City Intersections – A River Runs Through It

Madeleine Lynes of City Intersections sent me these thought provoking questions and an interesting fact:

It seems 86% of people surveyed in Dublin said they had a negative perception of the Liffey Quays.

I talk about my take on the Dublin City's River Liffey Boardwalk - this was the subject of discussion at City intersection session 6
Dublin City’s River Liffey Boardwalk – Picture courtesy of Martin Baker photography

Why don’t people like that boardwalk?

I for one, have always been grateful having lived in front of it for years.

It was my de facto front garden replete with a spectrum of Dublin life that the bridge-and-tunnel people seem quite fearful off…(that made me love it more).

It provided glorious sun-trapped moments for fellow immigrants and urbanites as we sat chatting and lunching on the benches. We watched wandering tourists perplexed, maps in hand. Gangster pigeons would promenade along nonchalantly along, hoovering up discarded crumbs. We were always in awe of the pterodactyl-like seagulls standing in wait on the balustrades,  gawping expectantly in their intimidating aura of Hitchcockian menace. Feeling cooped up on occasion, I would consme the latest novel on its benches whilst savouring the city soundscape more than anything else. The boardwalk is for eavesdropping on every accent in town , the cacophany of nearby traffic and the occasional roar of the Viking splash tourists in full force. I was even grateful for the regular familial smiles and nods that our toddler got from the white bearded homeless man, during our boardwalk forays with the buggy or tricycle.

It was a void – an open space and non commercial. It was a chance to see that bit of nature that ran through our city. That was enough for me to like it.

What doesn’t work about the Cities quay space?

It obviously attracted seedy transactions, people with no where else to go and lots of puke. Yet, I still don’t think that’s a good enough reason NOT to have more spaces like these. NOT a good enough reason to avoid expanding our riverfront as a genuine public amenity.

If you want to make big changes to city life in Dublin, what are you up against that isn’t just the money problem?

When it comes to generatiing more communal open spaces:

You could say its all about the traffic system , our Georgian if not almost Elizabethan city grid. The fact that cold weather makes you want to commune over hot whisky and stout in pubs by roaring fires rather than open plazas. The fear of the other and our inability to enforce zero tolerance to littering, vandalism and the like. You could say it takes 10 yrs to plan, authorize, cconsult and eventually another decade to execute any major public works.

How do we get people to enjoy using public space in Dublin, when we’re just not used to it?

It’s got to be about teaching civic consciousness and ethics from young alongside current programs in sustainable living.  However it doesn’t take a generation – witness the Dublin city bikes programme- a genuine enthusiasm built from need was enough to ensure  success. Witness the Italian quarter, one of Wallace’s more positive legacies. It took no time at all for my neighbourhood watering hole and home away from home to transform into a genuine communal space albeit non municipal.  Its time we valued Simple openings, more access by foot and walkways. Loitering space pockets in this context is to be encouraged – it does help businesses flourish nearby.

How do we go about changing it?

I believe it’s about changing the balance of who occupies it, not by deleting the people who have no where else to go. That’s a beginning… And if a perceived underclass seeks to enjoy it too, I say Why not/ they have so little to begin with. Who am I to refuse the homeless guy his bit of sun? It says more about us as a society and what we have failed to provide elsewhere…

Is the Liffey a connector or a divider in our City ? Both ?

A delicious and timeless dilemma that I believe all cities eventually grapple with. The guys from XXI Century Liffey have this to say:

“The River Liffey is the most defining feature of Dublin City and can be described as a paradox – both a connector and a divider. Dubliners’ define themselves as Northsiders or Southsiders – the river the physical and metaphorical divider. However, the river and its quays have historically served as a connector. Apart from the transformation of the Dublin Docklands, the historic Liffey quays – particularly the public space – has been left-behind. It is now time to reconsider the role and function of the quays and how best to optimise the public space.”

City intersections - session 6 Ideas and discussion on Dublin City and the River Liffey
City Intersections -Session 6 – Ideas and discussion on Dublin City and the River Liffey

If you wish to respond to these questions and hear other voices on the issue, the next Dublintellectual instalment of City Intersections promises to awaken your civic consciousness with meaty urban conundrums, spacial re-imaginings and gets you re-thinking the communal void.

If you missed Fergal McCarthy’s visualization of the Liffey’s new possibilities in TEdxDublin, catch his ideas here. On the same bill: a political take by ex Green Party minister Ciaran Cuffe on new city design projects and Urban Nexus Initiative will be getting interactive with you, the agora, as they seek concrete feedback to their Liffey re-design proposal.

It all kicks off with a quick free tour and attendees will be softened round the edges with a wine reception. Looks like a great year for smart citizenship, urban hacktivism and guerrilla interventions to me.

When: 7pm Tuesday, October 9th , but it really is a regular instalment most Tuesdays

Where : Little Museum of Dublin , a great chance to see this new venue on its own merits




  1. Personally I like the quays. Whether its the clash of demographics and culture outside the Four Courts or the milling crowds on the weekends near Tara St and Busarus, they are a visible sign of the vitality and diversity of the Capital.

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