28 Jul 2008

I’m going to start writing little reviews of the various Draft Development Plans from around the country as and when they come on stream. First up is Kilkenny City. The Kilkenny and Environs Development Plan 2008 -2014 is currently in Draft and available on the internet.

As with most Irish development plans, Kilkenny's new draft plan has pages and pages of cut and paste policies about tourism, social inclusion, transportation and so on which nobody is expected to read. Normally, I wouldn’t either; but this time round I did and it turned out, in a funny way, to be worth the effort. Not that there was anything new in the reams of statistics about housing numbers, projected house price increases and all that kind of thing. What made the read worth the effort was how much it highlighted the fact that Ireland and (presumably) Kilkenny is so different a place now than it was just months back when the various consultants were drawing up their first draft of the plan. Justifying a course for planning our environment with a heavy bias on guesstimated housing trends just seems so completely irrelevant now. And, as housing is the foundation underpinning the document's logic for future action, what now for the plan?

To flesh the document out and make it seem more weighty, the Council has also decided to append the Aalborg Charter of 1994 to their Plan and give it statutory recognition. The Aalborg Charter is the kind of consensual document frequently drawn up at central European conferences where the authors’ command of English is less commanding than they realise and everyone else is too polite to point it out. In fairness, it advocates fairness, democracy, protection of the environment and what have you. But it’s hopelessly poorly written; a mish mash of childish notions about social justice tenuously linked with ideas of ecology, sustainability and the environment. It reads very much like one of the those ‘hopey’ charismatic Religious Knowledge books you were made to read if you attended secondary school in the 1970s ‘The love shared between a man and a woman, if the presence of God, is a very special thing…’ Etc.

Here’s a sampler:        .

Spinoza would disown it. Nietzche would mangle it. (Noticeably, the Charter champions the idea that development plans be generated by local communities themselves, something which just doesn’t ever happen in Ireland. Irish Development Plans amount to little more than reiterations of Government policies and DoE issued guidelines. Which is why we’re in the pickle we’re in.)

The only sections of any development plan which really matter are those which determine the location, type and shape of future development. In this regard, the thing that really strikes you is the fact that for a plan which addresses the handsomest town of its size in the country – Kilkenny – there are no graphic or photographic images, drawings or diagrams which would help to inform you of the vision the town has for its future. Wouldn’t it just be fantastic if someone would start building scale models of our towns and put in them in the lobbies of County Halls so, when a proposal is under review, we could pop the model for the new development onto the appropriate site and have a real debate about where we’re going? Or a computer generated 3-D model of the entire town? This is the closest the plan comes to being 'imaginative':

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Kilkenny is blessed with an impressive stock of old buildings which will serve to define its identity for some time to come. But there’s only so long that it will get away with tastefully infilling brownfield sites in Medieval and Georgian streetscapes. Eventually, the town will have to strike out and throw down some 21st century shapes: i.e., ways of allowing future development to occur in the speedy way necessary to meet immediate need but flexible enough to allow for successful spaces regardless of the nature future development will take.

For a development plan to resonate, it requires reflection, a sense of the particular and, above all, imagination. All of which things the new Kilkenny plan lacks in abundance.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008 12:20:33 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I like the embracing (or 'enclosing' I suppose) of space as a public amenity - something we dont seem to have done very well in Ireland - but is it just me or could that 'continuity and enclosure'policy yet find its expression in gated communities (private space clearly distinguishing itself from everything else public/private)? Maybe I'm still thinking of LA?

I think your 3-d suggestion has plenty of merit Garry. In this day and age you'd imagine that an online 3-d model should be the default means of aiding accessible public consultation and more-or-less-scientifically determining the extent of a given development impact - especially issues of scale, overlooking, shadowing (sorry for non-specialist terms) etc...it'd help to take the voodoo out of decision-making...guess the service would have to be standardised though to avoid differing graphic 'interpretations'.

By the way, Any good examples from overseas of where development plans actually live up to their billing and really stand for boldly bravely shaping the future?
Ronan
Tuesday, 29 July 2008 17:57:12 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Wexford Town & Environs draft development plan is now available on the web page, I'd be interested on your view when compared with the previous plan.
John Begley
Tuesday, 29 July 2008 19:52:54 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I'm ashamed to say that my knowledge of Wexford Town is very poor. But I'm very interested now in having a look at the proposed new plan.
Garry
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