What’s the story buddleia? 2/3

This is the second of three posts on the PU session last week. The slides are available as a PDF here.

The mapping project
In January, Stephen and I marked a few sites on a google map based on some
photography he had done on his walk to work in the south of the city. The map had been the first stage in a larger project that we had been thinking about for about a year. It began by taking photographs and then geotagging the photographs on google plus and then re-placing them on a single google map. While Stephen was doing this on his way to work, I was placing points on the map that I knew were derelict from bus journeys, routine walking into the city from where I live and other routes that I was familiar with.
A few days later, we made our map public and within a short time we had managed to
enthuse a small number of people around the idea of mapping the derelict sites and
houses in the Dublin area. Opening up the map to others of course made it less easy to
control the placement and definitions of dereliction. We invited people, through social media, to take part on the basis that they could drop pins on this map as Collaborators. We set very few criteria other than a general guideline of a building that:

  • Had boarded up windows, and / or
  • A collapsed roof.

We asked people to take a picture of a site if they could and add that to the map. As
people walked around the city and placed pins on the map, it became evident that these simpler criteria would not be enough on their own. For example, would we map closed retail units? These were spaces in temporary abeyance on a far shorter time scale than many of the original two dozen or so housing units we had mapped originally. What about sites with a closed retail ground floor but an active and lived in second and subsequent floors? What if a site has a planning notice – even if now out of date – attached to it?
Additionally, by releasing the map into the public domain (is Google public?) we could
not justify any particular limit to dropping pins. So instead of this being a map of north
Dublin city and dereliction it became a project mapping dereliction in Dublin more
widely. The initial enthusiasm with which the map was used and the ready availability of phones with coordinating software changed the nature of the project itself. The need to impose some order on the data we had originally collected became greater once we made the map more widely available. Stephen and I had started out looking at banal walking routes and dereliction on areas that we both knew within the north inner city area. Others wished to add their own sites outside of this area. By the end of January, we agreed on a less vague, but not satisfactory, typology based on some online discussion:
• Vacant sites – blue flag (31)
• Boarded up houses – green flag (22)
• Closed commercial – red flag (55)
• Closed commercial ground floor – yellow flag (15)
• Closed institutional or publicly owned – purple flag (13)
• Unclassified – blue pin (50)
• DCC derelict properties list – red pin (31)
While the project still has no definition of what a derelict house or site is, the typology at least made a distinction between vacant sites, housing stock and commercial property. A distinction between closed commercial and closed commercial ground floor arises from the occurrence of many of these spaces in the Dublin city area. Of course we still have not unpacked the Unclassified category because we have not devised a satisfactory definition of dereliction.
So what next for this data? We need to undertake a further analysis of the sites and
buildings in their neighbourhoods as well as an unpacking of the classifications used. The project is not, as yet, linked with local political struggles about resource use or the fate of these places. This may be where we pick this up tonight. They continue to exist as places in the absence of any further public information on their ownership or usage. Many of the derelict sites have planning notices, spanning several years, on display and more of them are within the NAMA process. Perhaps a next step should be to systematically organise planning notices and relate them to their duration and distribution. One of the aspects that needs development for this project is the formal linking of these sites and buildings with local place making, particularly in relation to the local government elections in 2014.

Stephen and I have spoken about confining our interest to an area broadly defined by the River Liffey and the Grand Canal, transected by three main streets: Gardiner Street, Capel Street and Church Street, moving east to west. We would walk systematically through each of these areas in turn, taking in all of the sites adjacent to these three streets and mapping all of the dereliction. Throughout the time that we can now identify as The Boom, some of these places that we have were transformed by flows of surplus capital and unsustainable credit deals. Many more were left to remain derelict throughout The Boom. Now that the surplus capital has moved elsewhere, what has become of these places? How are these places made and re-made through their non-use by speculative capital but their everyday use by those who live and work and shop and play near these spaces? What is the story behind these sites? In short, a fairly basic question that is central to my understanding of geography: why here and not there?


3 thoughts on “What’s the story buddleia? 2/3

    1. It went well. There was lots of interesting engagement about the project and the wider politics. I think myself there was a little too much emphasis in that discussion on the creative / political economy side of things and not enough for my liking on a politics of engaging the city from below. Thems the breaks though.

      The video of the session, and I think the audio of the discussion, will be available shortly. I’ll be pimping it on the usual networks.

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