The optimism stirred by rejuvenation is a powerful force, especially if expressed succinctly. Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can” remains one of this century’s most effective calls to arms. It helped build momentum that made him a two-term US president and was, for a while at least, inspirational far beyond America’s shores.
A ruling yesterday by An Bord Pleanála provided grounds for another, more localised, kind of optimism. The decision to approve 266 homes on an iconic , State-owned site overlooking the western edge of Cork City is a very significant one. The Land Development Agency will build 46 houses and 220 apartments on the enviable, 14-acre, St Kevin’s hospital site overlooking the Lee. A moment when our shameful housing crisis continues because of a bewildering political commitment to failed principles, and at a moment when the shape and role of cities is questioned as never before, this seems an exemplary commitment with the potential to do much more than just provide badly-needed housing.
A proposal to build just 266 units on 14 acres would not come from a commercial entity — even a low-wattage developer would propose a far higher density. So, even in the context of the site’s peculiarities, yesterday’s endorsement carries obligations beyond housing. One may not be immediately obvious but is increasingly important: The development must renew high standards for public projects.
This is especially important as the public’s relationship with various state agencies — especially the public’s faith in those agencies’ environmental stewardship and capacity to deliver satisfactory outcomes — is increasingly strained.
The Office of Public Works scheme in Bandon is an example. Despite years of work, parts of the town flooded twice in February. It is immaterial whether the cause was an overloaded drainage system or the river, more than enough has been invested to expect a better outcome.
February’s flood in Fermoy, when a pump failed, deepen those concerns. The OPW and Cork County Council were asked to explain how or why this happened. It must be acknowledged that other elements of Fermoy’s flood defences, Mallow’s too, worked as promised. However, those niggling issues cannot but colour how the OPW’s lead role in proposals for flood defence in Cork City centre is anticipated.
Cork City Council, albeit on a different plane, has in recent weeks been criticised for what appeared to be a cavalier attitude to tree felling. Trees, some of which were dead, at Leemount Cross were removed. So too were trees in Rochestown. As it is intended to replant both of these sites this seems more a failure of communications than stewardship.
Some of these bodies can be autocratic, a legacy from a time deference was expected. It would benefit everyone — various agencies, local authorities, communities, and citizens — if conscious efforts were made to resolve this top-down information sharing. Unless that happens, the gap between these agencies and the public they serve will remain an issue. Those opposed to that kind of cultural change should remember Obama’s three small, all-powerful words.