Where I sported and played ’neath each green leafy shade

A Cork resident wrote to me about Cork city planners apparent shortsightedness in asphalting over the city’s green spaces, writes Damien Enright

Fitzgerald Park in Cork City. Picture: John Delaney

I see that the mayor of London has announced plans to turn more than half the capital green by 2050, creating the world’s first “national park city”.

After reading my column of July 31, praising London’s Hampstead Heath for wild nature and user-friendly values, a Cork resident wrote to me about Cork city planners apparent shortsightedness in asphalting over the city’s green spaces.

He wrote that “... nearly every patch of green in the Blackrock area is being swallowed up in housing of various types of vulgarity. The C.C.C has no vision whatsoever. The last big green patch that could have been turned into a public park now houses the awful Mahon Shopping Centre.”

My correspondent, George Harding, is a native Corkonian, an observer of the city over six decades. A well-known poet, he is a voice of the city. In his letter, he expressed his admiration for the efforts London boroughs make in providing interfaces with nature for their citizens and the recognition of the value of these amenities in maintaining physical and spiritual contact between city dwellers and the natural world.

In Cork, he sees the ground literally taken from under his feet by the city planners. The Stolen City is the title of his best known poem. I can appreciate his outrage. If lifelong residence in a place makes you feel you belong to it, it must also make you feel that it belongs to you.

I have never had a city to steal, being fated from childhood to move through a procession of small country towns as dictated by my father’s job. It must be quite different if one ‘belongs’ to a given place and good sense, not mere sentimentality, informs one that its most valuable assets are being buried and put beyond use. Green space cannot be regrown. This is Mr Harding’s point of view.

He quotes a notable French author, Georges Duhamel: “The great beauty of a city is not in its edifices, it is in the free space between the edifices.”

Vancouver, considered one of the finest cities of the world is full of space. Everywhere in the city, nature is alongside one. Even in the downtown streets of soaring skyscrapers, green space and water is visible in the gaps. It might be said that Vancouver is on the sea and is built around a waterway, a creek, at its centre. But Cork is also on the sea, and has a seaway at its entrance and a river at its core.

Poets, more than the rest of us, are observers of light, space, colour, ambience. Thomas Hardy, in his self-composed elegy, Afterwards, lists the creatures and sights of nature he has encountered in his life and says he will be remembered as, simply, “. . . a man who used to notice such things”.

Mr Harding notices such things. He sent me a copy of his letter published in The Examiner in 2015 in which he noted that the lord mayor at that time, Councillor Mary Sheilds, “stated recently ‘there are no green fields left in the city’” Presumably, she lamented the fact. He went on to provide the data of London’s admirable and enviable record, vis-a-vis green spaces. In London 47% of the city is green space.

In Cork, it seems that only 16.27% is green. I assess this from information on the excellent and informative website www.corkcity.ie/services/recreationsport/parks/

It tells me: “Within Cork city boundaries [137 sq km] there are approximately 1,500 acres (607 ha) of public open space, including major parks such as Fitzgerald Park, Bishop Lucey Park and the Lough, the Municipal Golf Course and other recreational facilities.”

Mr Harding, while outraged by the losses of the past, is more concerned about future losses. He believes that it is the insensitivity of the council to the ambient richness of open spaces that leads to their curtailment.

He quotes an incident to support this contention. “Some years ago, I saw our then city manager walking his dog on the Marina, plugged in to his headphones and oblivious to the music of the river and the birds.”

Such lack of engagement, he contends, is the nexus of the problem. If public servants, charged with providing citizens with a nurturing ambience, do not themselves appreciate the mental and spiritual health bestowed by contact with nature, it is not surprising that they allow the very land beneath their feet to be subsumed by concrete.

The city council’s mission statement on the website is “To promote, develop and protect the City of Cork and its natural environment for present and future generations”

Let us hope they fulfil it and prove Mr Harding’s well-grounded concerns misplaced.


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