After years of Dublin City Council (DCC) vandalism and neglect, its senior management has conceded that that the current layout of Wolfe Tone Park which it manages – and indeed designs – has not worked, and redevelopment is being considered.
But are DCC capable of appropriately redeveloping the park; and, can they be trusted to?
Wolfe Tone Park is located on the site of the old St Mary’s Churchyard: the cemetery attached to the church on Mary Street, opposite the Jervis St Shoping Centre. For almost three centuries the park served the community and its visitors as a place to respect the dead and, later, a place to embrace the living.
Local residents share fond memories of the park as their childhood playground and communal garden, while photographs reveal the park as a popular sanctuary for respite in a busy city-centre. However, with the arrival of the Jervis Centre and a desire to extend the success of Henry St as far as Capel St, the City Council considered there was an imperative to cater for commerce, and the tired shopper – more than beleaguered inner city residents whose voice rarely registers with usually suburban decision-makers. In this case residents too were content with changes in the belief that the walls and railings conduced to “anti-social behaviour” and made it difficult to police the park. In the event, there has been no diminution of obnoxious gatherings in the park. The space and indeed the area are so hostile to children and families that it is inevitable there will be drinking and the public carousing that characterises much activity in many of Ireland’s urban parks.
The slate was clean for DCC to redevelop the park into a faux European-style plaza. In 2001 the park garden and railings were removed, and the headstones, which had been uprooted years before, re-arranged to accommodate a bland, windswept plaza furnished with a bleak array of concrete plinths that serve as seating. The new and voguish plaza was described as an “urban beach” by Boyd Cody Architects which won the architectural competition to overhaul the park for DCC, but the grass that was its centrepiece has long-since been removed by the DCC, without any attempt to obtain planning permission or to assess the environmental impact. St Mary’s Church, the oldest parish church in Dublin and one of its most important buildings has been converted to pub use, with drinkers swilling over memorial headstones in a Wren-quality building that deserves more dignity.
Since 2001, the park has been commercialised and sterilised by DCC. Like waves eroding a cliff-face, under-attended gaudy events and commercial promotions consume what remains of the park. One TV3 production, ‘The Box’, did enough damage to warrant the closure of the park to the public for three months as the last solitary wedge of grass was removed to make way for the brown desert-like deposit that can be seen there today.
However, applying the cautionary theory of the broken window – where tolerance of a single act of vandalism encourages others to vandalise – DCC cast the first stone.
DCC continues to renege on a 2006 commitment to restore the park while facilitating and effecting damage to, and disparagement of, the relics of the original setting.
Many of the headstones around the park have been defaced, and some broken by DCC’s own vehicles; other vehicles are permitted to join in the destruction while conducting typically tasteless events. Reports of infringement to DCC are met with apathy; we do not know of a single resident complaint or concern that has been heeded by the council in relation to Wolfe Tone Park.
For years the park has been used to house what is believed to be, a DCC staff toilet within a vandalised metal container. DCC staff occupy the parking bays on the west side of the park; identifiable by the branded vests draped over the steering wheels.
A ‘Dublin City Centre BID [Business Improvement District] Company Ltd’ (BID) information kiosk was wheeled into the park, presumably from Henry Street, and has been abandoned for the past few months. The DCC litter helpline failed to have the obstruction removed; suggesting either a lack of willingness or control.
Suppliers of goods and services to the Church Bar regularly park their vehicles on the north end, while ordinary residents and visitors anxiously await the next time we are a few minutes late returning to our clamped cars on Jervis Street – that is, if indeed, we can find a vacant space to begin with.
Today the park is closed to the public, hidden behind black hoardings and beneath the stage of Dublin Fringe Festival Ltd’s Spiegeltent; another antisocial event that will broadcast amplified music into the homes of residents living only fifteen meters away for the next three weeks. It is clear that the park, which should be an amenity for hard-pressed residents in one of the least green parts of the city, is an inappropriate venue for events such as funfairs and ice rinks, but despite appeals and objections from local residents DCC have granted permission for the Tiger Beer Dublin Fringe Festival circus. Of concern too is that, after months of objections and requests for information, residents were directly informed that permission for the event had been granted only hours before the circus rolled into the park. This would suggest that the event was advertised long before permission was granted, or that DCC waited until the eleventh hour to notify the residents that permission had been granted for the amplified music event that will run until at least 11pm/12am for three weeks in September.
Perhaps deluded by group-think, encouraged by internal back-slapping, or empowered by commercial belly-scratching DCC staff appear oblivious of their own contribution to the demise of the park.
At a DCC/BID meeting in March, BID members proposed that the park be rebranded as “Wolfe Tone Square” in a cynical attempt to lower public expectations of ‘the space’.
Discussions also took place about the commercial value of ‘the square’ and the idea of extending the park into a neighbouring business that would accept a rent from the council. This fee would, of course, be offset by other commercial ventures proposed for the park. But why would DCC consider another circus tent, Spiegeltent, carnival, Ferris wheel, ad-space, or coffee kiosk over a simple garden park contained within traditional railings in an area deprived of green space?
While some may suspect that DCCs’ failure to provide a public green space is a carefully engineered softening-up exercise to push through BIDs commercial proposal, it might very well be the case that DCC are just not up to the task of developing or maintaining Wolfe Tone Park.
In any case, Dublin City BID Company Ltd (BID) should not be leading a proposed redevelopment of a public space; and DCC should surrender the public asset, that they have destroyed, to the Office of Public Works (OPW). The handover should be simple: the OPW can easily be found in Dublin, maintaining St Stephen’s Green and The Phoenix Park.
In safer hands the park walls and railings, still stored in DCC’s Marrowbone Lane depot, should be reinstated, and apologies offered all around. The message on Wolfe Tone Park and other parks for DCC from those who actually live in the inner city is simple: just green them. •
For more information on the campaign to restore Wolfe Tone Park visit WolfeTonePark.com
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