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An alternative social imaginary

Eve Olney

21/11/2021

One Good Idea

At the top corner of a steep hilly street in Cork city I join a patchy procession of people entering the old red brick building whose doors have been closed for the past five years. The narrow passage into the generously sized meeting room still betrays that musty, stale smell of neglect that such buildings embody through the absence of life and use.

Shandon Street, Cork city. Source: author's own

This is one of the first Community Land Trust assembly meetings for this particular inner city community.

Inside, a gathering of about forty people are being hushed and encouraged to take seats around the circular assembly of chairs laid out by those first in the door. When an air of collective quiet calm has at last settled in the room we look to two figures in the inner central line of the assembly as they begin to chair tonight's main discussion points that directly affect the future of the building and the people who now sit within it. This is one of the first Community Land Trust assembly meetings for this particular inner city community and it is the turn of the local hairdresser and the cobbler to direct the continued discussions pertaining to how the needs of this community might and can align with the opportunities this substantial property offers. Tonight our focus is on the immediate housing needs of those working on the street – whether as employees or local business owners – and what proportion of the building should be allocated to low-rent, high-spec housing. There is a palpable sense of optimism following the success of the previous meeting when the space we are currently in was consensually allocated to daytime childcare needs and an autonomous space for teenagers to meet and create projects in the evenings. 

Eight months previously the seeds for this initiative were sown in a local café through an ongoing conversation concerned with how part of the street was beginning to be redeveloped and how the local media had reported that this was being done with the ‘support of the local community’. Members of said community were wondering why they had not heard of this project, never mind the fact that they were assumed to be part of its inception. Conversations began being structured into discussions and processes put in place to support the development of a real community-led initiative. This small group of people grew into a proportionate body representative of the mixed and sometimes conflicting needs and interests cast across the community of this historic city street.  

In time a tripartite governance structure was secured in the building of a Community Land Trust that included the actual local community, a smaller collective that would be actively living/ working/ engaging with the space on an ongoing basis, and a group representing the local authority. The first achievement of this trust was in obtaining the red brick building from the HSE that had not been in use for many years previously. Taking this property permanently off the market and into the hand of the CLT secures permanently affordable homes, grassroots-led governing structures and creative use of empty spaces led by the immediate needs articulated by this community through a direct democratic process of common assemblies. We are now working on obtaining further empty properties across Cork city. This is only the beginning.

This small group of people grew into a proportionate body representative of the mixed and sometimes conflicting needs and interests cast across the community of this historic city street.

One Good Idea is a series of articles which focuses on the simple, concise discussion of a complex spatial issue. Each piece is presented as a starting point towards a topic that the author believes should be part of broader public discourse. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact ciaran.brady@type.ie.

One Good Idea is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.‍

References

Contributors

Eve Olney

Eve Olney is a co-founder of Living Commons, a not-for-profit socially engaged arts organisation that was established in order to found and maintain co-operative, humane, democratic living, working and learning schemes for persons in precarious living situations through creative practices and community building.

Website by Good as Gold.