JOE GILL: A 10-point Portland plan to develop Cork

Portland is a symbol of hipster culture... Cork has the ingredients to embrace such thinking, without forgetting to adopt a pragmatic and commercial approach, writes Joe Gill.

A couple of decades ago, I used to wander around America two or three times a year, pedalling Irish equities.

Those trips took me to a variety of locations, but one of the most intriguing was Portland, in Oregon.

Portland is in the news because of a presentation by a US academic, Chistoph Lindner, who was speaking about options for the future of Cork.

He lectures on urban and culture issues in the University of Oregon, so his thoughts are worthwhile.

When visiting Portland in the 1990s, I was struck by its cool urban environment.

It was full of interesting coffee shops and restaurants, coupled with progressive local authorities, who invested heavily in parks, eco-friendly facilities, as well as culture.

That has continued to the present day, so much so that Portland, with its population of about 640,000, is seen as symbol of hipster culture, something that hardly existed as a concept back in 1995.

Mr Lindner believes in fostering culture, creativity, and the arts, as a means of improving the quality and value of any city.

Cork has all the ingredients to embrace such thinking, without forgetting to adopt a pragmatic and commercial approach to its future.

After the shock treatment applied to Cork, and the entire national economy, by the global financial crisis of 2008, we have witnessed a remarkable recovery in economic fortunes.

Growth has resumed, employment has expanded, and investment levels are rising.

A short walk around the city illustrates this best, with a number of building and infrastructure projects getting underway.

There is a a physical resurrection, but it is valid to explore the best ways for the authorities, politicians, and business interests to position Cork for the future.

Making it a hive of ‘progressive’ activity at a variety of levels could enhance the city’s standing for all generations of its citizens.

Defining progressive development is a key question for policymakers.

The city needs to set out a guide for any project it decides to take on in the next decade.

After debate, the city then needs to set out a series of policies to increase the chances that it will achieve its obejectives.

There are 10 objectives Cork should achieve over the next 10 years.

They are not listed in order of importance.

(1) A set of independently, locally owned coffee shops and restaurants, which are regarded by critics as best-in-class among competing cities in Ireland and internationally.

(2) An expansion in city living, defined by many above-ground level residences and apartments in the city centre.

(3) High-quality walkways and bicycle tracks, which weave across the city, linking points north, south, east, and west, using the river and parks as key nodes.

(4) A large urban quarter at the south-east end of the city centre, which complements a commercial office complex.

(5) A group of cultural festivals that replicate the success of the Jazz Festival, in October, and which spread out across the year.

(6) Hyper-fast and low-cost broadband everywhere, which allows individuals and businesses access the world market via mobile devices.

(7) A university that is twice the size of the existing institution, which has achieved global recognition for its work in agri-food, pharmaceutical, and IT studies.

(8) Dramatic changes to Cork Harbour to encourage safe, water-based leisure activities in a truly clean environment.

(9) A reinvigorated theatre community that combines local talent with travelling performances.

(10) A selection of facilities inside, and around, the city, which support high-quality living for the elderly.

All of these goals can be met with imaginative ideas that cajole, incentivise, and encourage the evolution of a city that can stand apart from urban centres of similar size anywhere in the world, including Portland.

All it needs is imagination and leadership.

Joe Gill is director of corporate development at Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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