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Limerick – Vive la Difference

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Over the recent weeks I have sat in Limerick’s Urban Garden on O’Connell St and noted how the space is working. For those of you who have yet to notice, this space is located just in front of Penney’s. Not long ago it was a taxi rank, a depressing holding space for cars. It was grey. It was uninviting and lacked any sense of public realm imagination.
Once a taxi rank – now a public space (photo: Pat Carroll)
The space has now been transformed. It is now a place where people sit to chat, to relax, to take a moment out of a busy day. The splash of colour throughout the space suggests a welcome. The food stalls are thriving, particularly on sunny days.
The space is not perfect by any means. We must remember that what has been achieved was done on a very limited budget. However, what excites me is the fact that Limerick City and County Council took a risk in changing the use of this central location in the city.
Suddenly, with a little bit of imagination, we have managed to create something different and possibly unique in our city’s history. When was the last time you saw someone sitting in that space over the past few decades?
I remember the same space as a bus stop during my schooldays almost 20 years ago. Prior to that it was part of a two-way traffic system. The history of the space is dominated by the car, the bus and the taxi. Allow a creative approach and the future of the space can be determined as radically different.
As with all changes to the status quo there will be those with individual opinions that may go against the vision set out for spaces such as the Urban Garden. There will be those who object to foodstalls. There will be people who complain about the potential for anti-social behaviour. There will be those who hate the happy sounds of buskers on the streets.
Limerick has a fantastic opportunity to be different. We have a creative community and a young demographic who have a sense of what a city should be about. If the Urban Garden on O’Connell St does anything, it proves that we can try something different without the world coming to an end.
A simple stunt like this got our city trending on social media
In 2014 as we prepared for the Granny’s visit an antique safe appeared out of nowhere, seemingly having landed on a car on O’Connell St. Immediately that morning people took photos. They stopped and wondered what in the name of God had happened. Social media went wild and national news portals picked up on the story. The idea was so simple but the results were widespread.
We should now use the momentum seen with the Urban Garden idea to research best practice urban initiatives that give a sense of place and a spirit of fun and welcome to cities around the world. A city should not just be about traffic and shopping and drink. It should be a special place that exudes a sense of welcome, fun and innovation.
We are on the right track and I hope the momentum keeps going.

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