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"Urban Regeneration Vital to Dublin's Economic Future" Concludes RIAI/ DCC Symposium

Published: Friday, October 14, 2011

Photo of President Maragall.

Speaking at the Design and Cities symposium to celebrate the award of RIAI Honorary Membership to President Pasqual Maragall – former President of Catalonia and Mayor of Barcelona – David Mackay, the Irish-Scots architect responsible for much of the regeneration of Barcelona, has said that politicians and creative professionals need to work closely together to regenerate our cities. “Politics is essential not only to determine what needs to be done, but which comes first. Both the creative political and the creative professional must work together to design the urban stage for the acting citizens who, through casual encounters, discover different ideas and products that enrich their knowledge and opportunities”, argued Mackay.

The Design and Cities – Lessons from Barcelona symposium was jointly organised by the RIAI and Dublin City Council and took place in Liberty Hall on 13 October.  It honoured President Pasqual Maragall, who was the politician largely responsible for driving the regeneration of Barcelona. The event also had an additional purpose: to see what lessons Dublin can learn to inspire its urban regeneration as it seeks the designation of World Design Capital, with contributions from the renowned writer, Colm Tóibín, as well as from RIAI President, Paul Keogh; Lord Mayor of Dublin, Andrew Montague; Dublin City Architect, Ali Grehan; Dublin City Planner, Dick Gleeson and Urban Designers Manuel Diez Garrido and Alan Mee.

Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Andrew Montague, said that the experience of Barcelona and other great cities shows that a Directly-Elected Mayor – with real executive power and directly accountable to the citizens – and a Greater Dublin Authority are needed to drive the urban and economic regeneration of the city. “Our system of local government as currently structured gets in the way of the type of strategic decision-making that’s needed. Dublin is split into four different authorities, which makes it very difficult to plan effectively and in the interests of the Dublin region as a whole. In this context, it’s worth bearing in mind that the real economic area of Dublin extends beyond Dublin City Council’s borders and out into the other three local authorities and beyond. Evidence suggests that the more the governance area approximates to the real economic area the better the economic performance of the area.”

RIAI President, Paul Keogh, argued that economic growth in cities is closely linked to the quality of a city’s environment in terms of its ability to attract and retain creative people, new industries and tourists.  “Research has shown that the type of creative people who will contribute to the regeneration of Ireland’s economy – such as entrepreneurs, information technology professionals and programmers – are drawn to places where they enjoy a range of economic opportunities, a stimulating environment and a range of cultural amenities for people with diverse lifestyles. These very qualities are essential for attracting tourists too, as the latest tourism data shows that over 50% of tourists now travel for cultural reasons.”

Returning to the Barcelona’s experience, President Pasqual Maragall said: “Barcelona sought her future by improvement of her urban quality. The trick was quality first and quality second – a network of plazas, parks and buildings was the cause of our success.”

David Mackay concluded by offering five reflections that could help Dublin learn from Barcelona: “Firstly, remember that cities live longer than us so it’s important to hand over the baton of a design process, like a relay-race, from one city-government to another. In this context, it’s worth noting that the RIBA Gold Medal was received by three successive Mayors: Serra, Maragall and Clos. Secondly, remember the Greek word ‘polis’ – politics and city design go hand-in-hand. Thirdly, restore and respect the identity of the centre of the city, each generation leaving its mark. Fourthly, introduce identity to the metropolitan suburbs where it is absent. Fifthly, never forget the values of the street, a place to be and to lead to somewhere else.”

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