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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 24 May, 2018
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A sneak peek at Dublin’s inner city pop-up park

The park is being constructed entirely by volunteers, transforming a vacant site into a cultural playground.

FOR RESIDENTS OF the remaining Dominick Street Lower flats in Dublin’s inner city, the view out their front windows has been somewhat dull in recent years.

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Pic: Google Maps

Where once stood the other half of the housing complex, there has been battered grey boarding slapped with posters and the occasional bit of graffiti, behind which lay untrimmed grass and rubble.

The flats on this side of the Georgian street – just off the busy Parnell Street – were demolished as part of the Dublin City Council’s city regeneration plan, but the economic collapse led to its rejuvenation under the Public Partnership Process being stalled.

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Pic: Google Maps

At the end of July, the residents’ view began to be transformed. The boarding was ripped down and replaced by palisade fencing, behind which the source of new sounds – banging, clanging and drilling – emerged. It was the beginnings of the birth of a pop-up park, envisioned by the Upstart collaborative group and financed in part through on online Fundit campaign.

The urban park, Granby Park, will open tomorrow, Thursday 22 August, and close on 22 September. Though temporary in nature, the hope is that its impact will be felt far beyond its last day.

It will leave behind it physical structures – such as ‘legacy trees’ that will be donated after its closure – and a digital ‘toolkit’ for those looking to undertake similar projects. In its wake will be an invisible footprint on Dominick St Lower, one that can be walked in by others wishing to make a change in their community.

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Polytunnels under construction. Pic: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

As Sam Bishop, one of Upstart’s core members, took TheJournal.ie on a tour of the nascent park, there were volunteers (everyone involved in this project gives their time for free) clad in hi-vis jackets busying themselves on site.

In one corner, they were hammering wooden tables together for the café; in another, assembling mirrored artworks. Volunteers were musing over the best location for the plants and herbs that will populate the area, while others were scrutinising the location of the amphitheatre made from wooden pallets.

This amphitheatre is a symbol of the level of collaboration involved in this park. Made from refurbished pallets, it was designed by Sean Harrington Architects and involves children from Bradog Youth Service and students from the North Eastern Education and Library Board in Belfast, explained Aaron Copeland, an Upstart core member who is coordinating this project.

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The amphitheatre in the background. Pic: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

Taking their cue from the centenaries celebrated between 2012 – 2016, including the Ulster Covenent and the Easter Rising, they are constructing the amphitheatre from pallets that usually have negative connotations. These “divisive symbols” are being used to create a new, positive, structure, imbuing the pallets with a new meaning and a non-sectarian purpose.

The aim is to “prompt a discussion in relation to the marking of the centenaries” and how this will be addressed, said Copeland. A number of bands, musicians and DJs are already lined up to perform at the amphitheatre.

Working alongside him are the horticultural staff who are charged with adding plantlife to the pallet structure. Fiann Ó Núalláin, an outreach horticulturist, explained that within the wall they will plant herbs, edible plants, edible flowers, and vegetables, which can then be harvested and utilised in the restaurant.

Ó Núalláin sees huge value in the local contribution to the site, as people are encouraged to come along and “create their bit of space”.

“It gives the locals something to aspire to in terms of what they want for this space after it’s gone,” he said. “It sets up a template that can be adopted in other areas for similar size or scale.”

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The children’s area under construction. Pic: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

The leftover plants and herbs will be given to community groups and locals, perhaps ending up on the balconies of the flats across the road.

“You don’t have to have money to create community,” said Bishop, pointing out the children’s area that was being coated in sand and surrounded by tyres and ferns. Beneath the mounds of grass here lie rubble from the site, its former history hidden from view under a carpet of new life.

Donal Raynor, head gardener of the Iveagh Gardens, is also on board. He envisions “naturalistic ferns and swaying grass in the breeze of Dominick Street”, and a wall of plants that bring a fluidity – rather than rigidity – to the site. “This is a very informal space,” he said, adding that the north side of the capital is lacking in such green areas.

It’s pretty amazing and the team is pretty amazing.

One of the features of the park will be the Dublin Trade School, an initiative that will see people trading skills using a barter system. There are still plenty of places here that can be filled, so people with ideas and skills are encouraged to get in touch.

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On one wall of the park, multicoloured boots and shoes stuffed with plants are displayed on wooden slats. They were created by local schoolchildren, as part of  a project worked on with Karla Healion, community engagement officer.

Another wall will be the ‘graffiti wall’, with spray paint and masks available for people to create their own artworks in this designated space.

Collaboration is the key to this entire project, from the first semblance of an idea to the current phase of turning that idea into a reality. Combined with creativity, an openness to ideas, and a willingness to work with what is there, it should serve as inspiration to communities across Ireland.

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The graffiti wall. Pic: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

Hammered together by people power, Granby Park is, said Bishop, a voluntary project with integrity. “Communities around the country, they should be looking at the resources they have rather than what they don’t have,” he encouraged. “Ireland is so skilled and there are so many resources there.”


(AoifeBarryTJ/YouTube)

“This was just empty,” he emphasised, gesturing to the emerging structures around him. This pocket of culture, this merging of art, creativity and green space, is what happens when you “think outside the box”.

But it’s not a pocket that is shut to everyone but a sacred few: “It is a space for the people of Dublin to get involved in.”

Want to volunteer at the park, or give a workshop at the trade school? Here’s more information. Want to donate or lend plants? Get in touch with Upstart by emailing helpout@upstart.ie.

Read: Pop-up inner-city park gets €21k funding boost>

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