By Hayley Farrell.
Dublin is the 21st greenest out of thirty leading cities in Europe according to the 2010 Green Cities Index. London is in 11th place and Berlin, with an impressive 40% percent parks cover, is Europe’s eighth greenest city. Scandinavian cities occupy the top three places of the ranking. Dublin has a modest 17% parks cover.
Walking around London, you’ll stumble upon countless small pocket parks, squares and green spaces. Some of these resemble a courtyard you might find in an apartment complex or attached to an up-market hotel.
The prevalence of parks and squares as places to rest, congregate and take stock is an important aspect of any city experience.
Pocket parks work with our climate, providing cosy rest areas to allow shelter from the skittish elements. They also help distinguish one street from the next.
Arriving into Dublin from the south you might consider the city to be rich in green spaces, as most of the central parks are located to the south of the city; the added bonus of Trinity College providing a significant open green space.
It is only when you cross the river into the north inner city that you are struck by the absence of open space and particularly of green spaces. Chancery Park beside the Four Courts represents the only open green space with a place to sit along the LUAS line before reaching the Phoenix Park from Connolly and the Docklands. This part of the city does admittedly pose some challenging social issues. Despite expectations, the new temporary park at North King Street has been largely devoid of anti-social behaviour. The park has not attracted vandalism or become a haven for substance abuse as predicted. It is therefore proving a successful landscape-planning trial site.
Several derelict sites along the Luas would make ideal locations for small pocket parks or interim parks in the north inner city between Smithfield and the Docklands. These pocket parks need not take up more than the size of an average private city garden to open up a space onto the street, though the larger the park the greater the need for surveillance. Blessington Street Basin, a modest-sized hidden gem close to the Mater Hospital benefits from the presence of parks staff in a depot located in a small cottage on the site. Temporary structures attended by parks maintenance staff, art studios and café kiosks could provide comforting presences within these spaces.
In Seattle, through the city’s Land Use Code, they have been actively encouraging the creation of POPS – Private Owned Public Spaces, for several decades. POPS are accompanied by incentives to construct and maintain them on their property. Developers are given additional development rights, often additional permitted building height. The spaces range from rooftop gardens to raised beds with seating similar to the new landscaped promenade in Dún Laoghaire. Some are passive, some active, but all are open to the public with their owners responsible for their maintenance.
POPS should not replace parks but can help encourage developers to consider the relationship of office blocks with the streetscape and complement dense development. Incentives need to be considered for the reinvestment and upkeep of such spaces lest they risk becoming unattractive and dated spaces. The new North King Street Temporary Park could be incorporated into the architecture of the proposed Grangegorman DIT development as an internal courtyard, or better still be kept as a green frontage where students could congregate.
The temporary element to parks and the recent debate about temporary housing solutions offers an opportunity to discuss creative alternative interventions such as ‘Box Park’ in the trendy Shoreditch area of London. Shipping containers were converted into shop units to transform a derelict site into a thriving streetscape. Puma, Starbucks and other leading retail firms have opened outlets in shipping containers converted into creative temporary spaces, around the globe.
This notion of transient or interim use is emerging from various design professions from architecture to public art to landscape architecture to planning, with pop-ups as a form of demonstration.
Artists are not strangers to this concept, with the likes of Christo having embraced it since the sixties. In more recent times Marco Casagrande, the award-winning Finnish architect and landscape architect, artist and environmental activist used landscape as a platform for socio-political comment. Perhaps it was Casagrande’s occupation of a section of road with lawn that inspired ‘Parking Day’ that allows the public to take part in the design of parking spaces creatively for one day each year.
Granby Park, a pop-up that was installed for one month in Dublin’s north city, is more adequately described as an artistic installation than urban greening. The Art Tunnel in Smithfield was an earlier pop-up installation combining art and planting, which has now been reconstituted on a derelict site on nearby Mary’s Abbey along the LUAS, behind palisade fencing.
On the south side, Clarendon Street is now dressed with street trees in moveable containers as a temporary intervention. And nearby Fade Street has been resurfaced and dressed with containerised trees as a trial solution to the domination of a street by cars, affording tangible benefits to local business. People now spill out onto the road in the evening, transforming the streetscape into a vibrant social hub.
Critics of interim use claim they may be wasteful, but perhaps in some cases they can provide powerful tools to evoke dialogue, testing solutions against public feedback. A temporary park for local children lasting for two or three years for example can raise their quality of life during formative years of development. Cities such as Vancouver and San Francisco have recently adopted the concept of the mobile pop-up park with components in moveable planters, raised beds, art and street furniture. This approach puts a positive slant on derelict sites as it provides a solution to the waste element of the pop-up. The park can be moved to various locations without disturbing the root systems of the trees that are donated or planted permanently as part of the new development.
An emerging phenomenon in London and now in Dublin is the move away from the high-maintenance manicured landscape. ‘Urban Wilding’ can be seen in London’s Hyde Park where brambles, nettles and wild meadow flowers are allowed to grow behind low ‘bow top’ fencing along its footpaths. Local examples of this trend toward the unkempt are Saint Audeon’s Park near Christ Church with semi-wild planting amongst perennials and shrubs Cities such as Vancouver and San Francisco have recently adopted the concept of the mobile pop-up park with components in moveable planters, raised beds, art and street furniture. This approach puts a positive slant on derelict sites as it provides a solution to the waste element of the pop-up. The park can be moved to various locations without disturbing the root systems of the trees that are donated or planted permanently as part of the new development.
Saint Patrick’s Park has also moved away from manicured bedding plants. This is a welcome change for biodiversity, and perhaps also gratifyingly relieves already stretched maintenance staff. Meadows in suburban parks with mown paths would also be a welcome innovation. Cabinteely Park is pioneering this.
Tom Stuart Smith, Kim Wilkie and Dan Pearson are some of the inspirational landscape architects who have championed the merging of the wild and the formal with great effect as a compromise between the two approaches. Kim Wilkie proposed a design for urban agriculture in the form of fruit trees and allotments with the formal structure typical of historic gardens in order to convince the affluent but sceptical residents of Chelsea Barracks in London of the merits of the twin approach. And Pamela Warhurst, Honorary Fellow of the Landscape Institute, who started ‘Incredible Edible’ in the historic northern town of Todmorden in West Yorkshire, England, transformed leftover green spaces throughout the town with edibles and wildlife-friendly planting that complement the town’s industrial heritage. Her intention was never to feed the town but to affect change through demonstration, having already tried to influence policy as a Labour council leader on the Calderdale Council and as former Chair of Forestry Commission Great Britain.
Parks accord unrivalled opportunities for all to enjoy wild, unburdened, healthy and sustainable fun. For free and forever. Let’s unleash the shackled Irish Park. •