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Opinion: There is a good reason why nobody plays golf in Manhattan

Cities with a large population and expensive housing do not have golf courses near their centre, due to the self-evident inefficiency of that land use, writes Paddy Smyth.

Paddy Smyth Fine Gael Councillor

THE BOROUGH OF Manhattan, an exemplar of efficient land use, is undoubtedly a wonderful place to live or visit.

Architecture that is breathtaking in both aesthetic beauty and as pure feats of engineering, the best of museums and entertainment and some of the most beautiful parks in the world.

You can do almost anything in the Big Apple.

You could spend a lifetime on this relatively small island and fail to exhaust the panoply of activity on offer.

However, no matter how wealthy, powerful or important you are, there is one thing you absolutely cannot do – play a round of golf.

Golf requires a number of things – time, small balls, clubs, implausible clothing and land. A lot of land.

Golf requires more land (with the possible exception of field artillery training) than practically any other human pursuit.

It is therefore logical that where land is in high demand, regardless of how much people would like to play the game, you will have to find somewhere else to swing your sticks.

New York is far from unique.

There are no golf courses in Westminster or Kensington. Parisian golfers do not enjoy a view of the Eiffel Towel before choosing a wood for tee off.

Cities with a large population and expensive housing do not have golf courses near their centre due to the self-evident inefficiency of that land use.

There is one glaring exception to this rule. An outlier that proudly bucks the trend allowing its citizens, for just a few thousand euros per annum to play 18 holes of golf within walking distance of the city centre.

And, as if not spoiled enough, they have not just one urban course to choose from, but multiple.

Within walking distance of the city centre, three of these courses are also located on high-speed transport links. The state has spent and is planning to spend, billions of euros providing public transport, rail, tram, bus and cycle greenways, that is not only close to these courses but actually abuts their very perimeters.

In case you haven’t realised, this paradise of fairways is the fair city of Dublin.

In the map below – the blue line is the Dart, the light green line is the Luas, the dark green line is the Dodder Greenway, which is under development and the pink line donates the BusConnects rapid bus corridors, which are also under development. 

golf

Crazy for golf

A visitor to Dublin would be forgiven for thinking that as a city we are golf crazy.

That every man, women and child must be given a set of clubs at birth and spend every moment of their spare time playing the sport.

What else could possibly explain this unorthodox use of urban land?

In truth, golf is no more popular in Dublin than any other part of the western world.

The large amount of strategically important land given over to the game is simply emblematic of the tragically inefficient use of land in the city.

There are of course plenty of other examples of underutilised parcels of land, many of them owned by the state or the city council, but our golf courses are by far the most egregious due to their scale.

A consequence of this overall inefficiency is a seemingly insurmountable housing crisis, some of the highest land prices and rents in the world, incredibly long commutes for a significant portion of the population and some of the worst traffic on the planet.

Underground solutions?

A recent study by motor data company Inrix showed that, of all the major cities in the world, only Bogota had congestion that is worse than Dublin.

The solution to this congestion that is often suggested, usually proffered with an air of exasperation that know no-one seems to have thought of it before, is that all Dublin needs to do is simply build an underground system.

But as anyone who has followed the development of our proposed first subterranean train line joining the airport to the city centre will know, there is nothing simple about building an underground.

They also happen to be the most expensive non-military capital projects undertaken by any state.

Billions of euros are required to build, maintain and operate an underground metro and in order to get a decent return on investment you need population density.

Without significant density, as is the case in the vast majority of Dublin the massive opportunity cost simply cannot be justified.

Criminally underutilised

We will never rectify these issues unless hard decisions are made.

Maintaining the status quo, continuing with our sclerotic planning laws and allowing the narrow interests of the few to outweigh the greater need of the many will cause Dublin to continue to spill into its neighbouring counties, one three-bed semi-D at a time.

Our current problems in housing and transport will continue to grow exponentially and generation after generation will spend more and more of their income on housing and waste more and more of their time in traffic.

That is not just a waste of time to the commuter but also incredibly damaging to the economy and the environment.

The new Land Development Agency must be given the political backing along with the necessary changes to our restrictive compulsory purchase legislation to free up the massive swaths of this city that are criminally underutilised.

Along with Dublin Port, militarily irrelevant army barracks and the many substantial ill-positioned industrial estates peppered across Dublin, the LDA needs to acquire and make available for high density development the three golf courses that together make up one hundred hectares of land, a full million square metres of urban space, all abutting major public transport infrastructure.

The members of these exclusive clubs would be handsomely compensated and can play in any number of more appropriate locations in the North and South of the county.

Tens of thousands of people could be accommodated preventing future housing crises.

That amount of newly zoned land entering the market, either through sale or lease, would have the critical mass to significantly depress city land prices, the main cost factor preventing current development.

Local politics

The crucial factor here is having local politicians after the local elections in May that will assent to the necessary changes in zoning.

Unfortunately, for those of my colleagues who are seeking re-election, the incentives point the other way.

As we have seen time and time again, even while decrying the current Government for the lack of housing in the city, the same politicians will block local development and challenge re-zoning so as to ‘maintain the integrity of existing communities’.

Doing the right thing in local politics costs you votes. But if we are to ever see an end to crippling rents, extortionate land prices and intractable traffic congestion, with its resultant environment consequences, we need people to live and work on land near to the city and golfers to play in the great wide open, away from it.

Paddy Smyth is a Fine Gael, Dublin City Councillor and member of the council’s transport committee.  

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About the author:

Paddy Smyth  / Fine Gael Councillor

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