‘A city on the rise’: World’s top urban thinkers tour Cork

Some of the world’s top urban thinkers biked and walked around Cork yesterday to see how a “city on the rise” is poised to become the fastest growing region in Ireland — but decision-makers need to realise its value for the benefit of the whole country.

The Academy of Urbanism believes Cork, like cities such as Marseille, has great potential. Picture: Larry Cummins

That was one of the key messages after day one of the annual congress of the Academy of Urbanism, a not-for-profit thinktank which celebrates cities and what makes them better places to live, work, or study in.

Hundreds of delegates are attending the event, which features dozens of expert international speakers, workshops, and site visits.

They will explore how mid-sized cities like Cork can provide a strong economy for growing populations, while at the same time ensuring a quality of life for residents, and retaining its distinct sense of identity.

They believe Cork, like other non-capital cities such as Aarhus, Marseille, and Rotterdam, has massive potential.

The conference also saw publication of The Cork Papers, a collection of 20 essays by leading thinkers and collated by architect Angela Brady, published to mark the arrival of the conference in the city.

Ms Brady said Cork is a unique place at a moment of change and with potential for thousands of new homes in its north and south docks.

“These Cork Papers are intended as a ‘primer’ for the future of Cork City,” she said.

There is a warning that the city must safeguard its history and heritage, particular in light of the OPW’s controversial flood defence plan and ambitions for a soaring skyscraper on the site of the Port of Cork’s bonded warehouses.

The conference, held in collaboration with Cork City Council, comes at a time when Cork is projected to become the fastest growing city in the country over the next 20 years.

The city’s boundary is set to expand and its population is set to almost treble under the National Planning Framework.

Almost €1bn in private development investment is under way or planned within the next two years.

The conference will explore the various opportunities and challenges presented by this growth.

The conference keynote speaker is the controversial US “godfather of gentrification”, Richard Florida, who has been derided by some for support of a development philosophy that forces working classes out of city centre.

Other speakers include Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson Nygaard, who will speak on autonomous travel or self driving cars, arguing that they are a threat to freedom and privacy; and Susana Ruiz, from the Bilbao’s urban planning office, who will explain how it transformed itself from a city beleaguered by industrial decline to one of Europe’s top destinations by developing its industrial waterfront.

The creation of adequate, inclusive, and affordable housing will be discussed, as will how cities can create a network and talent pool of citizens, makers, doers, entrepreneurs, and activists.

The Congress is being held at the Cork School of Music, St Angela’s College, the Crawford Art Gallery, and Nano Nagle Place.

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