Thursday 12 December 2019

How will 2030 housing trends affect Ireland?

Can our urban centres cope with population rise, writes Lora O'Brien

BIG APPLE: Dublin has a long way to go before it becomes a ‘megacity’ like NY
BIG APPLE: Dublin has a long way to go before it becomes a ‘megacity’ like NY

Lora O'Brien

In 25 years, a majority of the worlds inhabitants will be living in 'megacities' - metropolitan areas with over 10 million residents.

By 2013, there were already 20 global megacities - Tokyo, Delhi, Mexico City, New York and Shanghai all have population in excess of 20 million. Here in Ireland, we don't have even ten million people over the whole island. We're probably safe from the megacity madness for the foreseeable, but we still have urban population centres that are ill equipped to meet the housing needs of the people who want to live there.

Although our Dublin population is only just over half a million, the ESRI reports that we face a shortfall of 60,000 housing units in the city by 2021, unless new building meets the projected demographic demand. Tony Reddy, of Reddy Architecture, believes that although local authority planners in the Dublin region are planning for growth, the growth is just not happening. Why is that? He says, "it's because the banking crisis is still affecting the ability to raise funds for development, and so there are very few residential developments being built.

"One of the things one is seeing now, in the market, is that some traditional residential developers are looking at trying to develop housing as opposed to apartments. And the reason is that at present, it's very difficult for them to actually finance building apartments."

Finance is not the only issue however. The difficulty with housing in our cities is that residential standards are not necessarily suitable for achieving higher density levels. Reddy notes: "In Britain, Holland, or in the Nordic countries, you can have housing at [higher] density levels, where you couldn't do that in the greater Dublin area because of our regulations. And that's where we need to get."

Bodies such as Property Industry Ireland, and the RIAI, are currently making submissions to the government about that, but it stands as a problem at present.

And the type of housing being developed is not making best use of the available locations. Dublin City Architect Ali Grehan, in a 2013 Tedx talk in Dublin, pointed out that in developing residential accommodation in the city, we have a social opportunity. "People don't leave the city centre out of badness or because their anti-urban. What happens is - they're happy in the city centre, it suits their needs, and then they have their first child. And priorities change completely."

Grehan calls Dublin, as it currently stands, a 'transition town', with residential housing unsuitable for family life.

"We aren't actually offering people an opportunity to put down roots. But maybe if we offered people a real choice. Neither the four-bedroom, red brick terraced house, which is in limited supply, or the two- bedroom apartment. Say we said to them - what if you could design your own apartment in the city centre, to meet your needs today, to meet your needs tomorrow?" She believes people might take that opportunity, and begin to think differently about settling in the city long term.

And so the Dublin City House project was launched in July this year, with a test site advertised for sale at 29/30 Fishamble Street, Dublin 8 - an initiative of the Housing Department, to promote the potential of small-scale residential development in the inner city and inner suburban areas. This enables people to be citizen-developers, by facilitating them to design and create their own bespoke homes for themselves in the city. It's a trial project that, if it takes off, has the potential to solve the city's housing crisis.

Moniker, joint winners with GKMP Architects of the 2009 competition for design of the Dublin House Project, say "it's about developing big sites in small pieces. We need to develop new housing typologies that respect the inherited grain and pattern of the city and that create the opportunity for small scale development in the city centre, a reaction to the many large projects which have negatively altered the domestic, commercial and urban fabric of our city."

The idea is also economical and sustainable. Building a new home to suit your needs is cheaper than trying to modify and extend an existing house. Living in the city-centre will reduce your reliance on your car, as you will be close to all your amenities. Perhaps this is the model that developers daunted by the large investment of apartment blocks should be looking at?

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