Many of those I speak to mention the importance of clear communication from the local authority when it comes to the big vision projects planned for Limerick city in the coming months and years.
When I talk of communication, I don’t necessarily mean public consultation. That’s a different ballgame and one that deserves discussion in time.
Limerick city is at a crossroads. There is a sense that key decision-makers are recognising the need to try new things, be a bit bolder, and ultimately take steps that may raise the ire of a few traditional mindsets in the city. This new approach must be welcomed. But one might argue that communication is key to success.
On the June Bank Holiday weekend, Limerick City and County Council took a brave step. A little pop of greenery appeared on Catherine Street. Cars were no longer the dominant force on one of our prettiest streets.
Instead, people were invited to sit under newly-planted trees on little wooden structures. On a sunny June weekend, Catherine St was transformed into a destination that welcomed fun, conversation and music.
The following day, the ‘urban nursery’ relocated to Sarsfield Bridge. The weather didn’t rise to the occasion but the transformation was incredible. I walked my dog across that bridge four times that day simply to experience the space in a new way.
Finally, the experiment found its forever home, or for the coming months at least. Overnight, a little rat run underneath Sarsfield Bridge evolved into a quiet riverside space free of car traffic.
Over the course of that weekend, three locations were reimagined. This was clearly an urban experiment.
There were detractors. That is to be expected. Our ‘disgraceful’ attempt at testing how various spaces worked without car traffic was reported widely.
The most striking thing about what went on that weekend was the fact that those responsible in the local authority simply got on with it. They made a statement. They were bold, cheeky even. No one knew what was happening.
A move like this could not have been possible five years ago. Slowly but surely, Limerick has made huge leaps forward in terms of how it thinks about its future. Social media, despite its flaws, has played a big role in this.
So many of our citizens are engaged. They want the city to do well. They want us to become an urban destination of note. They want to see the local authority take brave steps like as the ones they took on our streets not so many weeks ago.
Since the urban jungle found its home on Honan’s Quay, there has been lots of commentary – “a waste of money”, “destroying the ability to move about the city”, “no one is using it”, “there’s a park already right beside it, it will attract anti-social behaviour”.
I believe what the local authority did here was wonderful. Their mission here is to investigate how certain spaces can and will work when a bigger picture plan comes together. The experiment will probably revert in time, as we are currently seeing it do with the new focus on Colbert Station.
What we have learned though is key – as our city moves forward, we can do things that do not focus around vehicular traffic.
Anyone who regularly walks the city will have seen certain site investigation works underway, particularly along the waterfront from Arthur’s Quay up to the castle.
There are plans for the development of a world-class waterfront project, one that will hopefully incorporate a new UL city development, the demolition (or re-purposing) of Sarsfield House and a whole new interpretation of how the city maximises the public riverside walkway from the Potato Market up to the castle.
The local authority have in been no way perfect when it comes to some of their public realm additions to the city. The waterfront and riverside projects, however, have been second to none. The city that turned its back on the river has now done an about-turn. The Three Bridges is now a ‘thing’. The next phase has the potential to be a real ‘game-changer’ – a phrase we tend to overuse in this city.
The bravery seen over the June Bank Holiday weekend must now be mirrored in the communication we see emanating from City Hall. Of course there are commercially sensitive elements of our city’s various development projects that need to be managed carefully but for the most part we are not dealing with the secrets of Fatima.
In the past few months we have officially appointed a new Chief Executive to lead the local authority into the next phase of delivery of our Limerick 2030 plan. We need to hear his vision. Stakeholders need to believe in what his team want for our city.
Citizens need to understand why certain decisions have been made. Good communication is not that difficult. Done well it will bring people on board and allow us to enjoy the journey of what is pitched as Limerick’s ‘renaissance’.