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The Irish Aversion to High-Rises and How Dublin is Dealing with Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl in Dublin can be attributed to the hostility to high-rise living felt by many people in Ireland. The demand for homes is there, but it is not being met with apartments for two main reasons. Firstly, a majority of Dubliners don't want to see high-rise buildings in the city. Dublin City Council recently proposed to allow developments above sixteen stories in specific areas and this was met with significant local resistance.

Secondly, a significant majority of the population doesn't want to live in apartments regardless of how convenient they might be. There is a strong attachment to "the land" in the psyche of many Irish people and most want houses with gardens rather than apartments. People continue to live in houses in commuter towns hours from the city but eventually an alternative to this will have to be found.

Dublin Grand canal dock

According to the 2011 census:

  • In Ireland 84.7% of people live in houses and 11% live in apartments; and
  • In the Dublin City area 61.5% of people live in houses and 32.6% live in apartments.

Although above the national average, apartment living in Dublin is much lower than that of most other major European cities and Ireland has the lowest number of people living in apartments in the whole of the European Union (EU).

In 2006, the EU cited Dublin as a worst-case scenario of urban sprawl and this is undeniably apparent in the city today. Planning regulations and disinclination for apartment living have meant that the growing population of Dublin is leaking into many surrounding towns and villages. However, despite this trend for commuter living, the transport links to the city remain inadequate with poor orbital roads and weak public transportation networks.

The population of Dublin is growing rapidly and the Greater Dublin Area now contains a third of the total population of the State. Regardless of whether apartment living is an option or not, housing needs for the increased population will still need to be addressed

New policies appear to have given in to demands for houses over apartments. In the past few months, the Dublin City Council has decided to ease regulations on zoning in two central Dublin areas to allow for the construction of houses where apartment buildings were originally planned.

Dublin Liberty Hall and Custom house

Planners realize that the reluctance towards apartment living is not wavering. However the growth of poorly serviced commuter towns is not sustainable in its current form either.

It is possible that rather than seeing a growth in the capacity of the city center we may see smaller self-sufficient cities cluster around Dublin?

Tallaght, which is located about twelve kms southwest from the city center, was one of Dublin's first commuter towns. Its population has grown from 2,500 in the 1960s to 71,500 in 2011. Capitalizing on its increased population, Tallaght has developed industries and supplied public services of its own. There is now growing interest for Tallaght to be recognized as a city in its own right, which may be a sign of a potential future trend.

Is it possible that a growing population can continue to be accommodated in sprawling suburbs or must the people of Dublin, and other sprawling urban centers, accept high-rise living as the only viable way to live in cities?

Credits: Images by Rebecca Mullen. Data linked to sources.