Sinead Riordan says she hadn’t noticed the four white graphics stuck to the main window outside the Swan Leisure centre.

But now, she stands back for a good look, folding her arms.

“I really like that idea,” she says, pointing first at the design on the white graphic, and then back at the MART Gallery in the old fire station across the street.

The design, which shows an open plaza next to the gallery, is much different to the reality of three one-storey buildings. “I think it probably would enhance the streetspace,” she says.

The Rathmines Initiative, a residents’ group, stuck these white graphics up on the window, just as ideas that people could take a look at, says Michael Kelly, a member.

Kelly digs his hands into the pocket of his green wool coat and looks around him at the stretch of concrete, on which there is a bus stop and three benches. The only public space in Rathmines is this square in front of Swan Leisure, but there’s room for more, he says.

The four panels to the right of the entrance to the Swan Leisure centre show four places in Rathmines where the group thought there could be improvements, says Kelly, standing in front of them.

On Mountpleasant Avenue, they imagined tearing down a wall to open up a view to the green space of Leinster Cricket Club, and putting in a plaza at the corner of Richmond Hill and Mountpleasant Avenue.

Traffic on Wynnefield Road, which is a small road, lined with shops, emerging between shopfronts on Rathmines Road Lower, could be removed, freeing the street for pedestrians.

And then, there’s the idea for a plaza, replacing three buildings next to the MART Gallery, too.

“The idea is to sort of, be slightly provocative and say, ‘Look, these are things you could do,’ and just put it out there really,” he says.

“These are ideas. Like, this is: ‘Imagine this, and wouldn’t Rathmines be so much better?’” said Kelly.

That’s of course not dealing with the practicalities, he says, but it starts a conversation. “We’re trying to just put those big ideas out there.”

More Public Space

One graphic shows the distinctive outline of the old Rathmines fire station, which now houses the MART Gallery.

Instead of the three businesses that currently stand to the south of the fire station along Rathmines Road Lower, the graphic shows a plaza, with figures milling about and sitting on benches.

It also shows a walkway leading back past the fire station into the planned Gulistan development. The draft masterplan for the current council depot site includes a four-storey primary-care centre, cost-rental housing, age-friendly housing for senior residents, a building for community use, and a plaza.

Removing the one-storey buildings that currently house the three businesses – Middle Eastern diner Shaku Maku, the vacant Bowery bar, and hairdresser Peter Mark – and replacing them with a plaza would leave an unimpeded view of the red-brick Rathmines College.

“That would be exciting, wouldn’t it?” says Kelly, pointing at the building. “Creating a kind of centre for Rathmines.”

“The main thing is public space. A lot of people live in Rathmines, and there isn’t actually, aside from footpaths, a lot of public space,” he said.

If possible, it might help to also make the road surface more like the footpaths, changing the priority of the road from cars to pedestrians, says Kelly. “To allow more movement of pedestrians across the road.”

Mart studios, Shaku Maku and the alleyway to Gulistan Depot on Rathmines Road. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Later, inside the Swan Leisure centre, Niamh Doyle glances out the window at the world outside. There could definitely be more public space in Rathmines, because it’s very busy, she says. “The more like, free spaces and community spaces that there can be, like, the better off you are.”

Looking up from his phone in the square outside, Peter Hayes says it’s an odd design for there to be buildings in the front gardens of the older Georgian buildings along Rathmines Road Lower. “I think you could knock half of them.”

Doyle says she likes them, though. They make Rathmines feel more like a village. And she’s wary of public-realm improvements.

“I think it needs to be done in the right way, or it can become a bit, too, like planned?” she says, thinking. “It loses its character. I wouldn’t like to see that because Rathmines does have a lovely character.”

Riordan says she’s stayed in Rathmines for 20 years because it has kept a village feel, while being close to the city centre.

“Any developments I’d want to make sure that they kept that feeling to it or enhance that feeling in it,” she says.

Removing the businesses, while it could be tricky, could give a nice feel to the street, says Riordan. “None of them are architecturally outstanding.”

