Call to Action #1: Retrofitting Liveable Streets

Louise McGarrigle and Ronan Smith

The Housing Unlocked team were overawed by the number and quality of submissions we received when we launched our Open Call for Ideas to improve Irish Housing. It was, of course, extremely difficult for the Jury to narrow the over 50 eligible submissions down to 8 teams. The limited number of pieces we could choose meant that we were not able to exhibit many valid and important proposals from teams who are passionate about improving the Irish housing ecosystem. 

We plan to address this by publishing aspects of these entries as ‘Calls to Action!’, here on our Journal. 

Starting with this call for a rethinking of our streetscapes by Louise McGarrigle and Ronan Smith.

The Housing Unlocked Team. 

Retrofitting Liveable Streets

Ireland needs well-designed, healthy, sustainable, and inspirational homes. To achieve this whilst keeping within our carbon budgets, we need to look innovatively at our existing buildings and look as to how different typologies could be reworked in order to supply homes which are beautiful spaces to inhabit. 

The ‘above-shop living’ typology is a common typology within our cities and towns which is under-utilised in Ireland. There are design solutions which could be implemented to encourage the cultural shift towards seeing this typology as a viable and attractive solution for all ages, communities, and households. 

The Living City Initiative, set up in 2015, gave financial aid to encourage reuse of vacant upper floors to help overcome the financial blocks of bringing these units into use. Financial aid however, is not sufficient on its own. For long-term systemic and cultural change towards new housing typologies on this island we need to illustrate via good quality design how these homes can be attractive places to live in. 

This is broken down into two areas: the street and the home. 

The street

Noise and fumes from traffic, late night bars/music, a lack of green space all affect the comfort, air quality and viability of living above the street. 

Where a quantity of properties have been earmarked to be refurbished the street, if possible, should be altered by the Local Authority to become one-way for traffic. Removing cars from streets makes them more liveable and pleasant. The street area the removal of one car lane provides should be given over as community external space, which will be much needed for the homes above. This could take the form of small street playgrounds, bike bunkers for secure bike parking, and planting for greenery. Additional space could be given out to any restaurants and cafes. 

Additionally, systemic changes are also required to allow the community input and control over their immediate surroundings. Each street should be encouraged to form a residents association to which the local authority must consult with on changing licencing laws for units below. 

The home

We feel the most positive impact within the home itself would be the ability to somehow offer external amenity space. Living through the pandemic made everyone aware of the importance of external amenity space, and these homes should be no different. If this is not possible through existing external arrangements then existing buildings could be retrofitted with small cantilevered balconies to the street. This would give the much needed amenity space to the homes while also allowing for increased surveillance and activity to the street. 

The above contribution is not new or innovative, it is the reality in hundreds of cities around the world. However the potential for this solution within this open call is the ability to show what can be achieved here in Ireland and open the discussion to explore the factors in making it a possibility within our context. 

Journal

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