Comment: Cork must be seen as being back in business, safe and welcoming

A post-Covid reimagining means plans have to be in place that will ‘open’ the city, writes Cork City Council chief executive Ann Doherty
Comment: Cork must be seen as being back in business, safe and welcoming
Dining al fresco at the Coal Quay, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

The speed with which old certainties have been swept aside remains one of the most enduring shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Seemingly overnight, fundamental changes to our lives occurred and continue to emerge across the whole spectrum of public health, public services, social interaction and economic activity.

It is a difficult time for everyone, most especially for those whose health has been directly affected by the virus and the many families who have lost loved ones.

It is difficult to accept that a new “normality”, far different than all our previous experiences, has been forced upon us. 

How we interact with others, how we work, where we travel – all now have to be carefully calibrated with reference to the virus.

People eating out on Carey’s Lane, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
People eating out on Carey’s Lane, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Covid-19 has also presented a unique period of self-reflection and many of us glimpsed a different way of life during these months. 

This global pandemic has emerged as an opportunity to reimagine our lives, our priorities, our workplaces, our supply chains, our communities, our cities to ensure time, space, health, wellbeing, inclusivity and human connection remain at their heart.

How we manage radical changes to our lives will determine the extent to which we can restore a level of normality and the scale and speed of economic recovery at a time when local, international and global business has been dramatically impacted.

City centre businesses, particularly those in retail and hospitality, have been really badly hit in recent months. 

Their survival depends on many factors but key amongst those is the level of support they will receive from the public. Cork city must be seen as being back in business, safe and welcoming.

This can only happen if arrangements are put in place that will “open” the city, encourage footfall, protect public health and facilitate responsible behaviour, as far as possible.

This requires a "Reimagining of Cork City” - radical changes to the configuration of city streets, traffic, modes of transport and other elements. 

Outdoor dining in certain sections of the city has been a welcome sight. Picture: Dan Linehan
Outdoor dining in certain sections of the city has been a welcome sight. Picture: Dan Linehan

As part of that objective, Cork City Council has announced details of a transformative series of initiatives that will change the experience of all those who visit the city centre. 

At the core of this programme is the creation of 14 new ‘people friendly’ pedestrianised streets in the heart of the city and a multi-million euro enhancement of pedestrian and cycling options and improvements to city amenity.

An immediate sense of the reimagined city can be seen in the expanded city centre pedestrianisation achieved by Cork City Council in partnership with local businesses. 

The changes mean that up to 1,000 residents and visitors to the city can eat and drink alfresco - thereby supporting social distancing and local business.

The positive response already to this more pleasant, relaxed, safer and greener city centre is heartening and suggests the public at large is open to change.

The details announced today meet short term imperatives but there is a much more ambitious mission to be undertaken. 

If we are to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, we need a shift in perspectives, a genuine and longer-term “reimagining” of Cork and very high levels of partnership and collaboration.

Cork City Council has taken the first step towards a more comprehensive re-drawing of the city as we know it with intensified focus on public transport, pedestrianisation, reduction in through–traffic and the development of walking and cycling as viable travel modes. But this isn’t about aspiration.

A cyclist on Washington Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
A cyclist on Washington Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

The public wants an attractive and sustainable city. 

With the co-operation of stakeholders and the general public, I believe we can deal with current public health realities and in the longer term develop a more sustainable, safer, healthier and more attractive city.

That is in everyone’s interest. Cork city is in a better position to recover economically than most other areas. 

As never before, the city must robustly leverage its knowledge and infrastructural strengths to accelerate recovery and put Cork on an ambitious recovery and growth curve. 

There is much to be confident about. 

For good reason, Cork was last month judged by the Financial Times as being the fifth-best city in Europe for economic potential in its European Cities and Regions of Future league.

Cork is now a city of scale with a projected population of approximately 340,000 by 2040. Higher population helps to justify public and private sector investment, particularly in areas of health, transport, education and housing.

The city and wider metropolitan area have key assets in its third level sector, its digital and pharma presence and its docklands. 

Unlike many other locations, it has key infrastructural strategic plans in place and projects ready to start. 

For example, the Cork Metropolitan Area Transportation Scheme proposes a €3.5 billion transformation of life in the city and in the Cork Metropolitan area through the provision of world-class public transport services.

A cyclist makes us of the cycle lane on Washington Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
A cyclist makes us of the cycle lane on Washington Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

The Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme (LLFRS) is the culmination of over 10 years of consideration and study of the River Lee Catchment and the complex nature of flooding impacting Cork City. 

It proposes a necessary, workable and integrated approach to a problem that simply must be tackled.

At a time of scarce and competing demands for capital funding, it is imperative that these and other major capital projects are implemented. 

Put simply, further delays will spell disaster for businesses which now face unprecedented difficulties. 

If the city is to recover socially and economically in the face of enormous challenges, the default position of those who oppose major projects which have properly gone through public information and consultation processes can no longer remain “no”.

The Reimagining Cork City programme is the acceleration of Cork City Council’s objective to grow a prosperous city without sacrificing environmental, economic and social sustainability. 

City Council has now commenced a consultation process for the preparation of the City Development Plan which allows everyone an opportunity to “reimagine the city”. 

Picture Dan Linehan
Picture Dan Linehan

We all have “skin in the game” and can help shape a new policy framework that can invigorate local communities and businesses, originate creative, life-enhancing strategies, support and reinforce our artistic, cultural and sporting communities and be a key positive influence on FDI and indigenous investment decisions.

We have prepared an issues paper ‘Our City – Our Future’ to stimulate debate on strategic issues and this can be accessed at www.corkcitydevelopmentplan.ie..

Submissions on the proposed development plan can be made at consult.corkcity.ie/ 

With co-operation, partnership and solidarity, we can continue to reimagine Cork in the face of this deadly virus and emerge a stronger, more sustainable and resilient city with a clear and new sense of purpose.

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