The 5k lockdown has demonstrated the enduring appeal of the city as a place where people come together. A city is more than just a collection of buildings. It is also the spaces in-between. It is a public place where people linger, strolling about chatting and people watching. COVID-19 has exposed the inequality that exists in our mobility measures in our cities.

I posed the same question to architects across the country – how can we make our cities work?

Dublin

Dominic Stevens, Director of JFOC Architects 

Let's understand Dublin as a collection of neighbourhoods, not as a central business district surrounded by sprawling dormitory suburbs as was foreseen in the 1970s and 80s. In the great cities of Europe there are people living on every street and people working on every street. Shops at ground level, cafes on corners, daytime and night time activity. In Dublin this high-density lived-in city should stretch from the centre out to the surrounding urban 'villages’ like Rathmines or Stoneybatter.

For Dublin to achieve this living in the upper stories of shopping streets needs to be encouraged and people need to be coaxed back into this expanded middle from suburban shopping centres. The urban villages should be allowed to dramatically densify to create the critical mass of inhabitants while making sure that the streets become a nicer place for people to be.

Let’s make Dublin a city full of people, not a city full of cars.

Cork

Louise Cotter, Director of Carr Cotter & Naessens

Cork is truly a beautiful place, a city of islands, bridges and hills, secret laneways and surprising views of towers and steeples. However, the rising sense of dereliction and vacancy in the central island indicates an underlying problem of land and building management. Despite the demand for homes for average income earners and workplaces for small businesses in the city, which may not be served by the burgeoning commercial developments downstream, nor by the proliferation of student housing right in the city centre, these old buildings are left to decay and collapse.

It is clear that a bold and innovative economic plan is required to regenerate the old city, street by street. Current models of real estate development are not fit for this purpose, as they do not capture the long term cost benefit to society of people living and working in the heart of the city with all of the social connection, diversity and potential that this brings. Perhaps even the return of the grocer and the baker? There is a bright and sustainable future for this historic place-we need to seize this opportunity!

Limerick city

Peter Carroll, Director of A2 Architects

In recent times Limerick city has been rebranded multiple times. Each campaign omits its key asset - the grid lined with Georgian townhouses.

Limerick’s central Georgian core stands out as a resilient model of order and regularity. With singular force, its distinctive grid orientates the city in the wider landscape. Limerick is not just a destination, but it is also a compass: it draws you in and it sets you out. One only needs to stand at the crossroads of O’Connell St. and Mallow St. to marvel at the compass’ reach in four cardinal directions.

Limerick City’s Georgian grid is half a mile long and wide filled with a history of dense and delirious uses compacted into blocks. The streets between, however, are nowhere natural. The ground beneath has been scraped, shifted and rammed until the streets form an artificial well-serviced lattice of arched cellars, culverts and basements raised from the original rock bed. This intelligent deck-like lattice beneath you, trapezoidally tilted in order to drain towards the River Shannon, is a genius stroke. It is Limerick’s continuous, uninterrupted monument.

Belfast

Dougal Sherridan and Deirdre McMenamin, Directors of LiD Architecture

The historical centre has great potential for city living that enjoys all the amenity and qualities of a civic centre which is shared and socially diverse and could evolve from the neutral centre of the city to the active centre of the city. The city centre has vast quantities of space devoted to surface carparks for commuters into the city. Residential development could reclaim these dead spaces, while simultaneously reducing their necessity with a population that both live and work in the centre.

Such residential development should build on the strong community engagement that exists in the city, promoting citizen-led urban regeneration that could a provide medium scale urban infill development with quality private and shared outdoor spaces / gardens and other amenities.

Waterford

Rupert Maddock Senior Architect with Waterford City & County Council

The city centre has a largely retail and service sector-based economy with a declining residential population, which has left it open to shifts in retail and service economy trends internationally. The vision for the historic core is of a liveable city, a space to "live, work and play", a "complete" community where multiple activities take place within the same location. The City and County Council has partnered with WIT to help deliver a fused concept of smart city, high-value enterprise, incubation and creative industries focussed on learning and citizen empowerment.

This is particularly focused on the Cultural Quarter where there is a significant ‘new’ community, organised around a reinterpreted O’Connell Street. The traditional street will be completely re-interrogated as a shared mobility space, a green corridor of pedestrians, cyclists and some vehicular traffic passively controlled by creative artistic interventions. The boundary between building use and the public realm is being challenged in a similar way to that the traditional function of offices which has been disrupted.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

Bob Hannan, Senior Architect with DLRCC

Don’t you know that many cities are actually a collection of historic villages and towns that have merged together as the population of the city expanded. In Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, the county is full of old villages and towns, such as Blackrock, Monkstown, Dún Laoghaire, Glasthule and Dalkey. The question then is how to travel between these villages for short journeys, as we stay local these days. How do we go for a swim if the beach is only a short distance away? How do we get milk from the local shop? Do we take the car, or could we get out into the fresh air on a bicycle and cycle?

The 4.5km long Coastal Mobility Route that links Blackrock Village with the Forty Foot in Sandycove is certainly one way of making cities work. Completed last summer, it's a cycleway that gives cyclists full protection from passing cars. Without the cars the air seems fresher, there is less noise and people can stop, linger, and chat more easily. Along its route, you can hop off at the swimming areas of Seapoint and Sandycove, take an ice cream at Teddys and soon you’ll be able to take a dip at the newly refurbished Dún Laoghaire Baths.

Images: Louise Cotter, RupertImage, Dominic Stevens, Peter Carroll