Vacancy in a time of crisis

There has been a lot said and written about vacancy in Dublin city and beyond. Up and down the island, there are a number of community-based initiatives trying to track the numbers and locations of vacant commercial and derelict residential units. That there are so many public housing units currently boarded up and not in use is itself indicative of this government’s approach to housing: financialise as many sites as can be obtained through the NAMA resolution process and pawn off remaining city public sites as cheaply as possible to private investors. In the recent past, Irish Geography has produced a number of papers on the topic from an academic viewpoint. These papers are worth reviewing again, alongside work by Michelle Norris and Mick O’Byrne on housing more generally.

Among the contentious issues in the paper that SJR and I got published last year was the definition of both dereliction and vacancy. We begun with the register of derelict sites compiled by Dublin City Council and worked outward, tracing the location of many other derelicts and vacant lots across the northside of the city. The Council uses the legislative understanding of dereliction and places emphasis on aesthetics and risks posed by dereliction:

The Derelict Sites Act defines a derelict site as any land that “detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood of the land in question because of ”:

  • Structures which are in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, or

  • The neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land or of structures on it, or

  • The presence, deposit or collection of litter, rubbish, debris or waste

While this is a useful administrative exercise, it provides little basis for those interested in a political campaign for sites and buildings like these to be re-introduced back into housing stock. These of course are privately owned sites and so there is some pressure to be exerted about who can contest these places and buildings in the first instance. There is little point in looking at a building and noting its derelict status without some sense that its ownership as a private property can be challenged politically. That is one of the most significant challenges for housing campaigns in this city: opening up the spaces of resistance to their re-use.

In July 2016, through DubLinked, I obtained the revised list of City Council derelicts and mapped them. The representation below, a 500dpi image best viewed in another tab, shows the distribution of these sites and buildings across the city. Beyond mapping them in this way there is little to be said about their distribution only that there are many more recorded as derelict on the southside of the river than the northside of the river.

Derelict Sites July 2016

Data: OSM and Dublin City Council

I’ll work a little more on this map and try and make it available as a clickable online resource in the coming time but this is not a priority for me right now. Many of these locations  are in the middle of terraces or are sites in dense residential districts. In the Chapelizod area there are two clusters of derelict buildings and in the area around the Grand Canal (D8) a number of housing units are recorded as derelicts on the register. There are particular stories behind a number of these sites, perhaps some involving difficult family histories.

As stated above, the main point in mapping these in this way is to open up a broader discussion about the use and misuse of private property rights in the city as a whole. Where are the political spaces for us to contest these seemingly inalienable rights?

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