WHAT will Cork city look like in 200 years’ time?
While many plans for Cork have been made in line with the government’s Ireland 2040 programme, others are no more forward-thinking than a political term of office.
But three Northside female artists believe we need to be looking a lot further to the future: 200 years, to be precise. And they believe things may be drastically different to how they are today.
“If water levels rise because of climate change, the higher ground on the Northside might be the most valuable land in the city,” Marilyn Lennon points out.
“In 2019, the city boundaries were re-drawn,” Colette Lewis adds.
“So now when you walk along Nash’s Boreen, you’re in countryside, but you’re within the city bounds. That new land bank, which is all the land out towards Blarney, may be covered in buildings and houses within the next 200 years.”
The trio of Marilyn, Colette and Elinor Rivers, operating under the name 2220 PLoT, are artists who have embarked on a long-term project of many years: they hope to found a Community Land Trust for Cork’s north side.
They are quite literally road-testing their ideas at the moment. If you pay a visit to Holyhill Library, you’ll see three wooden hand-carts on display: these are 2220 PLoT’s mobile education centre. Built by Nico Nieuwstraten in the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, one is designed as a library, one a tea-cart, and one a projection booth for screening films.
“We are quite literally rolling our ideas out into the community, and road-testing them with our summer school,” Colette says.
Having met in 2018 at Douglas Street Festival, the three women, who share a common interest in topics relating to housing and land use - their meeting was “love at first sight,” Elinor says - decided to team up to work on a project that bridges the gap between art and social movement.
“We came across this mechanism called a Community Land Trust, which has an incredible history with the civil rights movement in the United States, “ Marilyn says.
“It’s a way for people to co-own and co-manage land, people who might not have had access to land or the ability to buy land, can have this mechanism to come together and negotiate how you would purchase a piece of land, decide what to do with it and then manage it.”
Community Land Trusts are also common in Scotland, and a growing EU-wide movement sees them as one solution to the problem of city affordability and livability: there are now over 170 such trusts in EU member states.
They may be used to build affordable homes, but their planning will often also involve accessible amenities including community halls, parks and playgrounds.
While commercial developers motivated by profit may not have an incentive to build proper public amenities into their use of private land, and the resulting cityscapes can be alienating and focused on commercial use of space, a community trust is best-placed to plan for the lifetime needs of all its members, the argument goes.
“People buy the land and own it into perpetuity, and the community controls what assets go on that land and how they’re managed,” Marilyn explains.
“It’s about having an integrated, ground-up way of managing it.”
Elinor, who has been involved in numerous community-based projects in Cork since she moved here in 1995, including the Cork Mandala of Community Gardens for Cork Capital of Culture in 2005, says the Northside is an ideal base for Cork’s first Community Land Trust. but first, it’s a matter of networking and pooling information
“Although there’s a feeling of being starved of resources for generations, I’m really optimistic about the Northside,” she says.
“There are so many amazing community activists and workers up there.
“We’d love to see a community of northside residents form a community land trust, but at the moment, it’s in the early stages. The school we’re running is mostly to learn about community land trusts together, because we have a lot to learn too.”
Throughout July, 2220 PLoT have been holding a ‘radical summer school’ consisting of workshops, nature walks and planning sessions with interested residents that they got in touch with by distributing flyers.
“We’re working with eight people, with an express interest in empowerment of communities in the Northside,” Colette says.
“It’s really important to build relationships so we’re at a very important stage now, in an inclusive, collaborative system. What are the resources, knowledge, skills, social relations that are already there as assets? Part of what we plan to do is to work with those assets.”
Originally the trio had planned to hold night classes. But, Marilyn explains, the uncertainties of launching this educational phase amidst the ongoing and ceaselessly changing Covid-19 restrictions led to them designing their hand carts, meaning they can adapt to indoor or outdoor conditions and avoid cancelling their plans.
“It’s our way to bring our presence into the community,” Marilyn says.
“They create an infrastructure for people to gather around, and we can have out-door workshops now: you can make sure you have tools with you, workshop space, a library, or be able to offer people tea and coffee, because there’s a lot of discussion in this because people just want to know what we’re doing and why.”
Although their July summer school is a closed group, this was also in part due to uncertainties around Covid-19 restrictions. 2220 PLoT, who are funded by the Arts Council and Cork City Council Arts Office, hope to open future events to public, and to bring their handcarts to public spaces across the Northside.
It’s a project that certainly bridges a gap between art and social activism, but, Marilyn points out, it’s also a way for the artists to give back to the community that supports them.
“Artists are often involved in gentrification,” she says. “We’ll go in to a city and take over the most run-down part of it and set up studios, and bring with us a really interesting social life. Then people get interested, but that increases the value of land and makes it unstable for the rest of the community: that’s the horror of gentrification.”
“If a community land trust can just take a pocket of land and freeze the value of that land so that people who want to live in that place can do so, that’s the bottom line. The community is secured, generations into the future.”
2220 PLoT’s handcarts are on display in Holyhill Library from Tuesday July 20 to Saturday July 31.
More about 2220 PLoT and the People’s Land Trust project: