Simona Bondor, a barista at Insomnia Coffee in Cabra, says even though the weather wasn’t amazing when they put seats in the parking space outside the coffee shop for one day in late September, the change brought way more customers than usual.
“I didn’t expect it to be quite that many,” says Bondor on Thursday, looking through the window to the space where the seats had been that day, and now, a car was parked.
“Busier than most Saturdays, basically. Everyone was kind of excited to just sit outside,” she said.
The pavement is too narrow for the coffee shop to put in outdoor seating, says Bondor.
So on 24 September, Connecting Cabra, a group promoting sustainable travel, set up a “park-in” event at the long row of shops alongside the Cabra Road known to some as the “17 Shops”. Parking spaces were given over to benches, tables and seats.
Scott Byran, a member of Connecting Cabra, said the one-off day was meant to show how the shops could be nicer with a more village feel, with more space for people to sit and to walk around, and less for parked cars.
“To start a conversation on the potential for what a small social space can do for a community, around a thriving shopping area,” he said.
The event – which was supported by Dublin City Council – did make the 17 Shops feel more “village style”, said Seán Bay, a senior staff officer for the council, earlier this month. And shopkeepers recognised the benefits of adding seating, he said.
The council will look into “restructuring” the parking spaces, and allowing for 30 minutes of free parking, Bay said.
At the 17 Shops on Thursday, some staff in the shops said they didn’t like the idea of removing parking – and that adding seating could bring anti-social behaviour.
Others said they thought it would be an improvement for the community to have places to sit and stay and socialise.
Somewhere to Sit
On Thursday, several people at the 17 Shops said they’d worry that adding seating would bring anti-social behaviour.
Suzanne O’Connor, leaning against her parked car outside the shops, says she likes the idea of seating in theory. “I’d be concerned for night time. Daytime not so much.”
“I feel this could become a hub for just hanging out and for youths to hang out and just develop to anti-social behaviour,” she said.
Beside the counter in Daly’s Pharmacy, Joanne Connolly, a staff member, says she doesn’t think benches would be a good idea for the same reason.
“I think it’ll draw in a lot of anti-social behaviour and gangs of teenages, adolescents, and cause more anti-social behaviour outside,” she says.
Paul Daly, owner of the pharmacy, says he wouldn’t like seating directly outside his place. It may put them at risk of being broken into if people could sit there and wait for an opportunity, he says.
Bryan, of Connecting Cabra, says he’s seen a reluctance from locals around Cabra at the idea of new seating.
Some groups linger around the 17 Shops and leave litter. “But you can’t let a few bad apples ruin things for everyone else,” he says.
Bay, the council official, said in his report that while seating might “attract some aspects of anti-social behaviour it has been suggested that more frequent passing Garda patrols will reduce any impact on business or social life”.
Besides, Bay said that after the “park-in” event, shopkeepers had recognised the benefits of seating around the shops.
Outside the 17 Shops, John Kelly is perched, legs crossed, on an electricity box on a strip of pavement between the parking and the Cabra Road. A few people wait at the bus stop some metres away.
Kelly says he often needs to sit while out on a walk, and usually perches on walls or at the bus stop. “Just get a breather.”
It would probably be nice to have a bench here, he says. “For other people, I’m not just thinking of myself.”
Bryan, of Connecting Cabra, said that benches would be an opportunity for people to linger around the shops, and socialise.
“There’s evidence to show there’s lots of elderly people living alone. Any opportunity for older people to socialise, should be encouraged,” he says.
On Thursday, Patrick Guan, a chef, was taking a break, stood on the footpath midway along the strip outside Rainbow Chinese Takeaway.
Benches are a perfect idea for the local community, he says. “People can come here for relaxing, you know, enjoy the sunshine, while they have a chance to get a coffee.”
A bench, and maybe some flowerpots, would mean people would come to the 17 Shops more often, says Guan, gesturing out towards the Cabra Road.
“Bring some colour, you see, everything? Disgusting. You know what I mean, I don’t like it. We need something colourful,” he said.
On Thursday, around 30 cars were parked in the two rows of parking in the slip road that leads into the 17 shops. There are also parking spaces on the other side of a strip of pavement next to the Cabra Road, which are mostly full too.
Bay says in his report that the council’s plan is to reorganise the parking outside the shops, but it doesn’t mention whether benches are planned.
Bryan says taking over parking spaces was the only way Connecting Cabra could have fit in their benches, tables and chairs.
“With so much space devoted to the car, it’s not unreasonable to rethink it,” he says, and attempt to discourage some driving to the strip of shops.
Some 4,118 cars and 1,421 heavy vehicles drove by the junction of Annamoe Terrace on the Cabra Road on Thursday, according to a traffic counter set up by Bryan, as part of WeCount, a grassroots project by a University College Dublin professor.
But taking away some spaces of parking wouldn’t be feasible for staff who have to drive to work, says Connolly in Daly’s Pharmacy. “It’s very hard to get parking around here as it is.”
Staff should park out the back, as he does, says Guan, outside the Rainbow Chinese Takeaway, who says he drives in from Blanchardstown.
Most people are parking out front of the shops for the whole day, he says. “Taking space, for nothing. That’s not good.”
Guan says he likes the idea of reducing the amount of time someone can park here to 30 minutes at a time. “What we need is people moving. In, out,” he says.
Connolly said she also worried that removing parking from the front of the shops could mean the businesses would get fewer customers.
An awful lot of customers drive, Connolly said. “There’s a lot that kind of, come from further afield, as well. We have customers from you know, up probably the motorway, things like that.”
Older people drive there too, she says. “We were talking about a man today, he’s 97, still driving, so, it’s only way of getting around, really.”
O’Connor, from next to her parked car, says she would normally walk to the 17 Shops, but today she had to pick up some heavy curtains.
“Although parking is tight, people don’t park here for a long time, so it’s like, in and out kind of thing,” she says.
The 17 Shops area is designed for cars, says Bryan. “When you design your streets for the purpose of the car, it’s hard for people to imagine something different.”
Bryan says he’d be concerned that if the council removed too much from outside the shops, people would park their cars in the residential streets nearby. That’s already an issue, he said.
People need alternatives to their cars, he says, so there should be bike lanes built along Cabra Road. Bryan says he measured the road and thinks it is wide enough for a two-way cycle lane. (On Thursday, the traffic counter noted 220 two-wheelers.)
O’Connor says it might be good to have a DublinBikes – or other bikeshare service – station. There are none in Cabra.
There’s a lot of footpath parking in the nearby roads, says Bryan. “When there’s zero enforcement, it becomes a practice.”