Saturday 18 January 2020

The sky's the limit - but as with all property, it's about the right location

High-rise living benefits residents and society, so don't restrain Dublin's ambition to reach for the sky, writes Niamh Horan

Living the high life: New 22-storey building planned for Tara Street
Living the high life: New 22-storey building planned for Tara Street
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

It's little surprise that Ireland's new wave of construction has been met with fear. Ugly, ill thought-out buildings and bad planning destroy cities. Two decades of this has left Ireland despoiled with ghost estates, monotonous residential developments on Dublin's commuter belt and shabbily built blocks of flats.

Foxrock residents have expressed fears over an "existential threat" from a number of proposed high-density developments in their area, a Georgian village filled with trees and stone walls.

Their cri de coeur has raised a cheap laugh but if you consider it, they have voiced everyone's concerns: "What happens in the next little while is going to define us forever."

Living in the docklands, I see this first-hand. From my bed I can count 15 cranes. A year from now it will be as though their creations have existed forever. But it doesn't cause me alarm. The feeling I get from living at the heart of change and modernity can fill my chest with a sense of euphoria. During the recent heatwave, I walked through the square thronged with people.

A helicopter surveyed the scene as hundreds of tech workers and young suits from nearby law and accountancy firms sat in the sunshine chatting over lunch. Beside them were the now-familiar faces of builders in work gear, basking beside the water. Everyone here meets the changing skyline with enthusiasm.

In recent months, I have come across my ­housemates showing off the view on Skype to their families abroad. When we invite people up to the rooftop for drinks, their cameras come out before the G and Ts.

The next generation of glass-plated buildings isn't written off as cold or anonymous. Each one is seen as bringing more jobs and neighbours to the area. The compact surroundings create a sense of community and connection.

It's because the 20-to-30-somethings of 'Generation Now' who are living in ­upmarket apartment blocks of Dublin's IFSC and Grand Canal Dock crave something different to their elders. The ­older generation may have worked hard to move out of the city, to acquire space and privacy, but we want to be close to others, to people-watch, to see life.

We're not unique: this is happening around the world. Switzerland - traditionally famous for timber chalets - has plans to build between 140 and 160 new skyscrapers. Although its population is similar to London, it has an abundance of land. Does this mean it is growing outwards with little demand for high-rise? No. Quite the contrary. The country is proposing to build almost two-thirds as many towers as London.

The next generation doesn't mind having less living space, so long as it brings other privileges - a short walk to work and the city centre or quality restaurants and rooftop bars a minute from your home.

So why the fear? It's because most people don't understand the difference between good and lousy planning. The Irish psyche is filled with bad memories, which links high-rise to poverty and a down-trodden working class.

And yet you only need to look to Dubai and Manhattan to know tall can be beautiful and sought-after and that people pay big money (€2,000 a month for a single person) for sky-high apartment living. Dublin doesn't even graze the top 20. The problem isn't construction, it's reckless planning. When building up, we need to stay clear from old parts of the city. Let tall buildings stand in the docklands where they belong -near lots of land, water, open space and access to major transport hubs.

People living in the docklands don't buy into planners' and preservationists' fears of heights that brings about damaging restrictions on how tall a building should be because we know it works if it's done right.

And if our purely selfish reasons aren't enough to convince you, it's also greener for the planet. Compact living reduces the need for cars. High-rise dwellings lose less heat and have been found to have the lowest energy needs of all building types, creating a reduced carbon footprint, and lower bills for residents as fuel prices continue to rise.

Rather than destroy the city, high-rise can be vital to preserving our historic core as it allows the development necessary for a growing economy and a rising population to be diverted away from historic areas to preserve their character. Remember that next time someone tries to dampen ­Dublin's ambition to reach for the sky.

Sunday Independent

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