When the O’Connell St revitalisation project was announced last year it kickstarted a debate around pedestrianisation in our city. Reactions to the project itself have been mixed. Reactions to the concept of pedestrianisation is even more divisive.
This blog has given plenty of column inches to the project, so we won’t dwell on it too long other to say that its disappointing to hear that any works on the project are now not expected to happen for at least another year.
In the meantime, our city centre must struggle on from a retail perspective.
We have argued about the pedestrianisation issue for years, yet we seem to forget that we already have a pedestrianised network right under our noses. We don’t realise it because we have yet to complete what really should be a simple puzzle.
My two favourite Limerick streets are Foxes Bow and Little Catherine St. Both pedestrian friendly. Both safe, both full of energy and both predominantly dominated by small, indigenous retailers.
Both are operating in isolation, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
Have you every walked down Little Catherine St and noticed Limerick Lane? Strangely many I speak to don’t know where it is.
It has long been my opinion that, with a small intervention, Limerick Lane could become an active pedestrian link between two of our most interesting streets. In fact, Limerick Lane has the power to become a thriving street in its own right.
Next time you walk down Little Catherine Street look up Limerick Lane. Then close your eyes and imagine flower shops, artisan stores, barbers, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, market stalls and buskers. Imagine colourful facades, floral displays and, most importantly, people.
At present Limerick Lane is made up of small retail units, vacant lane buildings or service areas for premises on either William St or Thomas St. The opportunity to unlock the potential of these buildings is palpable.
Speaking with some owners of various properties on the lane there is already a willingness to do something.
What is important if we do move forward is that we treat such a project not from the perspective of enforcement but rather engagement, agreement and group development.
Limerick Lane is little more than 50 metres in length. With a little creativity we can complete the creation a network of lanes that offer something truly special.
This part of the city could be truly local and an environment that works around the people that use it as opposed to the vehicular traffic flowing through it.
What I am suggesting in this column today is for groups such as Tidy Towns, the local authority, Limerick Chamber, and local business owners themselves to consider coming together to start a conversation that has the power to result in the successful creation of what could be one of our city’s finest indigenous retail quarters.
Executed with creativity, sensitivity and taste and offering quality public realm, colour, paving and night lighting we have the chance to create something truly special.
Giving Limerick Lane the life it deserves should not be rushed. We must take time to conduct a survey of every building facing on to the lane with a view to maximising the design and impact of the street.
If achieved successfully, retailers suddenly unlock the opportunity to generate income form previously dead spaces whilst at same time linking a network of quirky, bustling lanes right in the heart of our city centre. What’s more it’s pretty much traffic free.
Investing millions of euro to revitalise O’Connell St is not only important but long overdue. However, don’t let this macro project blind you to the potential that exists elsewhere, potential that could offer far more in terms of atmosphere that O’Connell St ever could.
It may never happen. It may never work. All I ask is that we consider it.