Opinion: there's something special about places in our cities that have been re-purposed, regenerated or re-imagined from old

Once filled with slaughterhouses and packing plants, the Meatpacking district on the far west side of Manhattan is now a lively space. It's home to vibrant clubs and restaurants, an art museum and accessible outdoor spaces. Place-making strategies designed to create new places have successfully invented and re-imagined areas and parts of urban locations in need of new life. Initiatives designed to breathe new life into retail and commercial districts and docklands are underway across the historic city centres of Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Kilkenny and Dublin.

Cities are melting pots of people and ideas and cities matter to creativity. There's something special about spaces that have been re-purposed, regenerated or re-imagined. It’s the blend of old and new, of two things coming together to create something betwixt and between, an 'other’ place.

Dublin is alive with re-purposing projects, which hold great potential to foster creative work and creative lives. On the site of Boland's Mill in the heart of old Dublin is an ‘other’ space which carries historical significance for its role in the 1916 rising.

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From RTÉ Archives, Brendan O'Brien reports for RTÉ News on the 1980 reunion of 8 veterans from the Boland's Mill garrison in the 1916 Rising 

But one of its buildings, known as The Factory, has provided a performance space for the arts for many years. It's a space where Riverdance, the Bolshoi ballet, U2, David Bowie and Britney Spears have practiced and rehearsed. What you are left with inside the exposed stone walls and high ceilings that have witnessed both the bustle of business and the resolve of rebellion in these moments is simply talent, effort and expression, a glimpse at the best of us.  

I have sat inside those walls as the Riverdance troop line, dressed in sweats rather than costume and dancing forward like an approaching army, stopped just inches from my knees. Their march created a sound so loud that it awakened the building and evoked its past in that present moment. Place matters to creativity.

Google now owns and is re-developing the Boland's Quay site. The plan is to retain a cultural space for the arts alongside office, retail and restaurant spaces. Right across the basin from Boland's Quay, another regeneration project is underway and the Grand Canal Innovation District is forming on site where once Ireland’s first passenger railway the Dublin and Kingstown Railroad once passed. It’s industrial and merchant past is being reimagined with a new Trinity College campus at its core, drawing inspiration from other successful innovation districts in Toronto, Rotterdam and Boston.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business in 2013, Liam Geraghty on how the presence of tech companies has transformed Dublin's Barrow Street's rows of two-storey terraced houses

Dublin is considered one of the most creative cities in the world, alongside Barcelona, Berlin, San Francisco, Singapore, Copenhagen and Bangalore. Rich histories, esteemed universities and an openness to ideas and to others are the bedrock for creative places. 

Mistakes have been made in place-making strategies and learnings must prevail. The twin issues of affordability and social inclusivity have hampered place-making intentions and led to the gentrification of areas. Moving one lot in and one lot out is a failure on every scale, while simply reserving space for cultural purposes misses the point. Co-location of difference is insufficient to foster creativity. Spontaneous and planned interaction between different people at work and play requires more thought, effort and resources.

Creating places are spaces that encourage and support the organic emergence of a melting pot of commercial and artistic activity, work and leisure pursuits. These are spaces that are not seeking to break with the past, but build upon it. They are spaces that support civic participation and value commerce, art, entrepreneurship and education in equal measure. 

Creating spaces by design can attract creators, thinkers, inventors, challengers and everyone else besides

The opportunity in place-making is to create an ‘other’ place that isn’t business as usual or an university or silicon lab. Creating places must be all of these things and more. The potential is for spaces that attract diverse talent, disciplines and skills together, spaces that harnesses the cultural heritage that lies beneath the newly polished floors. They're spaces that search for difference and welcome those with ideas in their minds and the bravery to seek out like-minded people.  

The potential exists for our cities and re-purposed places to create the conditions where creativity can thrive. Creating spaces by design can attract creators, thinkers, inventors, challengers and everyone else besides. Difference matters to creativity.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