During our two-week residency in Dublin earlier this month we discovered quite an innovative approach to urban planning and development that other cities around the globe could learn from. Several departments within the Irish capital's City Council have adopted urban hacking and interventionism tactics as serious tools to improve public spaces.
As you may have already noticed we’re pretty big fans of the infamous urban interventions by street artists like Florian Rivière and The Wa, as well as more serious public space hacking initiatives such as Softwalks, Fabrique | Hacktion and Pop-Up Lunch. The majority of today’s urban interventions and hacks are meant to provoke thought and discussion, mostly regarding ownership of public space. The City of Dublin seems to understand the democratic potential of these ‘soft’ city-making practices, and has decided to make them part of its urban development agenda instead of fighting them, like most other cities do.
Several intervention-centered initiatives have been rolled out in Dublin over the last years. Worth mentioning is The Studio, a team of seven people from different areas of Dublin City Council and with different skills such as architecture, planning, community development and marketing. The Studio is concerned with Dublin’s ‘user interface design’ — it aims to improve the quality of the city’s services by testing innovative ideas and by prototyping new ways of working. One of The Studio’s initiatives is The Dublin Project, a partnership between the Toronto-based Institute without Boundaries, the Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin City Council and Design21C, set up to develop an innovative model for how the city can collaborate with its citizens to deliver new and emerging utilities, infrastructure and services. The project has resulted in several concepts for improvement of public spaces across the Irish capital, mostly in the form of little hacks.
Street Feast co-founder Samuel Bishop explained to us that public space in Dublin is not considered as a place to hang out or spend time in. There’s only a few public benches, and someone else told us that “only the homeless and tourists sit on them” (good to know if you want to become a Dubliner). The Institute without Boundaries presented a seating concept for public space that can be easily installed on existing lamp poles or bollards. The red seats take only a limited amount of space and enable pedestrians to rest for a moment. The people of The Studio showed us a prototype when we visited them at the Dublin City Council. The idea reminds of similar concepts like Softwalks and Pop-Up Lunch.
Dublin City Council Beta Projects
Only a few doors away at the City Architects Division, Dublin City Council Beta Projects has its office. Adopting trial-and-error principles, Dublin City Council Beta Projects takes a new approach to city-making by encouraging, supporting and facilitating experimentation and innovation to improve (public) spaces. The office tests all kinds of concepts on the streets to see if they could work. Most of the concepts are flexible to change, planned quickly and trialled for low sums of money. All of them are carried out in a specific test area, and enable citizens to give their opinion. If a Beta Project turns out successful, the City can decide to implement it ‘for real’.
One of the Dublin City Council Beta Projects is the implementation of so-called Parklets, a concept that turns pieces of street into parks (similar to the idea of Park(ing) Day, but then more permanent). Again, this idea addressed the lack of benches in public space in Dublin. Another initiative we saw with our own eyes are the Traffic Light Box Artworks, a project that invites local designers to re-design the ugly grey traffic light boxes. The project has resulted in little color explosions in public spaces across downtown Dublin. Some re-designs are great, some aren’t my cup of tea, but overall they turn out to work as a money-saving graffiti prevention tool.
We haven’t seen initiatives like The Studio and Dublin City Council Beta Projects before. The City of Dublin has found itself an innovative way of city-making in the 21st century, and we’re curious to see how this practice will develop in the coming years. The way the City adopts urban interventionism and hacking principles and how it turns these into a planning tool can be a valuable lesson for other cities.