Plans to rejuvenate O’Connell Street were the main talking point in recent weeks, as the council prepared to present the preferred design option to the public. The expectations were great – with Limerick leading the charge in Ireland as an outward looking, European smart city, this was a chance to bring together some innovative thinking: smart technology, green spaces, pedestrian and cycle prioritisation. The preferred option was presented in an open consultation for local residents on 19th June. The response was… muted. It seemed to many people in attendance and online that the plans did not go far enough. Others had stronger words, fearing that the development would be a colossal waste of money and signal the death knell for a city centre under threat of stagnation.
So what did the proposals actually include, and why were people so disappointed? The main feeling was the lack of ambition and not meeting the promise of creating a truly liveable space that prioritise pedestrians.
Dubbed ‘an O’Connell Street for everyone’, the plan promoted walking, cycling and public transport to/ from and around the urban centre and introduces sustainable travel information to the urban core. Since the project started there has been a series of consultations with elected representatives, local businesses, other stakeholders including the transport and heritage sectors and members of the public to get their views and opinions about their vision for Limerick’s premier street.
The development plan has divided O’Connell Street into various sections between adjacent streets, and include upgrades to the urban garden, shared and prioritised spaces for pedestrians and cyclists, an enhanced public plaza outside the proposed Rugby Museum Experience and on The Crescent, changes to traffic lanes and access during public events and designated days.
The total estimate for the development is €9million. €4.1 million for the project is being provided by the European Regional Development Fund, and Limerick City and County Council will be co-financing the project which will prioritise the re-imagining of the core retail area between Denmark Street and Cecil Street.
Nothing we see here is heading in completely the wrong direction, or not likely to be of some improvement. Indeed some people were pleasantly surprised by some of the proposals, particularly with a keen focus on retail and commerce to improve employment options and encourage more businesses to fill the empty retail spaces in parts of the centre. But do they answer the various reasons why so many people don’t live and spend their time on the city’s main streets, beyond work and picking up a few bits from the main retail stores? Park spaces and side streets are currently criminally underused. Is there enough creativity in increasing green areas, or is it just a case of adding a few trees? How does it accommodate the arts community? We surely can go further – the problems facing the city centre can be addressed with simple adjustments, we are not talking pie-in-the-sky undeliverable ideas.
If we are so outward looking why aren’t we looking at other city examples in Europe, and beyond? A quick look through #liveablelimerick on Twitter showed the potential for creative, sky-high thinking amongst the Limerick community. So why do the proposals play it so safe? A bit of a facelift is fine in the interim, but not at a multi-million euro price tag. Limerick City needs more than that long term, and in terms of identity and spirit it deserves much, much more. Let’s hope that there will be a return to the drawing board with a little added boldness!
Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
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