At today’s Metropolitan Council Meeting I called for Limerick to employ an urban designer (in house) for professional input into all capital projects. The reason for submitting this motion is that there is a gap at a high level in the Council at the moment, and very important decisions regarding the future of our city are being made without the right professional input. Engineers or architects should not be expected, on their own, to make fundamental decisions about our city, whether it be where we build new roads, how we use our streets, where we put bus and cycle lanes, etc. If we are to create “Great Streets”, as the Limerick 2030 plan insists we should, then we need urban design at the heart of this process.
If we want our city to be able to compete for investment and offer quality of life to its residents, we need expertise to deliver Great Streets. When the IDA are bringing companies around the city we want them to see a high quality urban environment, a vibrant place that can attract the best talent. A great street is where people come to meet, to socialise, to play. It makes the best of our fantastic heritage, it encourages people to linger and chat. Great streets combat loneliness: when a street is designed around people it encourages interaction.
We have some great people working in the Council but the focus has been traditionally on roads and the private car. We need new skills, preferably from someone who has worked internationally in fast-growing regional cities that are designed around people. I think many of us agree in this chamber that the time has come to start making some difficult decisions to allow our city to compete and thrive. We need to make sure we have the in-house expertise to make those decisions count.
An urban designer would focus on how our streets would be used. I know there is sometimes a fear that our streets might feel “dead” without cars. That can be a danger if streets are not designed to encourage people to congregate and linger. An urban designer would work with retailers, disability groups and other stakeholders to maximise the accessibility of a street and make it an environment where retail of all types could thrive.
An urban designer would perfectly complement an active travel officer, they would work together to promote safe walking and cycling environments as well as an urban landscape designed to attract people.