Too many peo­ple think this vi­brant city is an ex­pen­sive, crime-rid­den kip

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Trevor White

“For Dublin can be heaven with cof­fee at eleven and a stroll in Stephen’s Green.” – from the Dublin Saunter

I love Dublin. You may also have this con­di­tion. It’s called civic pride. Broadly de­fined as pride in your city, or the af­fec­tion that a place has for it­self, civic pride is a pub­lic good. Dif­fi­cult to mea­sure and harder still to in­flu­ence, we all know what it looks like: clean streets, ac­tive re­tire­ment groups, lively pub­lic meet­ings. The ab­sence of civic pride looks like bro­ken win­dows.

Re­ject­ing the nas­tier el­e­ments of na­tion­al­ism, pride of place is closer to the global cit­i­zen­ship that may yet save us than the na­tion-state loy­alty that nearly wiped us out. (In many coun­tries, the fight against cli­mate change is now be­ing led by cities.)

And so­cial cap­i­tal – a close re­la­tion of civic pride – can re­vi­talise bat­tered economies. A Gallup study in 2010 demon­strated that cities with higher lev­els of com­mu­nity at­tach­ment emerged from re­ces­sion more quickly. In other words, it pays to stick to­gether. That’s not al­ways easy in my home­town, where lo­cals of­ten doubt that I am from Dublin. “Yeah, but where are you re­ally from?”

There is no right an­swer. I am some sort of blow-in; English, per­haps, or Amer­i­can; at the very least a south­sider. I may be from Dublin, but I am not of Dublin.

You see, the cap­i­tal is di­vided from the rest of the coun­try – which de­spises Dublin – but also from it­self. There are many Dublin­ers who are sim­ply too small to get over a river. For them, the only “real” Dub is a north­sider or a south­sider.

Dublin-born and bred, I grew up on the mean streets of Balls­bridge. For the past two decades, the dirty old town has been my sub­ject, first at the Dubliner mag­a­zine and now in the Lit­tle Mu­seum of Dublin.

Most of the time it doesn’t feel like work. I owe some­thing to the city, and pos­si­bly ev­ery­thing. Mind you, when I left here in the 1990s, first for Lon­don and then New York, I couldn’t get out fast enough.

Do you know what I mean? Prob­a­bly. Many Ir­ish peo­ple think, or are told to think, that Dublin is a dirty, ex­pen­sive, crime-rid­den kip.

In the mu­seum our ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme is called I Love Dublin. Those are the three hard­est words to say in Hiberno-English. Even lik­ing the city is a chal­lenge for many of us, de­spite its cul­ture, its her­itage, its warmth and its con­ver­sa­tion.

The poet Louis MacNe­ice put it well when he wrote about “The cat­calls and the pain/The glam­our of her squalor/The bravado of her talk”.

The Lit­tle Mu­seum tries to cap­ture that spirit in a col­lec­tion cre­ated by pub­lic do­na­tion. Ir­ish peo­ple some­times won­der why we bother.

A few years ago a na­tion­wide poll re­vealed that only 24 per cent of Ir­ish peo­ple have any emo­tional con­nec­tion to a city that is syn­ony­mous with the Dubs, the English, Ea­mon Dun­phy, home­less­ness and Cop­per Face Jacks. Some of these are very bad things.

But a cer­tain type of Dub is okay, as a taxi driver in Lim­er­ick as­sured me last week. “The real Dub,” he said, con­sciously or unconsciously snub­bing his client.

Big­otry fea­tures in any ac­count of the Ir­ish ex­pe­ri­ence, along­side Famine, WB Yeats and smart­phone ad­dic­tion. And the cap­i­tal has long fu­elled re­sent­ment, or, as Yeats put it, “the daily spite of this un­man­nerly town”. There are ob­vi­ous rea­sons for the ha­tred of Dublin, such as colo­nial­ism, and less ob­vi­ous ones, such as the me­dia’s fail­ure to ac­knowl­edge that for­eign in­vest­ment lost to Dublin is of­ten lost to Ire­land, which would be ban­jaxed with­out a strong cap­i­tal.

Crass de­bates

If slat­ing Dublin is the na­tional sport, lazy jour­nal­ists and broad­cast­ers are partly to blame. They ex­ac­er­bate the north­side-southside and ur­ban-ru­ral di­vides with crass de­bates that pro­duce more heat than light. See also: the chip­pi­ness of ru­ral Ire­land. See also: Dublin­ers.

Some­times we are aw­ful gob­daws. I’m think­ing of mid­dle-class south­siders who colonise an eas­ily-de­fen­si­ble part of the coun­try­side, like Round­stone in Con­nemara. The lo­cals call it G4.

