Through the various conversations we held on Twitter (@what_if_Dublin) over the past years, we have learned that Dublin has an accessibility problem. Access to parks, access to housing, access to vacant buildings are frequently and hotly debated in public. The accessibility of the city as such however, is often overlooked, even though it is key to leading an independent and social life for so many of us. In fact, according to the Central Statistics Office around 15% of Dublin City’s population has a disability, of whom 36% are aged 65 years and over (April 2011). It’s about time to take a closer look at the challenges people face navigating through our city and to challenge the status quo.
The inner city of Dublin with its kerbs, cobblestone and narrow footpaths isn’t particularly accessible. Anyone who has tried to push a pram through the crowds around Dame Street will agree. But things could be different. In 2013 Midleton, County Cork has been named a “model town” for accessibility in Ireland. Through an EU-wide pilot project, the town has improved pedestrian, cyclist and public transport services and facilities so residents could adopt a less car-dependent lifestyle. The lesson learned from the project is that accessibility improvements benefit all. What if Dublin too was inclusive to people of all abilities? What if it was simple to get from A to B, what if trips were easy to plan? What if existing entries to buildings, driveways and kerbs were ramped, what if footpaths were widened, more seats, accessible parking and public toilets provided? What if information on accessibility was provided, accurately and transparently? What if the design of the city enabled an independent lifestyle for all?
There are already some initiatives aiming at making Dublin more accessible by information. LeglessInDublin, for instance, is a blog run by Louise Bruton reviewing restaurants and other venues in terms of accessibility and mobility. Cllr. Mannix Flynn provides an online map for wheelchair accessible toilets and parking bays in Dublin’s Temple Bar area via the Council’s Access Unit Website, and #HackAccessDublin, a hackathon taking place in the Docklands at the end of the month, is seeking new, interdisciplinary and smart solutions for urban mobility issues.
In the physical world British Technical Guidance Document Part M regulates the accessibility of new buildings and public spaces. Many old parts of the city however aren’t compliant. Surely Temple Bar wouldn’t be the same without cobblestone or Georgian houses without their entry stairs. When upgrading existing infrastructure, we have to balance heritage, the building culture and aesthetics of a city and the need to provide access for all. Stunning (urban) design and clever physical and digital solutions could help to solve this dilemma.
What is your vision for Dublin city? Share it on Twitter via @what_if_Dublin and #whatifdublin or become our guest author for the next issue of Totally Dublin. Get in touch with us via email@example.com
Words & Images: What If Dublin Team