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Reimagining Dublin: It’s Creaking At The Seams But The Challenge Is Born Of Success

It is sometimes cast as The Little Engine That Could, but Ireland was the fastest growing eurozone economy for a fourth year in a row in 2017, a state of affairs that is predicted to continue until 2024.

Much of the growth can be seen across Dublin as the capital skyline once again is filled with construction cranes helping to build its future.

Rory O'More Bridge in Dublin

Growth, however, comes with challenges and many experts believe that Dublin’s continued success depends on much needed investment on infrastructure in areas such as housing and transport.

With the recent publication of Project Ireland 2040, the government unveiled its plans to provide balanced regional development in an effort to stop Dublin’s growing economic domination, and to improve the state's infrastructure.

But, there is still a conversation about what Dublin needs to keep functioning as a modern capital.

Despite only recently emerging from one of the harshest recessions in its history, Dublin is seen as already extremely competitive with other capitals for attracting investment. Recently, Dublin ranked No. 7 out of 90 cities for attracting and retaining talent. 

“As we can see from its recent track record Dublin is already on the list for investment. Many cities are trying to get on that list. Our challenges are challenges born of success. It’s about capacity and cost, we need to provide for the people living here and we cannot price ourselves out of the market which happens a lot with increased demand, ” EY Ireland Chief Economist Neil Gibson said.

“We also cannot ignore people’s quality of life which is one of the most difficult things to deliver in a fast growing city,” Gibson added. 

Housing and transport are some of the most cited areas where the capital needs urgent investment especially with Ireland’s estimated population increase of 1 million people by 2040.

O'Connell bridge, Dublin
O'Connell bridge, Dublin

Hammerson Director of Retail Simon Betty thinks the city will not be able to keep up. 

“Dublin needs infrastructure. The airport is close to capacity, its links to the city are poor, the tram system that was ripped up in the '50s hasn’t been really been replaced. The city is going to run out of capacity before it runs out of land.”

Looking to the suburbs, like London and Paris have done, as well as building up have both been proposed as solutions to Dublin’s accommodation problems. As a result plans were announced to lift Dublin’s height restrictions on buildings. 

Betty believes that concentrating accomodation in the city centre will have a much bigger return on investment but it will be hard to get the authorities to move in that direction. 

“I never understood the ban on high rise buildings," he said. "Grand Canal dock was a wasted opportunity, it’s the perfect location for high rise. You could have doubled or tripled the accommodation there: done well and done in the right location it wouldn't offend anyone. Urban sprawl is a bad thing, getting into the city is already hard enough. Densifying the city centre is a worthier project but you would have a hard time convincing Dublin City Council that densifying Dublin alongside Georgian heritage will benefit everyone."

IFSC, Dublin
IFSC, Dublin

Gibson said that one of the most important things to keep in mind when planning for Dublin’s future is stay close to the people.

“What people wanted a generation ago isn’t necessarily the same as what people want now," he said. Some people will want to live further out and some people will want to stay in the city for their entire lives. We need to focus on how liveable the city is.”

Unispace Client Relations Principal Sarah McDonnell said it goes beyond housing and transport into something more intangible.

“To simply ‘function’, we need people, infrastructure, and somewhere to live and work … but to make a city great it needs so much more and much of this is nuanced," she said. "It needs culture, fantastic architecture, connectedness both on a transit level but also on a social level. People talking about places to meet, where to go, things to do. Vibrancy. Fundamentally, it’s about the people — a quality place to live, work and ‘be’.”

She added that as part of the design process multi-dimensional developments must be used to ensure that every part of the city is connected and livable.

“It needs so much more than just resi, retail and office," McDonnell said. "The IFSC was built with just this combination and while vibrant during the day, it was very quiet at night and at the weekend. We need open spaces, events, culture, art combined with great architecture."

Since the addition of the LUAS, EPIC museum, the reopening of the 3Arena, the addition of the Grand Canal Theatre combined with the new bridges the IFSC is slowly becoming more connected with the rest of the city and hence lively at night and outside of the ‘office lunchtime', McDonnell added. 

Project Ireland 2040
Project Ireland 2040

Meanwhile, Dublin’s problems are not just a talking point in Ireland, they are also taken into consideration by people and companies looking to expand in certain areas according to Betty. 

“The stories on the front page, the trolley crisis, the housing crisis and others ripple around Europe so when companies are making decisions on whether they’re going to invest here they are well aware of the challenges,” he said.

While the problems facing Dublin will not be solved overnight, there is confidence in new national development plan, Project Ireland 2040

“It’s encouraging and great to have, especially with 2040 in the title, signalling that this is a long-term plan. It has started a conversation with the public about our future,” Gibson said.

Betty is impressed with its progressive leadership but believes Dublin needs an executive body to ensure decisions for the capital are made for the benefit of the whole city. “I’m really impressed. It’s very easy for people to be critical when things like this are published. I do wonder though if Dublin has the right civic leadership behind it. It’s currently split into four quadrants. I would be in favour of an executive council that can make executive decision for infrastructure plans across Dublin.”


McDonnell said that the regional development is encouraging but the lack of public transport planned for outside the capital will prove problematic. 

“Dublin does need improved public transport but if we are to promote growth in our smaller cities then so do they. Otherwise we are just repeating the same errors again. With growth in these urban centres will come traffic and congestion. Work-life balance is key for the new generation of employee. A key factor to combining workplace productivity and home life balance is avoiding massive commute times.”

While it is clear that Dublin took its seat at the top table of capital cities quite a while ago, there is work to do if it wants to remain a great place to live and work.

You can hear more on Dublin's future at Bisnow's State of the Market event at 7.30am at The Mansion House on 21 March.