Over-cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power has been a prob­lem since the foun­da­tion of the State. As a re­sult, lo­cal govern­ment is piti­fully weak. That’s why prop­erty tax bills are four times higher in parts of Dublin than in ru­ral Ire­land, and why we sub­sidise the rest of you. (You’re wel­come.)

It is why chil­dren are home­less in Dublin. It is also why the city still does not have a di­rectly elected mayor, de­spite the fact that three-quar­ters of Dublin­ers want the post to be cre­ated. If there is a gap in Ir­ish pol­i­tics, it is for a party de­voted to the in­ter­ests of the cap­i­tal.

There is still good cause for lov­ing where you live, and Dublin can be heaven. Just ask a tourist. It shouldn’t be hard to find one. In­dia, with a pop­u­la­tion of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple, wel­comed nearly 10 mil­lion visi­tors last year. So did Ire­land.

Most visi­tors re­gard Dublin as an in­ti­mate, hand­some cap­i­tal with a rich his­tory, a vi­brant cul­ture, good restau­rants and a kick­ass bar scene. They can­not be­lieve that artists (okay, some artists) pay no tax, and they ad­mire the free­doms that many Dublin­ers take for granted.

Fur­ther, they like the ca­sual charm of the place, and they love the friendly peo­ple. In fact, you are the high­light of their trip. And the rea­son you find this so hard to be­lieve is be­cause you’re Ir­ish.

Cyn­i­cism is a lo­cal spe­cial­ity, as Ir­ish as freck­les and doner ke­babs, but some­times scep­ti­cism works against us, and there are com­pelling rea­sons for giv­ing Dublin a sec­ond chance.

Pride of place is good for busi­ness. A step­ping stone to larger at­tach­ments and higher stakes, it brings us closer to a proper un­der­stand­ing of who we re­ally are. In­deed, civic pride could yet serve as a bul­wark against the ex­cesses of tra­di­tional na­tion­al­ism, and as an ac­com­plice to the global cit­i­zen­ship that must yet emerge.

So here, then, is a propo­si­tion. It won’t cost you any­thing, but it might make you hap­pier and it may just change your life. Make room in your heart for Dublin. Trevor White is di­rec­tor of the Lit­tle Mu­seum of Dublin

Will it work? Ex­pert eval­u­a­tion

Each of the pro­pos­als in this “Cap­i­tal Ideas” se­ries has been put to a group of three ex­perts for an ini­tial “back of an en­ve­lope” eval­u­a­tion. They are: Frances Ruane, for­mer di­rec­tor of the Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search In­sti­tute; Caro­line Spil­lane, di­rec­tor gen­eral of En­gi­neers Ire­land; and Cliff Tay­lor, Ir­ish Times eco­nom­ics colum­nist.

It is not a case of Dublin-ver­sus-rest-of-coun­try. The two are complementary and de­pend on each other to op­ti­mise the ben­e­fits for the whole coun­try. Ur­ban pop­u­la­tions will con­tinue to grow into the fu­ture, and their con­nec­tiv­ity to the ru­ral hin­ter­land is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly in Ire­land which is a small coun­try and both pop­u­la­tions are closely in­ter­re­lated.

Tak­ing pride in our city and de­vel­op­ing a sense of com­mu­nity to sup­port it re­quires lit­tle by way of re­sources but a real mind-set change in view­ing the city in its to­tal­ity as a place to live and work. It re­flects peo­ple want­ing to live in the city and not dream­ing of get­ting to the sub­urbs as soon as they can. Many want a home, and not nec­es­sar­ily a house.

Our new im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion has helped raise aware­ness of just what a great city Dublin is and how much bet­ter it could be if we keep the city cen­tre pop­u­lated with fam­i­lies. To suc­ceed, the dere­lic­tion in the city cen­tre must be re­duced sys­tem­at­i­cally, and the va­cant site tax can help de­liver on this ob­jec­tive. This re­quires some cross-in­sti­tu­tional co­op­er­a­tion and a min­i­mal bud­get.

I’m not sure peo­ple have as lit­tle pride in Dublin as Trevor says. Dublin is a much more di­verse and in­ter­est­ing place than when I was first look­ing for work in the early 1980s and has many more and var­ied em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. And the Dubs win a lot more matches now too.

This idea costs noth­ing, and there is a ben­e­fit to peo­ple be­ing proud of where they live. Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties com­ing to­gether as a re­sult can be pow­er­ful – while lack of any at­tach­ment can be cor­ro­sive. But let’s not go hir­ing any con­sul­tants on this one.

A na­tion­wide poll re­vealed that only 24 per cent of Ir­ish peo­ple have any emo­tional con­nec­tion to the cap­i­tal city

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