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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Dublin doesn't need a makeover - our drink culture does

Published 27/08/2014 | 02:30

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Dublin city centre in the evening. Photo: Thinkstock
Dublin city centre in the evening. Photo: Thinkstock

Failte Ireland's new chairman, Michael Cawley, has just announced a €20m fund to give Dublin a makeover. He also said that our capital needed to reconsider its Temple Bar image. "We need to clean up its image. Temple Bar, long an asset, has become less than an asset, shall we say. I don't want to be overly negative about it, but we need to do better," he said.

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It's sadly too true.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual liveability index, our capital ranks just 20th in Europe. The report assesses the liveability of cities based on a number of key factors, including stability and the quality of culture, the environment and infrastructure.

Our foreign trips point it up. Many of us are just back after visiting well-kept European capitals, where people sit out at cafes on pristine pavements, and so the filth and squalor of Dublin becomes even more apparent. There's the well-documented street crime, the shambolic public transport, the general dishevelment, the weekend commotion of club land and its aftermath, all making it a great city in danger of losing tourists to other prettier, tidier ones.

While buskers, jugglers and fire eaters create a vestige of carnival spirit in its lucrative tourist quarters, these quickly vanish in the parts of the city that need cheering up most. The iconic Molly Malone statue was daubed with red paint by graffiti vandals only last month, a very short time after being unveiled following refurbishment. In fact, the Dublin City Business Improvement District spends thousands each year scrubbing graffiti off our public property and businesses.

Temple Bar was meant to be the embodiment of inner-city poverty regenerated into Bohemia. Instead, it's a hub of beer-frenzy tourism, blighted by superpubs and night clubs that attract the yob culture and a carpet of vomit underfoot.

That was not what it was meant to be. Originally, Temple Bar was a 'cultural quarter' but that now seems sadly lacking.

What happens there is no different to the kind of thing that takes place every weekend in most other Irish towns though, as gangs of drunken young people roam through the streets while the rest of us avoid them or look on in dismay.

The Irish Business Against Litter survey for 2013, which looked at 40 areas across the country, placed parts of Dublin, Cork and Limerick in the six lowest positions on the table, all of them having deteriorated over the previous year. Dublin clings to its 'Dirty Old Town' label, remaining the Irish city with the worst litter problem. Yet we all seem more than ready to persist with refuse on the pavements and flotsam on the river.

Is it illegal to drop litter? Of course it is. The Litter Pollution Act 1997, as amended by the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 and the Protection of the Environment Act 2003, introduced strong penalties in Ireland to help combat the problems of litter pollution more effectively. Enforcement, though, varies dramatically from authority to authority. Sometimes local authorities will fine you, mostly they'll ignore you. Sometimes there isn't anybody around to do either.

But how far do we go? China has nominated Zhangjiagang as the National Sanitational City.

Its model inhabitants completed a personal behaviour adjustment that included things like not spitting or smoking in the streets and always being polite to neighbours. Anyone caught breaking the rules was made to don a yellow vest and submit to a public hour of shame. Authorities say it did the trick.

But improving urban life shouldn't just be about prohibition. I want the streets of Dublin to be full, not empty; street life to be richer, not poorer.

It's a wonderful space that has grown, layer on layer, for more then 1,000 years, sustaining generation after generation of newcomers. We can't expect the authorities to magic up Toy Town overnight if we aren't ourselves prepared to change our own behaviour in the city.

Public space belongs to everyone but many of us are excluded from it now through fear.

Here, a street bench would most likely be used to peddle drugs. Our parks close at sunset, but if open later would probably be a place to down cans and just generally act the menace.

We have much to be ashamed of and Dublin does desperately need a makeover. But most of all we need a behaviour and attitude makeover.

Plenty of other tourist-friendly European capitals are waiting in the wings and we should have lots more to offer visitors than just drinking yourself into oblivion in a dirty old town.

Irish Independent

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