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Rory Mooney, a member of Golden Years social club, sits awaiting his dinner with other members of the Darndale Golden Years centre, in the centre’s prefabs behind Darndale Village Centre on Link Road.
He drove to the club this Friday morning, although he doesn’t live too far. “I’m too bloody lazy,” he says. Although it might be more than that.
The footpaths aren’t direct, he says. “They’re a bit …” and he draws out a winding route in their air with his finger, running through housing estates.
Nicko Murphy, assistant CEO of Darndale Belcamp Village Centre, says there are other reasons why the village centre, on The Link Road in Darndale, feels inaccessible to older and more vulnerable people.
The open green space next to the centre has no footpath across it. The nearest bus stop is nearly half a kilometre away at the end of a narrow path, and while the centre has two of its own buses, it only has a driver for one at the moment
Their centre is in prefabs that are at capacity, he says. And there’s a waitlist.
Figures showing the spread of ages in the city aren’t yet available from the 2022 census. But the number of people aged over 65 years in this electoral division, Priorswood A, increased by 53 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to data from the Central Statistics Office.
That was the greatest percentage rise for any electoral division in Dublin city. The number of people aged over 65 in Priorswood C grew by 40 percent in the same period, also near the top of the table of areas.
Murphy says the Darndale village centre have noticed this. That’s one reason it opened the Golden Years centre in 2014, and expanded it in 2016.
Now, they’re looking to expand it again, he says. And as they bring in more older people to their centre, they’d like to see walking and public-transport routes to it improved.
Beyond the Automatic Doors
The centre itself is accessible, Murphy says, sitting on a leather couch in the lobby of the Discovery Centre, which houses many of the offices and services in the Darndale Belcamp Village Centre.
“We have the automatic wide opening doors,” he says. “All the floor surfaces and ground are very level. We’re aware of the wheelchairs that are coming in and out.”
The Golden Years centre is behind the village centre in several prefabs, which they added in 2014 and extended in 2016. “Our membership was increasing at the time, so we extended it,” said Murphy.
There are 99 people who are members of the social club, so they can come in for activities, like games with the other members, talks, or meals. There are 43 people on the waiting list.
Normally, the social club could take 200. HSE restrictions dictate they can only have half that at the moment, says Murphy.
Some Golden Years members walk, he says, and a few drive. Most rely on family members to bring them. “Because of their age and just don’t feel confident driving.”
Eight members are collected in the Golden Years bus daily, he says. Golden Years has a second bus but doesn’t have a driver for it at the moment. “You need a D1 licence to drive the [bigger] bus, so we can only use the smaller bus,” says Murphy.
A Bus Route Outside
Darndale village centre is enclosed by a ring of buildings. On Friday, parents rushed in and out of the open black iron gates to pick up children from the creche. Inside is a health centre, creche, Spar, Golden City takeaway and pharmacy.
The village centre is Darndale’s centre of gravity, says Murphy, although it is relatively new. It’s also dissimilar from other village centres, because it is not on a main road.
The Link Road curves into Tulip Court, and twists around into a loop, and cars have to make several turns to reach Priorswood Road again. There isn’t a way to get onto the Malahide Road, the dual carriageway running east of Darndale.
A public bus would make the centre more accessible to more people, he says.
“For a bus to come from maybe, Priorswood Road, onto the Malahide Road, that’d be brilliant,” he says. “While on the map it looks like you can drive around, you actually can’t.”
Catherine O’Mara, manager of Darndale Golden Years centre, says a bus route nearer to the village centre would be helpful to their members.
“For those that are mobile and able to get out on their own, that would be absolutely brilliant,” she says. “As they get older, they’re not able to walk as far, and a lot of them have mobility issues.”
Michael Hayes, an architect and editor of the journal Architecture Ireland, says being on a cul-de-sac may mean that Darndale’s village centre doesn’t have the same heavy traffic issues as others.
It might be better to make routes to existing bus stops more accessible to walk to, he says.
A few bus routes stop near the area. The 27 and 27b bus routes run along Priorswood Road, with a bus stop at the junction with The Link Road, which the Darndale village centre is on.
