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‘15-minute city’ concept fails to excite public wary of compact development

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It requires higher density housing than is traditional in Ireland, with households forgoing individual gardens for larger tracts of shared open space. Photo: Graham Moore

It requires higher density housing than is traditional in Ireland, with households forgoing individual gardens for larger tracts of shared open space. Photo: Graham Moore

The closer people lived together, the more land could be preserved for amenity, for growing and for cleaning the air. Photo: CBCK-Christine

The closer people lived together, the more land could be preserved for amenity, for growing and for cleaning the air. Photo: CBCK-Christine

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It requires higher density housing than is traditional in Ireland, with households forgoing individual gardens for larger tracts of shared open space. Photo: Graham Moore

Only one in 10 Irish people lives within 15 minutes of key services and amenities and only one in three wants to, a new report shows.

It highlights the sprawled nature of residential neighbourhoods in Ireland and the cultural bias toward more dense development.

The 15-minute city concept is widely considered best practice in urban planning, with residents able to access essential shops, schools, employment, welfare services, leisure amenities and open space all within a 15-minute walk or cycle.

It cuts down on commutes, traffic congestion and pollution and carbon emissions, encourages physical activity, fosters a sense of community and makes better use of amenity space.

However, it requires higher density housing than is traditional in Ireland, with households forgoing individual gardens for larger tracts of shared open space.

The report found people were not so keen on that, and they did not think it was a good idea.

In a survey carried out during the summer, the responses showed: “People generally rate compact, high-density neighbourhoods as less beneficial for the environment than low-density, sprawling places.”

The report was commissioned by the Irish Institutional Property (IIP) group, which represents large institutional investors who have a vested interest in high-density urban development.

Increasing density in towns and cities is also an objective of the National Planning Framework and is being factored into city and county development plans.

IIP chief executive Pat Farrell acknowledged there was a “negative public view on compactness”.

“By publishing this report today, we hope to point out that not only is higher-density, compact living a necessity in the age of climate change and urban sprawl, it also comes with high desirable outcomes such as walkability and amenity access and can deliver real improvements in people’s lives,” he said.

The research was carried out by international architectural and urban planning firm Hassell in collaboration with Niamh Moore-Cherry, associate professor at University College Dublin’s School of Geography.

It found that while 59pc of people valued walkability as a desirable characteristic of a neighbourhood, 41pc said easy access for cars was more desirable.

Only 43pc were eager to have their workplace within a 15-minute walk or cycle and 15pc believed compactness helped create more sustainable communities.

Lead author Camilla Siggaard Andersen said the perception of compact urban development needed to change. The closer people lived together, the more land could be preserved for amenity, for growing and for cleaning the air, she said.

“That doesn’t mean we have to live on top of each other in concrete jungles. It doesn’t have to be metropolises.”

Ms Moore-Cherry said the resistance revealed by the survey was probably due to a history of planning that was “less than glowing”.

“For so long we have been developing cities in a mono-functional way where we think about large-scale suburban housing estates, we think about large business parks,” she said.

While the benefits of compact development were many, the problem was “how that’s being communicated to communities who are rightfully fearful given the legacy of planning that we have in many places in Ireland”.

Ms Moore-Cherry said she was glad the fast-track planning mechanism for large-scale residential projects classified as strategic housing developments was being ended as it “backed communities into a corner” and forced them to object if they had concerns”.

Its replacement must allow for proper public participation at the beginning of a proposed project, she said, and not leave it until the end.


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