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Placing quality design at the heart of Limerick’s future

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There was an article in the Journal.ie last week that focused on the regeneration of Westport. But how is Limerick faring?
The word regeneration is one we have become very accustomed to using here in Limerick over the past decade. It is a word that has become associated with knocking houses, relocating communities and attempting to solve issues of social exclusion and unemployment.

In Westport’s case it is a word that is associated with design, public realm and placemaking.

Westport – an urban design case study

The article noted that the work done in Westport has resulted in the town now boasting 90% commercial occupancy and one of the few western towns that has witnessed a population increase over the past number of years.

Westport was voted the best town in Ireland in 2012 and this year was named Ireland’s Tidiest Large Town at the annual Tidy Towns awards.

Mayo County Council architect Simon Wall has worked closely on the ‘regeneration’ or Westport. Speaking to Paul O’Donoghue at Fora.ie he said: ““Instead of celebrating the millennium by creating a sculpture of etching the town’s name on a piece of stone, we commissioned an intellectual gift for the town: a town design statement which sketched out all the future development for the next 20 to 30 years.”

Limerick could take a lot of inspiration from the Westport case study. Ok, we are bigger than Westport but there are certain principals from the Westport story that might serve us well.

We all know the work being done in Limerick to deliver the 2030 project. We have key inner-city sites. We have a plan. We have a vision.

What is possibly missing is a focus on the importance of design as a key part of the 2030 project. We are hearing a lot about the provision of job creation. Limerick is determined to deliver enough commercial space to attract thousands of new workers into our city centre.

The provision of such space is, of course, a crucial need. The presence of well-paid employees in the city will have an impact on other areas. Footfall will increase. Retail offering will improve. Private developers may then consider providing quality (and much needed) residential. The evening economy will see a boost.

All of this would make a massive difference to how Limerick city feels by day and by night. But what about how Limerick city looks?

The Opera site- good urban design or potentially dead space?

The Opera site is looking like it will have little or no residential, very little retail or ground floor public use and will have a public plaza that looks set to become a dead space at night.

Nicholas St, the oldest street in the city, is a classic example of how ‘regeneration’ has ignored the potential of quality design interventions.

Johnsgate is an example of a new urban ‘village’ that once had great potential but has now become a no-go area.

Our key access point at Colbert Station witnessed a multi-million euro cosmetic overhaul but the finished product is arguably bland, grey and lacking vision.

Cruises St – how maybe not to do it

Cruises St was once deemed to be an addition that would breathe new life into the city. However, it lacked above the shop residential. It’s shop units were limited in size. The number of post 6pm restaurant, bar or cafes on the street were minimal.

Bedford Row gave us a new pedestrian retail street. It has struggled to capture footfall.

The work that has been done in Westport has clearly worked. Any case study which has been done on that town always mentions the county architect and the work he and his team have done to place design and quality public realm at the centre of everything they do.

Good design attracts people. The creation of a place that feels good makes people feel safe. Safe places attract people to live there.

Limerick is at a crossroads in terms of the decisions we make that will shape how our city looks and feels. Of course, we will want people to work here but we will also want those who work here to feel they are part of a modern, attractive and vibrant urban environment.

I would now like to start hearing more talk about the importance of design in terms of Limerick’s future.

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