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Inclusive spaces for a permeable city

Raissa Machado

26/9/2022

Future Reference

For the first time in decades, urban planners are designing for people first, before cars. Dublin’s pedestrianisation isn’t about enabling a certain lifestyle, it’s an empowering act, making an accessible city for all people. This article demonstrates how the permeability of spaces can foster social inclusion.

Dublin, Ireland by yeowatzup, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Numerous studies have shown the negative impacts of car-dominated cities. With the added urgency of a climate crisis, Urban planners and associated disciplines are now striving to create more accessible and safer environments for pedestrians and cyclists.

The quality of the public realm and the provision of open spaces for congregation have long been recognised as having an important role in contributing to liveability in urban agglomerations. The climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have shifted our priorities when it comes to the design of our cities. In the planning context, priority is now increasingly given to active modes of transport, such as walking and cycling [1]. These points were eloquently covered in an article earlier this month on Type with observations regarding various spaces in Dublin. This piece looks specifically at the themes of permeability and inclusion.

Numerous studies have shown the negative impacts of car-dominated cities [2]. With the added urgency of a climate crisis, urban planners and associated disciplines are now striving to create more accessible and safer environments for pedestrians and cyclists. Many areas of Dublin city centre are becoming, or going through trials to become, fully or partially pedestrianised. These include Capel Street, Parliament Street, South Anne Street, Dame Court, Drury Street and South William Street. Dublin City Council has had a long-held ambition to pedestrianise College Green. These initiatives will provide additional open spaces in the city, as well as enhance permeability at different scales.

In broad terms, permeability can be understood as “the extent to which an urban area permits the movement of people by walking or cycling” [3]. Permeability relates to pedestrian freedom and street-level experience. It should encourage easy access with multiple options. Once emphasis is given to both pedestrian and cyclist movements, some controversial opinions have been raised by those affected by the proposals. The many issues raised include: the need for additional transport to access establishments; the lack of signage informing people about the extents of traffic diversions; a perceived lack of safety due to conflict with cyclists, to mention only a few.

These arguments raise the ongoing debate of the ‘right to the city’, a concept explored by the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his book The Production of Space. In this, he argues that the city is an oeuvre, which means a collective work in which all its citizens participate[4]. As a collective work, cities should be accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds. In practical terms, the ‘right to the city’ approach contradicts the intention to filter users of the public realm. Public space should be, in essence, a space of inclusion. However, the compulsory nature of having to own a car in order to have either access, or priority of access, to certain places creates exclusion.

Through this lens, it is possible to argue that a car-free zone is simply a measure to give citizens the right to appropriate space (occupy, use, work, live, etc.). Lefebvre calls this 'representational space'. He refers to the right to participate in decision-making at various political scales as 'representations of space'. Lefebvre argues that cities are 'socially produced' through their use as public spaces, as a result they become representational, appropriated in use [5]. 

Whether these spaces are inclusive to allow social interaction to happen or not, is also closely related to their management [6]. In this case, spatial management refers to the way a space is physically and psychologically controlled and maintained. In other words, it refers to the methods used by owners to establish their rules.

Concerns and disputes around pedestrianisation schemes in Dublin are directly related to a crucial part of any design proposal, which is the quality of being cyclical. Implementing, testing, and managing are critical stages for any design development. These need to be founded on solid analysis that will, as a consequence, support safety, economy and vibrancy. 

Drawing on an analysis of the Irish planning system hierarchy, from top to bottom, it is possible to see an overall recognition of the importance of improving the existing public realm and the provision for active modes of transport, such as walking [7]. In theory, all stakeholders should support a better distribution of and greater accessibility to these spaces as part of move towards more permeable and inclusive environments.

Aligned with the climate crisis, the issue is far from being solely about a desire for more pedestrianised areas. In fact, it is about the provision of additional public open spaces in the city, and the need to address possible limitations in management of spaces over time. This way proposals can achieve their full potential and create a more inclusive city for all.

Indicative proposal for a backlands site, part of a larger study in Dublin city centre. The study considered a number of operational standards, as defined by the New York Planning Department, to ensure an overall good quality of space. Image by Raissa Machado

Concerns and disputes around the pedestrianisation schemes in Dublin are directly related to a crucial part of any design proposal, which is the quality of being cyclical. Implementing, testing and managing are critical stages for any design development. These need to be founded on solid analysis that will, as a consequence, support safety, economy and vibrancy

Future reference is a time capsule. It features opinion-pieces that cover the current developments, debates, and trends in the built environment. Each article assesses its subject through a particular lens to offer a different perspective. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact cormac.murray@type.ie.

Future Reference is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.

References

1. The Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Dublin, 2018, p. 28.

2. City of London, Health Impacts of Cars in London, London, Greater London Authority, 2015.

3. National Transport Authority, Permeability Best Practice Guide, Dublin, The National Transport Authority, 2015, p. 5.

4. H Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. by D. Nicholson-Smith. Oxford, Blackwell, 1991.

5. Ibid.

6. J. Németh and S. Schmidt, 'The privatization of public space: modeling and measuring publicness' Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, vol. 38, no.1, pp. 5-23.

7. The Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Dublin, 2018, p. 28.

Contributors

Raissa Machado

Raissa Machado is a Brazilian architect and urban designer with a particular interest in permeability in urban spaces as a tool for social inclusion. Raissa graduated in Urban Design and Planning from University College Dublin (UCD) in 2019. During her masters, she specialised in looking at the provision of additional open spaces in Dublin to improve permeability at different scales. Currently, Raissa works as an urban designer in Dublin.

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