LOCAL government is charged with promoting the wellbeing and quality of the life of citizens and communities through the efficient performance of functions and delivery of good value services like housing, planning, infrastructure development, climate action, economic development, arts and community supports.
At Cork City Council, our vision is to lead Cork to take its place as a world class city by driving local and regional growth, embracing diversity and inclusiveness, and growing as a resilient, healthy and sustainable compact city with quality of life at its heart.
When Cork City Council undertook the biggest boundary extension in the history of the State in May, 2019, both the Elected Members and officials at City Hall recognised the city’s newest residents must be assured that they would retain and develop their unique community identities in a urban local authority setting. In tandem with the growth of our city’s population to 210,000 people, our internal corporate structure in the City Council was restructured and we established a new directorate with specific responsibility for Community, Culture and Placemaking.
To further meet these needs, Our Corporate Plan 2020-2024, the first published since the boundary extension, envisions the Cork of the future as a city of communities; a city of neighbourhoods. This means that creating and nurturing sustainable communities is built into everything that we do. A key direction of our draft City Development Plan centred around supporting housing, economic development, public realm renewal, transport, amenity spaces and community services in existing built-up areas using the internationally-acclaimed 15 minute city concept.
Neighbourhood identity is a strong emotional pull for Cork people and for that reason, we enshrine placemaking in all our public realm improvements eg the development of the plaza at Blackrock Village delivered a strong community dividend.
We strive to support residents and traders to bolster community identity in the city centre quarters, including Douglas Street and the Victorian Quarter (around MacCurtain Street). while works have commenced on two new phases of the multimillion-euro Cork City Northwest Quarter Regeneration in Knocknaheeny. This project has seen the demolition of 450 houses and the design and construction of 650 new homes in the same community, a very strong community.
The vision of the CNWQR strategy is to “create better homes, enhance social and economic opportunities, improve transport links, and create better and safer streets, squares, and parks”.
We are just as committed to enhancing communities in Ballincollig, Glanmire, Tower, Blarney, Douglas and Rochestown. A lot of the newer neighbourhoods in the new city have strong community spirit that is showcased through community activity like Tidy Towns. We strongly encourage these groups and will work to strengthen them further.
It’s not surprising, given that community and placemaking functions of local authorities are a relatively new concept, that many outside of City Hall don’t realise the work our staff do in this area – to many people, local authorities are just about “potholes and parking fines”, but they are so much more.
Our community section drives and supports Age Friendly projects, Cork Lifelong Learning, Cork Healthy Cities, social inclusion and Cork’s LGBTI+ inclusion policies.
The onset of Covid and subsequent establishment of the Community Response Forums in local authorities across Ireland increased the visibility of collaboration between councils, our interagency partners, community groups and other non-governmental organisations – collaboration that had always existed but now was making news.
Within two hours of a Ministerial order, Cork City Council set up its Covid-19 Community Response Forum (CRF) which proved a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable in the community and best practice in interagency collaboration. We worked with homeless services, Meals on Wheels, the HSE, the Education Training Board, community gardaí, the GAA and groups like Friendly Call and local residents’ associations to support cocooners and any vulnerable person who needed help during lockdown. It has been a privilege for me to chair the Community Response Forum since 2020. If its compassion and “can-do” attitude are a barometer of community resilience, we are in good stead.
The lifting of Covid restrictions has not abated the work of the Community Response Forum. Its focus has recently been redirected to supporting displaced Ukranians relocating to Cork City. It ensures there is a co-ordinated, strategic response to refugees’ health, educational, social needs etc.
Fortnightly meetings of all members take place to ensure information can flow and to raise awareness of needs amongst the refugees. The CRF has enabled the various members to be fully aware of what the various bodies and agencies are doing to support displaced Ukranians and to address various issues and challenges as they arise.
In short, community development is at the heart of everything we do in the local government sector. And for the past 130 years, The Echo has been there alongside us, informing Cork communities about what’s happening, what’s not happening and what should be happening.
It has been driving political debate, supporting communities, business and local sports and voluntary organisations. It was ‘hyper local’ long before ‘hyper local’ became a concept.
Last month, Cork City Council again joined forces with The Echo to formally honour our city’s community groups at the 18th Lord Mayor’s Community & Voluntary Awards in City Hall. It was wonderful, after two years of virtual awards, to be physically present with the award nominees, to meet all the nominees and learn about their journeys.
Held in the impressive surrounds of the Concert Hall, it is right and proper that the City each year honours these community and voluntary groups with a full civic ceremony. The City Council is a conduit for their ideas and innovation. The Echo is their champion, and long may this continue.