• Thursday , 5 December 2019

Reporting from the South

The existing docklands, seen from across the Lee. The construction of Navigation Square marks the newest phase in the movement of Cork City centre towards the east.

The second coming of Dublin’s Docklands is in full swing, The economic prosperity of the early ’90s kicked this massive urban project into existence. Initially, the IFSC acted as a promise of sorts, towards the prosperity of an emerging international economy. It marked the start of a particularly significant period in contemporary Irish culture. It shifted the urban fabric of the capital. For better or worse, it has redefined the city.

Now, the capital in the south is coming for its seat at the table. A massive land bank of 61.5ha lies to the east of Cork City and Corkonians are watching carefully. It is earmarked for a docklands-style redevelopment and currently sits between City Hall and Atlantic Pond, with potential space to nearly double the population of the city centre. At present, lands in the docks and surrounding areas are privately owned, with landowners sitting tight until they can accurately assess their position. In the absence of a current SDZ, development in the central area is non-existent but development in the peripheries is beginning to frame a potential future.

At the far east end of this land bank sits the recently redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium, visible across the river upon entry to the city, acting as an impressive and proud new landmark marking a new boundary.

Towards City Hall sits a different arrangement. A number of buildings and developments are hinting at what a docklands in Cork could become. Built in 2005, The Carlton Hotel sits at the end of South Mall. Built almost as an aspiration, it frames a new gateway of sorts to a contemporary future Cork, complete with boardwalk promenade extending out over the river and a coffee pod, cementing a new typology of urban space in the city.

Across the river, built in 2017, the new One Albert Quay seems to have sparked a revival in Cork’s spread towards the east. One Albert Quay completes a city block that comprises the refurbished City Hall and the Elysian complex. The quarter sits as an attempt at developing a model for a contemporary urban block in Cork.

Nearby, Navigation Square is under construction, while across the river, in the yards of Kent Station the new Horgan’s Quay development is underway; dubbed as ‘an ambitious and exciting scheme that is key to unlocking the future development of the Cork City Docks’.

More recent proposals for the docks are not without controversy. Irish-American developers have proposed a forty-storey tower to replace the iconic Port of Cork sign at the site of Cork’s Bonded Warehouses. While public opinion is expectedly mixed, Cork City Council are open to such a proposal – such a move would loudly and definitively announce that Cork is now open for big business.

At present, the people of Cork wait to see what will happen. The difference with the Cork Docklands and Dublin’s is that, at present, there is no official development agency driving a cohesive docklands plan forward. With land still in private ownership, and without an SDZ, the future of a ‘docklands’ remains open ended. Recently, an OPW scheme to upgrade the quay walls of the historic centre in Cork was met with widespread opposition from the public, with nearly 1400 objections registered. Regardless of the nature of the proposal, this highlighted the lack of significant discourse about the future of the city between planning bodies and the people of Cork. Public conversations are emerging through various stakeholders; the National Sculpture Factory has initiated an attempt to mediate between commercial, community, and cultural interests.

Citizens have valid concerns regarding city’s potential to continue developing its rich cultural heritage with the increasing possibility of gentrification of the historic urban centre. The recent demolition of the old FAS building on Sullivan’s Quay sparked such concerns. The building was used by artists towards the end of its lifetime, and contributed a number of significant cultural enterprises to the city. The size and prominence of this hyper-creative space shows the weight placed on developing culture as core to the identity of Cork. The building is now gone, with a hotel development planned in its wake.

These arrivals mark the beginning of the next chapter for Cork. A new and unknown future faces the city, in which the local community will have to engage with a global scale. How that engagement occurs will directly impact the trajectory of the city. If the impact of Dublin’s Docklands is a possible comparison, then this is a particularly crucial time for Cork and its future. Conversations opened by bodies such as the National Sculpture Factory can meaningful develop public discourse on how Cork, and more so, Ireland, can create and foster high-quality public space. An opportunity now exists to open a national conversation on what kind of cities we want to develop and define what our priorities for these spaces will ultimately be.

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