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More about URBACT

02 February 2016

Roughly one third of Irish people live in the five big cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, with another third estimated to be living in our towns.  Ireland, as such, is transitioning from being once a very rural country to an urban-centred society.

Since the 1980s, the development of Ireland can be broken down into three distinct periods:

  • The 1980s - marginal economic growth and physical development, high unemployment, emigration and the associated ‘brain drain’;
  • The 1990s and early 2000s (the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years) – significant economic growth and associated unprecedented enlargement of the labour force, high rates of commercial and residential development, net migration and a restructuring of the Irish economy;
  • Late 2000s – onset of the global economic and financial crisis and required bailout which in turn saw the return of high unemployment, emigration, the collapse of businesses and the associated hollowing out of main streets within cities and towns, and a failing property sector exemplified by oversupply, extensive mortgage arrears, stalled regeneration schemes and growing social housing waiting lists.

Government policy over the past seven years has been driven by austerity – with the core focus been on rebuilding the economy.  During this period, and not surprisingly, insufficient attention has been paid to the quality of our environment and public spaces, meeting EU targets around gashouse emissions, waste management, etc,, harnessing the green energy potential of this island state, conserving our historical cores, future-proofing our infrastructure for when the economy does ‘pick-up’, etc.

It is just over 50 years since national planning legislation was first implemented in Ireland; and the process of good governance is younger still.  EU-funding programmes, such as URBACT, provide us (policy-makers, practitioners, elected representatives, academics, urban designers, environmentalists, innovators and entrepreneurs) with an unique opportunity to share our lessons – including good practice – while learning from our peers throughout the EU.

Ireland is about to embark on a process of developing a new National Planning Framework and associated Regional Economic and Spatial Strategies.  Both include a strong focus on the development needs of our towns and cities, on the promotion of sustainable development policy and practice that is based on evidence, and on realising the potentiality of place.

URBACT in aiming to foster sustainable and integrated urban development in cities across Europe can contribute to these processes.  In enabling cities to work together to develop solutions to common urban challenges through networking, learning from one another’s experiences, and identifying good practices to improve urban policies, URBACT can and will play a key role in maximising the potential of our towns and cities, in building the skill-sets of our current and future leaders – and hopefully make us more resilient to future global trends.