In the 1996 budget, Ruairi Quinn set aside money to commission the Riverrun Consortium, with Murray Ó Laoire Architects as lead consultants, to prepare a Draft Master Plan for the Dublin Docklands. The objective of the 15-year plan was to produce a social democratic model, incorporating integrated, sustainable development that would ‘breathe new life’ into the area. In what transpired to be a revolutionary approach, the Docklands Authority invited representatives from every part of the Docklands community to contribute to the future planning of the area. This multi-dimensional think-tank formed the basis of the Docklands
Council and comprised 25 people drawn from the unions, local business, political representatives, semi-state bodies and the local community.
Even while the Master Plan was being drafted, land prices across Dublin were soaring. Appointed Chairman of the Docklands Authority in June 1997, Lar Bradshaw believed all haste was required if the Docklands Authority was to stand any chance of success. Bradshaw urged that all debates in the Docklands Council be raised and concluded as quickly as possible. The Master Plan was duly completed in a remarkable six months and made public in November 1997. It recommended a series of specific economic, physical and social regeneration strategies, in tandem with eight detailed local area action plans. The Master Plan’s most important conclusion was that economic regeneration would not be feasible unless the local community were in support. Thus, the social and economic agenda became a key priority of the Docklands Authority. The physical regeneration was the second main concern and the continued development of the IFSC was the third.
The 17,500 people who lived in the Docklands in 1997 included a large number of people who had been effectively abandoned by the State since the 1950s. Employment was minimal, education standards were disastrous, self-confidence was shot to pieces and the incidence of crime and drugs was amongst the highest in Ireland. History had shown that new mega-developments in inner cities often just magnified the gulf between the original community and newcomers.
The Docklands Authority was hard-wired for genuine and complete interaction with the local community by the very Act that created it, which stressed that its first duty was to secure the Social and Economic Regeneration of the area. Nonetheless, one of the Docklands Authority’s greatest challenges was to convince the community that it was not a gang of smart-dressed shysters trying to steal their homes and pile glass buildings everywhere. ‘We walked into the first Council meeting and saw a lot of suits sitting around the table’, recalls Charlie Murphy. ‘We weren’t too used to suits listening to what the local community has to say. I said it to the representative at the time. ‘I don’t think this is going to work’. ‘We didn’t really know where to start’, says Lar Bradshaw. ‘But we didn’t want to impose our own false wisdoms so we had to empower those who did know what to do from within the community’. As such, the local community became an intrinsic part of the whole Docklands planning policy, from its architecture and design to its governance and ongoing evolution. The Docklands Authority also promised solid investment in local education, housing, leisure, health, childcare, drug treatment and rehab clinics. In time, the community came to accept the Docklands Authority at its word. ‘The trust is such that it’s no longer a ‘them and us’ attitude’, says Betty Ashe of the St Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street. ‘There’s just us.’
Twelve years and over five billion Euros worth of investment later, the Dublin Docklands presents a classic case-study for cities across the world to see how an otherwise stagnant rough and tumble inner city landscape can be converted into an intelligent, prosperous and stimulating new quarter. Hand-in-hand with this regeneration has been a remarkable transformation of the educational, housing and social opportunities for the 17,500 inner city residents. This shift permeates everything from the Docklands Authority’s education and housing policies to their commendable emphasis on sustainability and public space. Writing in 2005, Ruairi Quinn, one of the pioneers of the entire project, said the Docklands Authority’s success had exceeded all his hopes, describing it as ‘the epitome of the application of social democratic values at work’.
As confidence is restored in the global economy, many cities across the world will turn to the Dublin Docklands to consider what has happened there. The achievement of all those involved in this resurrection is immense. That follows for the resilient communities who have lived here for generations, for the yellow-hatted builders who physically constructed these new horizons, for the pencil-twirling architects and designers who burnt midnight oil to get their scaled models and master plans as right as possible, for the knuckle- crunching money-lenders who took a chance and invested in the project, for the determined developers who became fired up and kept the wheels turning, for the few politicians who saw the opportunity to breathe new life into the city centre and took it, and for the old and the wise who added their thoughts to the process.