All I want for Christmas for Cork is: trams, houses, tidal barriers

What gifts would make Corkonians very happy this Christmas? Kathriona Devereux reflects
All I want for Christmas for Cork is: trams, houses, tidal barriers

Kathriona Devereux is envious of the great transport systems in other cities such as London, and wants Cork to follow suit.

I DON’T know if Santa can fit these larger items in his sack on Saturday night, but I’m dreaming of gifts that would make Corkonians very happy, not just on Christmas morning but all the way through 2023 and for the coming decades.

1) Trains, trams and buses

No doubt Santa will be delivering a lot of train sets to the boys and girls of Cork on Christmas Eve.

There is great childhood satisfaction in laying the tracks, lining up the carriages, and watching your newly built functioning network kick into action.

I think that sense of satisfaction continues into adulthood, and not just for train enthusiasts - being part of a well-oiled machine that enables you to go to the places you want is a good feeling.

My first thrill of a major public transport system was at the age of seven. I was on a trip to London with my mum and aunt. My mum had won a competition for being one of the fastest typists in the country and the trip was the big prize.

This was the height of excitement, but it was still the 1980s so it involved getting a Slattery’s bus from Patrick’s Quay to the Rosslare ferry and another bus from Fishguard to London, where we disembarked exhausted but excited. (Incidentally, this slow travel option is something a Cork coach company should resurrect for the climate-anxious travellers among us!)

Navigating the metropolis of London town was initially tricky. My mum and aunt pondered over the Underground map, wondering how we might get to Madame Tussauds. To my delight, it was I who cracked the train line colour codes and worked out that if we took the red line to Oxford Circus and got onto the brown line, then we’d make it to Baker Street station.

Travelling on public transport systems around the world is always the best way of taking the pulse of a city. Using the subway when visiting relatives in New York City was exhilarating - one of the world’s best cities was completely accessible for the price of a train ticket.

In major cities, the buses or trains are packed with all of humanity getting on with life, for a while you can pretend to be a local and glide seamlessly from one mode of transport to another to get to your destination. Or wallow in the chaos and congestion of an inefficient, not quite fit for purpose, public transport system.

The living room rail networks that will pop up around the county this Christmas will not have applied for planning and are easy to roll out. Sadly, even Santa is unable to deliver large scale infrastructure projects overnight, but if we want to think of Cork as a major European city, we have to get ourselves a proper public rail, tram and bus network.

Maybe by Christmas, 2027?

2) Houses

Santa will also be bringing lots of toy houses to children this year. Arranging the furniture just so and running the doll inhabitants through the daily rituals of a household is core childhood play.

My yellow-roofed Fisher Price doll house is still in action with a functioning doorbell, and playing with my kids, I get a huge sense of nostalgia, but also sadness that for many children in Ireland a real home to call their own is a dream yet to be realised.

At any time of the year, but particularly during the cold and supposedly festive period of Christmas, it is very difficult to see people huddling under duvets and cardboard in doorways in the city.

When my kids ask why these people don’t have a home, it is impossible to explain how, in a prosperous country like Ireland,we have so utterly failed to provide a home for everyone.

There’s no valid excuse that stands up to the truth seeking and straightforward scrutiny of a seven-year-old.

Unfortunately, the magic of Christmas does not stretch to conjuring apartments and houses out of mid air for the approximate 750 people who were depending on emergency accommodation in Cork and Kerry earlier this winter.

That miracle could only be achieved by sustained political will and action, a resource seemingly in short supply throughout the year.

3) Tidal barrier

I don’t know if you read any of these columns during the year, but I spent a lot of time banging on about the climate emergency.

The consequence of our gas boilers going like the clappers at the moment is that we are warming the planet and melting the ice caps.

According to NASA, Antarctica is melting at an average rate of about 150 billion tons per year, and Greenland is losing about 280 billion tons per year.

All those billions of tons add to sea level rise.

If you live in Lima, Peru, with an elevation well over 150 metres above sea level, you’ll be less worried about the effects of climate change on coastal flooding and more worried about where your drinking water is going to come from.

But for cities like Cork, which during some high tides feels a ruler’s length away from the sea, the time to start planning for higher sea level rise is now.

Coastal communities around the world will face tough decisions when extreme flood events become more common. Many places are already talking about managed retreats.

A tidal barrier to protect low-lying areas of Cork might be the best present the city could ever get. A gift not just for Christmas but for the rest of the century.

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