Have you ever been a guest in someone’s home and, upon arriving, feel you should remove you shoes? In a sense, the analogy of a well-kept home is one that is befitting of our own urban centre in Limerick city.
Care, maintenance, choice of materials, lighting, shopfront design and litter control are all factors that play a huge part in how our city is perceived both by those who choose to live here and visitors to our city.
Strolling our newly redesigned canal walk from UL to the city last week was a joy, as always. For the most part the canal walk is beautifully designed and is seeing greater footfall almost on a daily basis.
However, the final 50 metres of this walk, the section that welcomes walkers or cyclists to our city, is the bit that has been forgotten. Weeds, derelict buildings and graffiti are what greet you.
What irks me is this. This is a key entry point to our city. For many visiting students or academics this will be the first impression they have of our city. This 50-metre stretch, located beside a canal lock, has great potential yet has seemingly been ignored and let worsen year on year.
The cynic in me feels that the treatment of this small section of walkway is reflective of how our leaders feel about our city. Despite all the talk, it really doesn’t top the pecking order in terms of priorities.
I talk a walk over the weekend beside a new housing development being created on the Walkers Road near Annacotty. The provision of new cycle lanes, footpaths and landscaping – in advance of actual housing construction – is clean, crisp and tasteful.
The provision of a new park and children’s playground in Mungret is beautifully designed. Again, the infrastructure associated with this space has the quality of which you would be proud.
The Walkers Road and Mungret examples suggest the local authority do have it in them to produce good design and to implement it well.
In fact, the majority of our suburban areas are all served well when it comes to the design quality of our public realm.
Now, consider this. If the local authority came and poured a cheap, black substance called ‘Ecoflex’ on the pavements of Mungret, Castletroy or the Ennis Road would it be accepted? I very much doubt it.
For many years our city centre suffered great neglect. Having two competing councils, one poor and one rich, led to the development of the out-of-town developments that caused our city such trouble.
When the Limerick 2030 plan was announced it was welcomed by city stakeholders because, finally, we had a vision that was placing our city as the beating heart of our region.
What has happened since?
We have created a new plaza in front of Colbert Station yet seemingly forgot to make it beautiful.
We have created what was supposed to be a pedestrianised waterfront walkway on our quayside yet forgot to make it pedestrian.
We have invested millions on a redesign of William Street yet the impact has been minimal.
We have poured dirty, black ‘Ecoflex’ on our city’s pavements.
We shut gates on our riverside walk and allow key entry points to our city to lack the welcome they demand.
We have redesigned streets to provide cycle lanes only to forget the bit about the cycle lanes.
All of this suggests that our city centre has a long way to go before it reaches the point where it is truly seen as the beating heart of our region.
It’s time the powers that be started to treat our city centre with the same pride, care and vision currently being seen in our suburban areas. Maybe then visitors to Limerick will begin to feel they need to remove their shoes upon entering our front door.