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Boardwalk hysteria is grossly exaggerated

The boardwalk is a substitute for resolving the quays themselves. They need to be greened and redesigned to reach their full potential.

I live next to Dublin’s Liffey boardwalk on Ormond Quay. I walk it four times a day. I’ve never felt threatened, never seen a needle, never been assaulted. Nor has anyone else in my family. In seventeen years.

A recent article on Dublin’s Liffey boardwalk, headlined ‘It could explode in a second’ was hungrily digested and indignantly shared by Southside civic hawks, most of whom would only gingerly ever – wittingly – set their feet on the dirty soils of the North Inner City (except in the IFSC, or further out at the airport). Rosita Boland had left her eyrie in the Irish Times and made her way to the boardwalk on several sustained jaunts, for some sociological observations:

“As I sit, I see drug deals, fights, begging and urination into the Liffey. All in broad daylight. During the time I sit observing, or walking along the different sections, these are some of the things I see:

“€50 notes changing hands for bags of white powder.

A man attempting to jab a needle into his thigh.

Two men fighting and wrestling each other to the ground.

One man kicking another in the head.

One man hitting another with a crutch.

People passed out, both on benches and on the ground.

Men urinating into the Liffey.

A man on a bike delivering a plastic bag of tablets to someone on a bench.

A man asleep on a pool of vomit.

Men and women drinking openly from cans, bottles and flagons.

Drunk people shouting and shoving each other as tourists pass by.

Men openly smoking marijuana.

People begging.

Discarded sleeping bags.

A burned-out rubbish bin”.

It reads like a boring Patrick Kavanagh poem. Or like anywhere else in the inner city, bar the shopping and financial districts. The nastiest atmosphere in the area in fact is on the south quays around Aston Quay where the restive await buses to the western suburbs, and around Merchant’s Quay where necessary homelessness and drugs services are offered.

The article was picked up on RTÉ radio and by the likes of former PD spokesperson Stephen O Byrnes, and Alice Leahy from back before the ark. Even City CEO Owen Keegan seemed to agree with Boland.

The architect, Michael McGarry, who also brought us the ill-thought-through Smithfield braziers’n’diagonal-cobbles scheme (without the traditional market), was wheeled out to deny any responsibility.

Whether publicly or privately managed, urban spaces require ongoing resourcing and investment.

Ali Grehan, the Dublin City Architect, told the Irish Times that: “The boardwalk is an extension of Dublin city’s public space network and regrettably, as in other public spaces, is subject to anti-social activity from time to time. This is ultimately a policing issue. Physical separation of the boardwalk from activity, business and homes along the quays probably contributes to perceptions about safety”.

She pointedly added, “Whether publicly or privately managed, urban spaces require ongoing resourcing and investment”.

Hers indeed are the points. The boardwalk just reflects Dublin’s social problems: a lack of proper facilities – from parks to leisure facilities to toilets – and a lack of policing. I’m ideologically wedded to not needing the police or admitting a crime crisis but I must, in the interests of balance confess that when recently my front door was hacked down and we were burgled – for the first time in 25 years – the gardaí took four hours to arrive and, despite ultimately a lot of fingerprint dusting and a tipoff from us that the ancient phone we had stolen from us was for sale in a shop on Parnell St – ultimately disappeared without ever revealing the fruits of their detectiving.

The worst thing about the boardwalk is that it is a substitute for resolving the quays themselves. Long ago the quays were identified as the city’s principal artery, its lifeblood. Until the Liffey and its quays are resolved the city centre will remain second rate. Of course much of the quayscape is now dross, particularly apartments for transients built to the lowest standards of design during the era of white-hot tax-incentivised property development, which disrupted the essential balance of verticallyoriented houses, lined up ‘like soldiers’, and setpieces like the Four Courts, Custom House and now the Civic Offices which should characterise the riverside.

In the 1990s I remember the architect, Deepak Abbi, who designed a rubbish scheme on the western quays joking that they would be the tenements of the future.

Certainly there are exciting improvements: reducing cars to one lane on the eastern quays, the opening of ‘the Dollard building’, Ireland’s oldest iron-framed building, as swish eateries; the allure of nearby College Green, when pedestrianised, may cast some glamour waterwards.

18 years ago I wrote to the Corpo about its then proposed installation, asserting that:

“The notion of a boardwalk in a city is generally alien. Perhaps regrettably – but undeniably – promenading is not a phenomenon in the Ormond Quay area. Promenades usually arise at places that are destinations in themselves – e.g. Coney Island, Bray Beach, along the Seine. It is unclear to what extent this facility is intended to be a pedestrian route and to what extent a boardwalk. The two activities may be mutually exclusive”.

The submission was attacked by Kathy Sheridan in the Irish Times on the basis it was too negative, but I think in retrospect it stands up to scrutiny.

The city needs quays of architectural distinction, greening, the removal of cars and a river Liffey revived so it can be used by the citizenry. The city will remain unfulfilled so long as we do not hear the happy trilling of exuberant children using this unused natural and civic resource.