What’s the story buddleia? 1/3

This is the first of three posts arising from my contribution to the Provisional University session last Thursday. Thanks to all who contributed.

The slides are available as a PDF here

In early January 2013, following initial work by Stephen Rigney and me, a Google map
of derelict sites was made public. We asked people, through social media, to place points on the map where they knew there to be dereliction. Ten people have mapped about 200 places in Dublin that we have defined as derelict.
I want here to explain the motivations for the project as well as some of the difficulties
that we came across. I outline the methods used to collect the data and I present a
working definition of dereliction for Dublin. The biggest question for me is: why at the
end of a sustained property-based boom, there are so many derelict spaces in Dublin’s
north inner city? And why are these still considered private space? Finally, I want to
explore some meanings of the geographies of dereliction.
Buddleia: “rare but increasing”
Buddleia davidii is a woody, deciduous shrub that grows up to 4m high. According to the Irish species register it is to be found on waste ground, riverbanks and lake-shores. The register’s website says that its distribution is “rare but increasing”. The register probably needs to update its database because if they walk around Dublin it could not surely be classed as rare.
The anthropologist Mary Douglas defined dirt as matter out of place which “implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and a contravention of that order” (Purity and Danger: 36). Buddleia is considered to be a weed but is really a plant out of place. It dominates waste ground and the brickwork of older buildings in Dublin. It sprouts from chimney tops and gable ends, from the wall of Mountjoy Prison and on the numerous derelict sites of Dublin city. So what are the set of ordered relations and the contraventions that its classification as a weed implies? I am not going to deal with these relations tonight but I am using buddleia as a marker for the dereliction that we have mapped.

Unlike the classification of buddleia in the Species Register, dereliction in Dublin is not
rare. In our short survey of the area between Dublin’s Royal Canal and the river Liffey,
we have counted 22 derelict housing units of various sizes. This does not include blocks of unused public housing, vacant sites, vacant industrial premises and derelict retail units.

How did we count? Who and what is counted? More importantly what is dereliction

In its tally of dereliction, Dublin City Council counts 31 properties on its Derelict Sites
Register. 31 properties for an area of 115 square kilometres. For a property to be included on the Derelict Sites Register, it has to meet the following criteria:

  • It has accumulated a lot of litter or other waste.
  • It contains dangerous or ruined structures.
  • It contains land or structures that are in a neglected or unsightly condition.

Our dereliction mapping project has identified almost 200 sites and buildings alone. Why can the council find 31 where we found about 200? I am going to argue here that
dereliction, like buddleia davidii, is not rare and it is increasingly distributed across more and more of the city area. Buddleia acts as a marker not just for waste ground or
dereliction but as a set of relationships between the city’s inhabitants and global flows of speculative capital. And so a research question that we started out with was: why after the longest cycle of property-based capital accumulation in Ireland’s history were there still so many derelict sites in Dublin’s north inner city?