A Side Road

Wynnefield Road is one-way, with a string of independent shops and a restaurant on its northern side and plans for a four-storey, 78-room hotel on the southern side.

At the moment, cars coming down from one end at Charleville Road can only turn left onto Rathmines Road Lower.

The Rathmines Initiative’s notion is to prevent through traffic so that there could be benches, seats and more space for pedestrians.

Afternoon sun slants through Wynnefield Road perfectly, says Kelly. “People could have their drinks outside Slattery’s in the summer, with the sun shining on them.”

Hayes says sometimes he cuts through here when driving his kids to school, but he would prefer if it were pedestrianised.

“It’s an unnecessary through road. There’s so many other roads and it’d be lovely to do three or four versions of that,” he says.

Traffic could instead turn left from Charleville Road onto Rathgar Road, says Kelly, and there’s enough parking in the area.

Eleven people live on Wynnefield Road, says Mary Freehill, a Labour Party councillor, and 43 people live in the Wynnefield Park apartment complex, the vehicle entrance of which is on Wynnefield Road. They may need to park their cars on the road, she says, as may residents on Rathmines Road Lower.

“These things have to be sorted out. It’s a little bit more complex,” she says. “I’d be in support of looking at it and investigating it.”

Rathmines Initiative ideas in the window of the Swan Leisure Centre on Rathmines Road. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent Thursday asking what it thought of the idea of pedestrianising the street.

Says Kelly: “It just would be a large public gain because you actually have very little public places for people to sit in, in Rathmines.”

Riordan says that since Wynnefield Road is so small, it would probably adapt to pedestrianisation well. “It’s not a particularly busy road.”

Wide Open Space

Along Mountpleasant Avenue, close to where Kelly lives, he says there are opportunities to cut off traffic with a plaza next to an old corner shop.

Rathmines Initiative’s graphic shows an apartment block and a cafe on the corner of Richmond Hill and Mountpleasant Avenue. Planning permission for a four-storey building with three apartments on this corner-shop site was refused in 2016.

“There’s an opportunity for a space to be created there. Where, again, people could sit outside to have a drink,” says Kelly. “And again, it gets the western sun coming along Richmond Hill.”

But a plaza there could mean no more through traffic up to the Grand Canal.

“The real idea is to make it harder to drive into town. And the truth is, I mean, we do know that people in Belgrave Square will be unhappy with this, but actually they’re five minutes walk from a Luas stop,” he says. “Obviously the environmental repercussions are significant.”

His eyes look mischievous for a moment. “The world is changing,” he says.

Freehill, the Labour councillor, said there would need to be access for people living in that area to get out. “There’s an issue about how will local people access, go to work.”

Hayes says he likes the idea of removing traffic outside the corner shop on Mountpleasant Avenue. “It’d be lovely to use something like that there and just calm it down for everybody because it’s a residential area.”

Riordan says she’s not sure, because there are already two parks just off Mountpleasant Avenue. “That probably would be more controversial.”

“I mean, like I’m speaking from, as a pedestrian and cyclist. To me, that looks great, I’m all for more of those kinds of open spaces,” she said.

Further down Mountpleasant Avenue, towards Belgrave Square, is a tall wall.

The wide expanse of the green of the Leinster Cricket Club is hidden from pedestrians behind this wall. Kelly says he first saw it standing on the step of a house he was visiting.

If you knocked that wall, he says, “everybody would have a beautiful view of green grass and people in whites playing cricket.”

Riordan says she likes this idea too, because there’s a shortage of sports greens in Dublin 6.

“It’s a big space I think a lot of people don’t necessarily know is there,” she says. “Anything that kind of maybe makes people more aware of what is there I think would be really great.”

Freehill likes it too, she says, if the cricket club were to agree.

Kelly says he’s not sure. “The statement was made to us that the Leinster Cricket Club is to Rathmines as the Vatican is to Rome.”

Leinster Cricket Club didn’t response to a query sent Saturday asking whether this idea would work.

People can change, Kelly says. “I’m always feeling that you can convince people or people that can change or people can see the value of things.”

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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