Think of this city, any city, as a busy, buzzy, almost hyperactive space, ever evolving around action and movement. Then notice the built tapestry; miles and miles of what’s standing, under construction, or caught in the act of passing. And consider this fabric as urban camouflage, just as with any other jungle -there are features lurking here and there, unremarked – hidden, as it were, in plain view. These then are the gaps or interludes, lost in-betweens: derelict sites, a detritus of Monuments, occasional Sculptures. We see stuff, yes, but mostly it fails to capture attention, like it’s beneath our notice. Example: little urban parks, not showy, extravagant like Merrion Square or Stephens Green, mostly gated and railed, these, as if in an act of deflection, wear their camouflage so well.
I’m out around Dublin’s Northside and can’t help but notice, here and there lots of little green spaces and pocket parks, some so small that driving by they’re gone in a flash. I’m interested in this green domain, so much so that later on I check the area on the street map. This reveals a wide mosaic of green spaces interspersed around otherwise unremarkable suburban bricolage.
A day or two later I’m around the area again and can take a closer look. The distinctive wind turbines of Fr Collins Park, punctuating the skyline, are hard to ignore so I pull over, anxious to check it out.
Apart from the turbines, what I see is a little lake, playing pitches and a minimalist playground. I’m aware that Public Parks, as managed urban spaces, go back about 150 years and it strikes me that in its essentials, this flat grassy rectangle, crossed by narrow paths, needlessly gated and railed, is really another variation on a Victorian formula; a recipe that’s endlessly repeated here, there and everywhere. Could it be that unlike their star-struck, upwardly mobile cousins, the Parchitects work a convenient template that falls someway short of inspiring design? Maybe it’s their job to be safe and boring…
I have never designed a park in my life but even so I have a perspective, if not a vision I’d like to share. Tedious urban fabric, could be tremendously enlivened by the simple expedient of extracting the green material of the parks beyond the confinement of the railings and allowing it to spill over onto the surrounding streets. For the process to be truly effective, the direction and extent of the overflow needs to be directed towards other green outposts nearby. In this way the whole urban fabric can be transformed and ‘naturalised’ It’s a way of resisting and humanising that built tapestry. So I envision a role, even a destiny for the parks, not as discrete bounded entities but as active hubs enlivening wide arcs of urban green.
Yo Dublin! Here’s how we start – Get Rid of those Gates and Railings….
Words: Reg McCabe
Reg McCabe is a tour guide and local historian and was formerly a business lobbyist. You can follow him on Twitter @timethemetours
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