Wednesday 28 September 2016

Google Ghetto: The cost of living in capital's tech hub

Nicola Anderson drops anchor in Grand Canal Dock and finds the country's most expensive rentals

Published 13/06/2015 | 06:00

The high life: Grand Canal Dock, one of the most expensive areas in Ireland for rentals
The high life: Grand Canal Dock, one of the most expensive areas in Ireland for rentals

A hearty cheer goes up as the Eadhla canal boat restaurant clears its final lock, gliding into the mirror-clear waters of the Grand Canal basin.

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A group of tourists are taking photographs beside a collection of curious red sticklike sculptures jutting out of the cement by the water's edge while walkers and joggers take advantage of a singularly balmy evening in which to stretch their legs.

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There is still life in the Dublin Docklands at 8.30pm on a midweek evening. But it is calm and unruffled, rather than the frenetic pace and hub-bub of other more patently vibrant parts of the city which are only now beginning to spring to life for the night.

On the Southside part of the Docklands, there are cafés which still remain open at this hour, with a few patrons lingering over cups of coffee.

And though Donnybrook Fair, the upmarket delicatessen and supermarket is shutting up for the evening, a staff member tells me that I can come in if I just want to 'pick up something quick'.

I select a Caesar salad and a passion fruit panna cotta, only because it seems like suitable Docklands fare.

Crossing the river over the Samuel Beckett Bridge, the Northside section is even more subdued. Most cafés are firmly shut, pointing to 9-5 custom only, while refuse trucks whizz around empty streets.

The Docklands is a hard place to put your finger on - there's a feeling that the party is happening elsewhere.

Amid the spiralling accommodation crisis in the capital, this is prime residential land commanding Dublin's highest rents. Not for nothing are the Docklands nicknamed the 'Google Ghetto'.

The tech hub of Europe, it has its own language and its own pace.

A recent young recruit to one of the leading firms who spoke to Review was reluctant to be named - or even to have the company where she works identified. "They told us not to talk," she said.

But she explained that it doesn't matter in any case - all the tech companies have an identical culture and often draw from the same small pool of workers.

"If you're talking about one, you may as well be talking about them all," she said.

And everything we have heard about is true, it seems. "It's a really upbeat, positive environment," she said.


"When I joined it was all 'hey how are you,' and everyone was so happy and I wondered if they would keep it up. But they do."

She was one of the few Irish workers hired in a batch of mostly foreign nationals - "from every country you could think of" who all gravitated to the Docklands as the place to live.

"I think they landed in Dublin and thought it was the place to be," she said.

She hasn't heard them complain about the price of their rent.

Still living at home with her parents, she shudders at the thought of venturing out into the current shark-like market place, where the landlord is king.

Then again, when you know you're going be earning close to €100,000 four or five years after joining a tech company, high rents are a price you may be willing to pay, explained Daire Hickey, co-founder of the Web Summit.

He moved to the Docklands after he finished college in 2009 and by the time he left his first apartment two years later, the rent had increased by 30pc.

"I think rent in Dublin is incredibly high," he said.

Daire Hickey, co-founder of the Web Summit
Daire Hickey, co-founder of the Web Summit

But most young workers prefer to live where their friends are and also prefer a walking distance to their decks - and this leaves "only a couple of options".

But he loved the lifestyle and vibe of the Docklands, fuelled by a youthful and vibrant population.

Contrary to popular belief, workers in large American multi-nationals "don't work very hard at all," he claimed.

"They start at nine and they finish at six or half six - there aren't too many working until nine or 10 in the evening. In start-ups it's different, but larger companies don't have those crazy working hours.

"People might think of the large flat landscape of the Docklands as some sort of anonymous concrete jungle where everything closes at 5pm but it's incredibly vibrant at weekends with everyone hanging out having brunch," he insisted.

"And look at what's popped up nearby. Bath Avenue is amazing with great places like the Chop House serving phenomenal food.

"A whole village has materialised and look at the kind of people who hang out there - it's a very cool slightly hipster, young society."

He thinks what is happening in the Docklands is very interesting, adding: "It's a good reflection of Dublin as an international, cool area."

Oisin Zimmermann is not quite so sure.

Currently based in Berlin, he is hoping to move his tech company, Heyyo - a cross between Snapchat and Skype with calls limited to 30 seconds - lock, stock and barrel to Dublin's Docklands, as well as considering living in the area himself. But he is astounded at the asking price for rents.

"It's amazing - the place to be used to be Ballsbridge but now it's the Docklands.

"Silicon Docks seem to be quite sought after, but for me it's not entirely obvious that the value is there," he said.

He wonders why people are willing to pay so much when they could live "10 minutes away" in perhaps more desirable neighbourhoods.

"Compared to the rest of Dublin it's ridiculous - there's no reason why you wouldn't live in Donnybrook which is still close by," he said.

Meanwhile, he asks if the area is "quite established yet" - pointing out that the still largely vacant retail space, the CHQ building - would say it is not.

By contrast, if you go to Mayfair in London where all the hedge funds are based, every single space is occupied, he says.

"There's a feeling that the Docklands is not quite there yet. If this were true, the CHQ would be prime real estate. It's worrying and it's a bit of an illusion. If everyone was based and working there, this shouldn't be possible."

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