LAST week, delegates from all over the world arrived in Cork for the Academy of Urbanism’s annual ‘Cities on the Rise’ congress.
This gathering of international experts to discuss urban development came at a time where a lot of conversations are happening on how Cork is changing, and how we should plan for this growth to ensure the attractiveness and liveability of our city is enhanced as part of the process.
I recently engaged in a very passionate Twitter thread about how Cork’s core could be improved to become more attractive.
Some commentators singled out the need for making the city centre more appealing to families through the provision of more child- friendly facilities.
Others flagged a need for better quality public spaces and green areas.
Others yet again expressed a preference for covered areas on, for example Opera Lane, to encourage more people to visit the city centre on rainy days.
One thing all commentators agreed on was to have more pedestrian-friendly streets safe for both children and adults.
Inspired by this conversation and our ongoing work to drive a thriving city centre, our last survey on the economy of Cork included a question about what factors our members consider most important for making cities more attractive locations for family living.
The results of the survey were interesting. In addition to ‘necessities’ such as the provision of schools, a diverse housing mix and local amenities, our members identified lower traffic volumes as among the five most important measures needed to improve the attractiveness of the city centre.
A further 45% of respondents listed a desire for quality public parks as among their top five priorities.
This strong expression of support for transforming Cork came at an interesting time. Research by Cork City Council has found that two thirds of all city centre traffic represent passing traffic, i.e. vehicles whose end-destination is outside the city centre.
To that end, it has commenced the implementation of a new City Centre Movement Strategy to encourage more reliable bus movements and improve the city experience of cyclists and pedestrians.
While this strategy can go some way to improve uptake of public transport to get to and from Cork city, it will take a much more dedicated effort from Central Government to make Cork a more liveable place, with much less car dependency, and better public transport.
Some fear that removing cars from city centres will have a negative impact on consumer spend.
However, research by the National Transport Authority has found that public transport users spend more than twice as much as car users in Dublin.
The same research found that cities rely on public transport users and pedestrians to deliver the strongest cash injection to a city’s economy as a whole.
So why not put public transport users and pedestrians at the centre of infrastructure investment in Cork?
A light rail network opened in Denmark’s second city Aarhus just before Christmas. Aarhus has 320,000 people. Metropolitan Cork has 305,000 people.
The new network links Aarhus city centre with the university and the hospital, and further extensions to the network in its suburban areas are already in planning.
The success of light rail in other second cities such as Aarhus, Bilbao and Manchester underline that ambitious public transport visions should not be reserved for capital cities alone.
And indeed, recent figures from Dublin show that people will avail of public transport once options are available.
More than half of all commuters travelling into Dublin city now do so using public transport, while only 30% of trips are made by car, which is a record low.
All data to hand show a growing appetite for living and working in city centres.
Let’s make it easier for families to do so by making people the focal point of our own city’s core.
Sarah Thatt-Foley is a Public Affairs Executive at Cork Chamber, based at Fitzgerald House, Summerhill North, Cork.