause problems in some parts, he says.
Did the Liberties Go Green?
Back in 2015, Dublin City Council announced the Liberties Greening Strategy.
Some aspects of that plan are still in progress, including a new park at Bridgefoot Street, which is under construction.
“A fair bit” has happened in Dublin 8 since the greening strategy was launched, says Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon. He points to the upgrade of St Audoen’s Park and recent improvements including tree planting at Marrowbone Lane.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that they have planted more than 600 additional trees in the Liberties since launching this strategy.
“You wouldn’t exactly look at the greening strategy and say wow,” says Pidgeon. “I think people would understandably look around and say the Liberties aren’t green.”
O’Connell says that is because parts of the city are starting from such a low base, even when the council puts in lots of trees in an area, it still appears very concrete, she says.
The other problem, says Pidgeon, is that people want to see more green space created but in the city centre that is really hard to deliver, he says.
These works are expensive, says Pidgeon, but since the Stoneybatter plans include adding cycling and walking infrastructure they may be able to tap into the national funding available for that, he suggests.
There is €350m in the programme for government for cycling and walking infrastructure, says Pidgeon, and he suspects that many other local councils won’t have plans ready to go, which could benefit Dublin City Council.
“If there is something Dublin City Council is good at, it’s having a plan that it hasn’t applied yet,” he says.