The Cork architect Kevin Smyth has proposed a radical tree-planting programme for the main streets of his city. This idea may seem strange in a column dedicated to economics and business, but these issues are increasingly intertwined.
Like it or not, the environment is moving centre stage in the way we live and work. That trend will intensify and expand over the coming years as the political system catches up with what scientists already know and citizens are taking more seriously.
For Cork to take the next stage in its economic recovery, it needs to step up to a level other cities of its size around the world have not yet achieved. By embracing sustainability as its core principle in future planning, that quest can be achieved.
In practice, this means aiming for standards that stick out when employers are choosing their next wave of investments and citizens are prioritising where they want to live and socialise. An added dimension to this debate is the role of tourism, an industry disproportionately important for the Irish and Munster economies.
It is through this lens that Mr Doyle’s proposals should be considered. He wants to introduce a programme that would plant mature trees that green the centre of Cork. Trees are a global asset that are often derided or abused. Their value as the world’s lungs are slowly being appreciated while their impact on quality of life is immeasurable.
Just look at the condition of trees on Cork’s South Mall to see how badly the circumstances are at present. The most iconic business street in the city has poorly tended trees and not enough of them. Any cost-benefit analysis would conclude an investment to tree-line St Patrick St, Grand Parade, and the South Mall would enhance the value of the city at a number of levels.
Firstly, it will improve the ambience in the city and help encourage the return of residential living which has to be a long-term objective as the retailing model changes in the face of online shopping. Secondly, it will add to the air quality which is already of a high standard given the city’s position at the west end of one of Europe’s finest harbours.
Thirdly, it would send a highly visible signal of Cork’s intent to be at the front end of the sustainability agenda. Combined with initiatives to drive cycling, electric vehicles, recycling, and alternative energy, an extensive tree programme would advance the city’s appeal.
Too often in this climate change era there is a tendency to shout at problems a long way away. The Amazon and the Arctic Circle are causes of distress and criticism among many environmental campaigners.
They are right to flag those problems, but ground-up initiatives are also critical as democracies mobilise to confront the threats to our environment. It is in this context that Mr Doyle’s idea should be advanced by hustling and cajoling councillors and TDs to not just acknowledge his proposal, but to actively do something about it.
Politicians in the right frame of mind could have this in place during 2020. Mobile investors globally are increasingly seeking locations that have genuine credentials attached to sustainable work and living.
Some of these are enormous conglomerates, backed by institutional investors who are adopting ever more stringent environmental terms when deploying capital for investment purposes. They want to see housing that uses alternative energy, offices and factories that are sustainable, and urban recycling projects that protect the environment.
The icing on the cake is an urban environment that improves citizens’ lives while meeting these environmental criteria. Cork can partake in that flow of investment if it puts roots down now that enrich the city for decades to come. Mr Smyth’s trees should be in that plan.