There’s a large, empty green space between the village centre and Priorswood Road. On the edges of the green space, roads curve into rows of two-storey terraced houses.
A narrow footpath runs along a grassy verge to the west side of the road, but the east is just grass, with no footpath.
That’s a problem, says Murphy. “We would like to see a more direct path.”
Colette Reynolds, a Golden Years staff member, says it’s bad that there’s no path. “It’s on one side but none on the other side. I never understood that. Especially, like, if you are having people in wheelchairs.”
Green spaces between housing estates often don’t get thought about, says Hayes, the architect. But people are more likely to use a bus stop if it looks nice, and feels part of a community.
“Not just mowing the grass, every few weeks or whatever it takes, but actually landscaping them in a way that they’re consciously designed to encourage a comfortable safe pedestrian experience,” he says
Hayes, looking at the footpath on Google Street View, says the existing footpath on the other side of the road doesn’t look that accessible.
It is narrow, so people passing one another may need to step into the, possibly wet, grass, particularly if they are in a wheelchair.
Reynolds says the walk to the bus stop can be unpleasant in bad weather, because it’s very exposed.
It also didn’t get gritted during an icy spell, and some people fell, she says.“They didn’t have to go to hospital or anything, but it was a bit of a shock.”
Darndale, she says, “is not a very wheelchair friendly area”.
Bus stops can also be too far for some older people, says Murphy. “Especially with breathing difficulties, mobility issues, walking frames.”
Benches would help with that, says Hayes, giving people a spot for a break. “Even one every 100 metres wouldn’t be overly generous.”
Bus stops are considered within acceptable walking distance when they are within 400 metres of services like the village centre and homes, says Hayes.
“Beyond that, people start to think, ‘Oh, that’s a bit far.’ And that’s able-bodied people,” he says.
According to Google Maps, the distance between the village centre and the 27 bus stop is 450 metres.
Crossing the road to the bus stop is a barrier too, Hayes says. The dips in the curbs on either side of the road are not directly opposite one another, and instead point off in different directions.
It’s a T-junction, and there’s no traffic lights, or ramps to slow cars and allow pedestrians to cross amongst three lanes of traffic converging at the junction, he says.
“You just kind of have to hope that you pick a good time,” he says, “and that when you start to make that crossing, somebody’s not going to come roaring around at 80 kilometres an hour, and take you out of it, essentially.”
The Future of the Area
Murphy says that he’s heard that there may be plans for more footpaths on the empty green space. “That would be really welcomed.”
Dublin City Council is working with Urban Agency Architects on a Darndale Public Realm Strategy, according to a council report from June 2022.
The report says it would look at short-term public-realm projects and focus on the main street of Darndale, Belcamp, an area north of Darndale, and Moatview to the west.
“In order to do this correctly, Urban Agency are looking at the wider Darndale area, to map what projects are currently being undertaken so that there are no gaps or overlaps in proposals,” the report said.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent Monday asking if there are any updates with this strategy.
Compared to other European capitals, Dublin is still a relatively young city.
But Ireland is expected to age significantly over the next 20 years – and some Dublin neighbourhoods, like this one, are already ageing faster than others.
Murphy says that Darndale has aged significantly because people seldom move out as they age. Many are long-term residents, he says.
“That will be anywhere between 30 to 50 years,” says Murphy. “They want to stay in their communities, they don’t want to leave their communities.”
But he thinks older people may be living independently in houses that are too large for them. “The area itself was built with younger people in mind, families,” he says.
He says he’d like to see more age-friendly housing, where older people can downsize to a smaller apartment and still live independently.
That said, the creche in Darndale village centre is full too, with 240 children. It’s also expanded into prefabs but needs better facilities.
Murphy and his colleagues are preparing a feasibility study to expand the Darndale village centre, he says.
They’ve been collaborating with local people and organisations on a report due in the middle of this year.
It would detail the village centre’s need for more space and more services for older people, he says.
This article was produced as part of the European Cities Investigative Journalism Accelerator. It is a network of European media dedicated to researching common challenges faced by major European cities and countries. The project is a continuation of the European research Cities for Rent and is funded by the Stars4Media program.