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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C

Opinion Creative spaces are under threat so councils must be proactive to ensure that the arts survive

Rents are sky-rocketing making spaces unaffordable for many artists. But with proper planning, we can protect the creative life of the city, writes Councillor Patrick Costello.

THE POOLBEG WEST SDZ that was recently approved by An Bord Planeala is one of the most significant things that Dublin City Council has achieved in recent years. 

The headlines understandably focused on the fact that it will provide for 3,500 homes, including almost 900 social and affordable homes, all of which locals urgently need. 

But there is another important aspect of that plan that was almost completely overlooked.

The Poolbeg West SDZ is unusual because it contains a condition that the development must include at least 40 artists studios.

This is an important achievement that stands in contrast to the prevailing trends in our capital. 

Artistic, creative and community spaces are under threat. Just like with housing, commercial rents have sky-rocketed and so they have become unaffordable for many artists. 

Much of the recent commercial redevelopment involves international chains opening in Dublin and these large chains have the financial muscle to push aside small local businesses, along with creative ventures and community groups.

The last few years in Dublin have shown the inevitable result of this.

2018 saw the closure of several weekend markets.  The Dublin Flea, Brocante Dublin, Fusion Sundays Pure Vintage Fair, Rumble in the Jumble, The New Market Collective and the Grand Social’s Halfpenny Market.

In recent years, the artistic social enterprise, Block T, was forced from its home in Smithfield, while Mabos a shared cultural and artistic space in Dublin’s docklands closed in 2014.

Just last October in my own neighbourhood, the Ranelagh Arts Centre lost its space and is now without a home. 

Small, local businesses are also struggling to survive.  Sweeney’s Pharmacy – famed for its appearance in Ulysses and now a venue which celebrates James Joyce – has started a fundraising drive to help pay their increased rent.

There is now a serious shortage of creative spaces in Dublin city. While groups like mArt have worked hard to meet the need, supply is getting tighter as the otherwise empty buildings that been used by artists are cleared for redevelopment.

Sadly that redevelopment usually means another hotel or more unaffordable purpose-built student accommodation. That is not the type of housing that residents of Dublin urgently need.

The recent planning decision in Portobello harbour is a typical example. I’m not opposed to redevelopment but we do need to be mindful of what is being lost and ensure that new studio spaces are found for the artists, who are displaced by it.  

If we don’t act, we risk Dublin losing its deep-rooted cultural authenticity and turning into another carbon copy of every other major city, with the same ubiquitous shops and food chains and very little in between.

The challenge is to try and hold on to that which makes Dublin unique – and the plan for Poolbeg West provides a template to do this. 

The guaranteed inclusion of the 40 artist’s studios in Poolbeg West came about because Green Party councillors tabled a motion at Dublin City Council – in an effort to protect and provide for cultural and creative spaces in the city.

Our colleagues on the council backed our idea and so a stipulation was added to the plan for the area.

If we want to retain our creative and cultural spaces in Dublin we have to be proactive and work to make space for them.

(This is just a beginning – if we are really serious we also need to look at the financial support we offer to cultural, creative and community groups, even tiny amounts of money can help groups that run on a shoestring.)

National planning legislation provides for a minimum amount of social housing in developments of a certain size – so why not bring in a minimum number of creative and community spaces in each large-scale development too? 

The Poolbeg West SDZ shows what can be achieved with proper planning. 

I believe it provides a template for development, that not only should we continue to use in Dublin but which other urban-based councils across Ireland could also consider implementing. 

Patrick Costello is Green Party councillor for Rathgar-Rathmines. 

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