Last week Limerick City and County Council unveiled plans for a €9.1 million re-development of O’Connell Street in Limerick. But despite taking two years to consider submissions made by the public on the original design, the plan has yet again been met with widespread criticism. This week we take a look at ten things the Council could have included in the plan that would have made O’Connell Street something really spectacular.
1. Pedestrianisation or pedestrian priority
The volunteer group LiveableLimerick proposed a “super block” concept for the city which would see heavy vehicular traffic removed from the city centre, allowing the streets and public spaces to be used by people. While stopping short of full pedestrianisation it would have given pedestrians priority and seen traffic yield to pedestrians. The plan released by the Council this week has failed to do this, instead allowing through traffic on O’Connell Street while at the same time removing parking, satisfying neither those who advocated for full pedestrianisation nor those who wanted to see parking retained. Effectively, what has now been created is a slow-moving motorway going right through the centre of the city.
Pedestrianisation or pedestrian priority would have provided a boost for retail, sent a message that Limerick was serious about the environment and opened the door to an almost endless number of ways we could have used the street.
Check out the link below to see some alternative visions for O’Connell Street designed by Zeso Architects in partnership with LiveableLimerick.
2. Covered outdoor spaces
The plans don’t seem to have taken Limerick’s westerly climate into account at all. By covering some parts of the street, we could have provided shelter to passers-by and had we been brave enough to install something really artistic Limerick could have had a tourist attraction that would have brought tourists from all over the world. Covered urban spaces increase the amount of time people spend in a location, allow street vendors and markets to operate year-round and can be used by the public for a range of purposes such as street performances, art exhibitions and yoga or dance classes.
3. Kinetic energy
In the Netherlands, Utrecht train station has installed a set of swings that can charge phones, tablets, laptops and other electrical items. All you need to do is plug your gadget in and start swinging. Great for kids, anyone who has forgotten their charger or anyone just looking to pass the time and have some fun.
Meanwhile, London has recently launched its first ever “smart street”. Described as a traffic-free “oasis”, Bird Street has been fitted with special tiles which use visitors’ footsteps to generate kinetic energy. This energy is in turn converted into electricity to power bird sounds during the day and street lighting at night. The tiles also collect data which can be used to give an insight into the number of people walking down the street at a given time. The technology, called Pavegen, also rewards visitors for their footsteps and walkers can collect points for steps which can in turn be gifted to charities. The street also includes benches that remove harmful gases and particles from the air and then emit clean air through the sides and armrests. Each bench is also accompanied by real time air quality monitoring technology, which is displayed on the bench. Even the paint being used on the street is specially designed to remove VOCs and NOx emissions.
4. Playground city
Playgrounds are a huge draw for families looking for a fun and healthy day outdoors with their children, but there is only one playground within a five-minute walk of O’Connell Street. By removing through traffic on the street a playground could have been built at the intersection between O’Connell Street/Bedford Row/Thomas Street. If we went further and fully pedestrianised the centre we could have playgrounds all over the city.
5. Interactive and engaging features
Making a street interactive and engaging is a fantastic way to attract people into our city and town centres and also helps keep visitors there longer. In Copenhagen they have installed trampolines along the riverside. In London and New York many streets and parks have installed permanent table tennis tables. In other cities interactive street art or sculptures have been installed.
6. Bicycle lanes
According to the Council’s plans one of the objectives of the revitalisation was the promotion of walking and cycling in the city centre. Despite this objective the plans don’t include any dedicated cycle lanes. The plans state that “due to the existing one-way system within the city centre, and the limited cycle network, it was not proposed to include cycle lanes on Phase 1 of the O’Connell Street Revitalisation as it would not provide additional cyclist connections over the relatively short length of the scheme”.
Essentially what they are saying is that there’s no point providing cycle lanes as there are no other cycle lanes to connect to. On that basis Limerick will never have an integrated cycle network. Cycling provides cities with huge environmental, social and health benefits and the absence of dedicated cycle lanes in the new plan is short-sighted and bewildering to say the least.
7. Sports facilities
Sports facilities are a big draw for people. While unconventional, if through traffic was removed from O’Connell Street there would be space for a running track, basketball court or AstroTurf pitch. Munster Rugby, Limerick GAA and Limerick FC could hold open training sessions which the public could come to view and the pitches could be hired out for 5-a-side football, tag rugby, or general sports training. Or if that’s too radical how about building a pitch on a roof like the Adidas Futsal Park in Tokyo, built on the roof of a department store, or Belvedere College in Dublin which boasts the city’s only floodlit rooftop AstroTurf pitch.
8. Greening the city
There are currently just three permanent trees on O’Connell Street so the plan to plant a further 43 is positive (for context Ethiopia recently planted 350 million trees in one day), but there is so much more that could have been done. Vertical gardens, parklets, roadside vegetation, roof gardens and green façades are just some of the ways we can improve the air quality, well-being, place making and aesthetic qualities of our cities.
Check out our slideshow below which shows how the facade of Brown Thomas would look with a vertical garden.
9. Street art and furniture
The plans for O’Connell Street include seating areas, lighting, sculptures and water installations, but so far it’s not clear what these features will look like. Street art and furniture can be a great way of encouraging people to come into the city and spend time there. Features such as open air theatres, oversized furniture, life-size games of chess and draughts, urban hammocks, swings, seesaws, and street projections which could be used for street theatre, art installations, festivals, guerrilla art, street cinema, public announcements and sporting events, are all great ways of encouraging people to visit and spend time in the city.
10. Have some fun!
The best streets are always the ones where you can have some fun and create memories. Streets with buskers, street performers and musicians, streets where kids can run around and play, and streets where people can sit outside and converse, joke and laugh with each other. Ok, maybe a giant slide might be a step too far but why not include something cheeky in the design like a 3D street painting or an on street bubble machine. Just for the craic!
O’Connell Street is the lifeblood of the city and it’s critical that we get it right. It’s not too late for Limerick City and County Council to change the plans currently being proposed. If you would like to make a submission or observation you can do so through the mypoint.limerick.ie website until 6th September 2019.
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