New look right up our street in Cork

As we pedestrianise 17 city streets we have a chance to make Cork City a vibrant cultural hub for the people and for visitors, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
New look right up our street in Cork

Work begins on the pedestrianisation of Cork City. We have a chance to make Cork City a vibrant cultural hub.

As optimism slowly returns with some Covid-19 vaccination progress and the slight easing of lockdown restrictions, there is much debate about the development of Cork City.

Many people who have hardly visited the city through the pandemic are now being greeted by new developments and buildings and areas of the city seem to have changed practically overnight. Sadly, there are still derelict buildings and sites everywhere, too, and the contrast between these and the swish, new office blocks is fairly stark.

We are at a crossroads regarding the development and regeneration of our city, and I’d like to think that music, the arts, and culture can be central to some forward thinking that will bring the city we love back to life.

Last week, the news that Cork City Council is to pedestrianise 17 crucial city centre streets has been welcomed, both here and outside of Cork, and many people living in other towns and cities are looking on with envy at this long-overdue, but very enterprising, move. The pandemic and some of last year’s reopening experiments made this happen, but, ultimately, Cork City will benefit greatly, going forward, and the work has already begun.

I’m in the city most days on foot, but even when I drive, the streets that are now being pedestrianised are handy shortcuts rather than essential routes. The structure of the pedestrianisation means that deliveries can still be made in the early mornings. The brave move a few years ago to make cars less of a priority on St Patrick Street is now being replicated on the small streets that are the hub of any potential progress for the city, and, hopefully, this will have a knock-on effect for the pubs and cafes when they reopen.

Our cities can now be reclaimed for the people, rather than be dominated by cars, and, hopefully, we will take full advantage of our beautiful streets, which are full of character and flanked by rivers everywhere.

Many of Cork’s best events are outdoor and the Grand Parade can look amazing when 10,000 people party there for Cork Pride (as we have seen pre-pandemic, but those days will return).

The jazz festival is more atmospheric when there are outdoor vendors and concerts, and that is in late October, so opening our streets (and our minds to the possibility) to more events outside is not just a summer thing.

At the start of 2005, we had a few huge street parties in St Patrick’s Street for the City of Culture, while the turning-on of the Christmas lights is another big, non-summer, outdoor event that is family-friendly and pedestrian-friendly, bringing a huge buzz to the city. More outdoor gigs and events have to be on the agenda as we reopen. Caroline Street is perfect for it, as are many of the other newly pedestrianised streets in the city.

Bishop Lucey park has also got potential, and having run many shows further up, in Fitzgerald’s Park, I’m aware of the possibilities there, too. Cork-based urban designers Frank O’Connor and Jude Sherry have done some amazing work, documenting the derelict buildings in Cork and offering sustainable and often profitable solutions, and much of their thinking mirrors what they saw living abroad and the creative ways that continental cities have tackled their own regeneration.

They suggest measures that are very doable, such as using car parks and rooftops for cultural and music events.

Cork is a compact city, surrounded by hills and a river that make the views striking and unique. It’s a walkable city and it’s also a city that music fans love visiting, so while we await for more news on the events centre (we are forever waiting), we can make things happen in the short term with some innovative thinking and with partnerships between the powers that be and other promoters.

There has been progress with the licensing laws here and the proposed, longer club hours might actually happen. ‘Give us the Night’ have been campaigning for many years on this and there finally seems to be a recognition in officialdom that our archaic licensing laws need to be changed. The music industry is on its knees, the economy is in trouble, but we have a chance to make Cork City a vibrant cultural hub for the people and for visitors.

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