Population growth is likely to continue in the greater Dublin region or along the east coast, the Urban Forum said.
And the gateway cities and towns need to re-brand and build on their distinctiveness to counterbalance this growth.
The forum said high risks are associated with the current national spatial strategy because it is based solely on the notion of achieving balanced regional development.
“However, the existing trends show that the concentration of two-thirds of the population of the island on the east coast is more likely, yet there is no evidence of any alternative plans to prepare and provide for this future,” according to research commissioned by the group.
The forum is made up of Engineers Ireland; the Irish Landscape Institute; the Irish Planning Institute; Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland; and the Society of Chartered Surveyors.
It launched a research paper, Twice the Size? Imagineering the Future of Irish Gateways, — prepared by the Futures Academy at the Dublin Institute of Technology — in Cork yesterday.
The forum said it believes the gateway cities should develop their own “distinctiveness” and set out the following proposals:
* Cork could brand itself a “City of Water” with the River Lee, the harbour and the docklands. Drawing on its rich sporting and cultural traditions, Cork has the potential to develop itself as the capital of Irish culture;
* Limerick has the potential to build as a “Campus City” with the Shannon as a base on the quality of life, sports and leisure;
* Waterford could be branded as a “Water Garden City” with the high quality of natural environment, which surrounds the vibrant city centre;
* Galway could be branded as a “City of Talent and Creativity”, drawing on its talented young people in universities and artists.
Forum chairman Henk van der Kamp said the research was commissioned to stimulate public and political debate on the built environment.
“We have underestimated growth in Ireland for too long and the quality of the built environment has suffered,” he said.
“We need the Government to act now to ensure the highest quality, which may also mean high buildings and high density.”
The paper emphasises the economic case for concentrating population growth in the eastern corridor while advocating the other gateways should develop based on distinctiveness.