How did the old song go?
"The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades."
Don’t worry if you can’t remember the melody — I’m going back 30 years for the lyric, which comes courtesy of one-hit wonders Timbuk3.
Reaching back three decades like that is the kind of trick that creeps up on you, something you start doing almost accidentally. As ever, Philip Larkin put it better than most: “I have started to say ‘a quarter of a century’ or thirty years back about my own life.
“It makes me breathless.”
Well described. You go from gauging the duration of events by months, or maybe a year or two, to abruptly starting to scatter decades around like snuff at a wake.
Which was a term in far more common usage three decades ago. Or even more.
I raise the issue here because this is traditionally when timeframes come into sharp focus; it’s the time of year when we start projecting and planning for the near future. A quick clarification — I refer specifically to realistic, actual plans, and not unachievable pipe-dreams related directly to the date: the concept of a new year’s resolution is and remains verboten on this page (now read on).
The plans I refer to are those which stretch into the distance like train tracks making for the horizon, appearing to meet in the middle distance.
An example? I’m glad you asked.
I spent a happy hour or two at the new park down by the Marina over Christmas, the one close to Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
If it looks a little bare still, early days — there’s ample room for getting creative with the landscaping, whether that’s through planting a stand of trees here and there to break up that bareness or getting some bushes to line the walkways. A large-scale playground would be an asset. The central building I’m still a little agnostic about — does it offer shelter or is the roof just too high from the ground to keep the rain off?
Again, though: the place just opened. Give it time. It’s the kind of large-scale facility that will likely be needed soon enough.
Readers will be familiar with the sweeping plans for that general area of the city, whether it’s the specific plan to create a new town, almost, along the quay by R & H Hall and in behind that among the old industrial units, or the general turning of the city to face the riverfront, pushing down further and further towards the Marina. Vaguer, more aspirational plans to locate a hospital in the area and maybe another downriver crossing across to Tivoli reinforce that sense of a city on the turn, outwards towards the sea.
This is a notion with a strong historical context, and Barcelona is usually Exhibit A in any discussion of cities realigning themselves. As part of its transformation at the time of the 1992 Olympics — again, just the three decades ago — the city authorities took the opportunity to transform an old-fashioned, rundown industrial zone near the seafront, Poblenou, into an Olympic village. Subsequently, the area became one of the coolest quarters of the city, gaining a reputation for start-up tech companies and hipster breweries.
There’s a brewery already down the south quay, of course. Who wouldn’t like to see the rest of the area follow its counterpart in Barcelona?
Yours truly was thinking along those lines until a pal helpfully forwarded an interactive climate change graphic — one of those you can download to your own device and insert your own location, seeing the results of sea level rises of two, four, or six feet.
This isn’t your first warning along these lines. You probably read about the cloud on our horizon in these pages last August, when Steven Heaney wrote: “A new joint report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Met Éireann (MÉ) and the Marine Institute (MI) has found that global warming has resulted in Ireland’s climate becoming warmer and wetter, with 15 of the top 20 warmest years on record occurring since 1990 ... With a large proportion of the Irish population living close to the coast, rising sea levels have the potential to completely reshape the country over the coming decades.
“To illustrate just how serious these changes could be, Coastal Climate Central, an independent non-profit group of scientists and communicators who research our changing climate and how it affects people’s lives, have created what they call a ‘Coastal Risk Screening Tool.’”
Applying that tool to our own native heath showed serious inundation, with Steven adding: “Several Cork towns and villages including Youghal, Kinsale, Shanagarry, Ballycotton and Timoleague display major topographical changes. In Cork city too, the projections make anxious viewing.
“By 2050, the River Lee has expanded considerably, leaving most of the city centre, the marina, the docklands and Tivoli coloured red.
“Slightly further afield, the map shows much of Blackrock, Jacob’s Island, Rochestown and Douglas overtaken by rising waters.”
That means in 30 years’ time — 30, once again! — the areas we are considering for development and settlement may well be underwater. Billions of euro spent for what — a remake of Waterworld, and without even the small consolation of seeing Kevin Costner with gills behind his ears?
At this point, I confess to a certain flexibility in my own outlook. When the plans emerged for expansion and development down the quayside to the Marina I thought them a great idea — the ideal marriage of opportunity and convenience, with a new lease of life for a stretch of the city that had seen better, or at least busier, days. Employment. Accommodation. Now?
The development of the docklands area now seems a fitting referendum, or maybe a thought experiment, on the seriousness with which we view climate change. As in we may have an abstract sense of what that means, but here we see a far more concrete example.
What’s the point of creating thousands of homes in a particular area when there’s every chance that that place will be flooded in 30 years’ time?
That’s the question put in its starkest form. You can walk from Patrick Street down past the Marina Market or Pairc Ui Chaoimh in half an hour, and the reality is there in front of you. The possibility that those places — and everywhere in between — will be under a couple of feet of water within your lifetime seems difficult to fathom, no pun intended, but that’s what the science tells us.
In fairness, there are alternatives. Hundreds of houses are planned for areas as far apart as Tower, north of the city, and Knockgriffin on the outskirts of Midleton. Should we be doubling down on these kinds of ‘new towns’ instead of committing to developments facing immersion within a couple of decades?
Let’s look to the north and the east. The future’s so bright you gotta wear wellingtons doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. As I’ve found, three decades isn’t long passing.
What’s the point of creating such homes when there’s a chance a place will soon be flooded?