In 1997 Dublin City Council announced an international competition to appoint consultants to prepare a Regeneration Masterplan for Ballymun, a failed Local Authority “New Town” in the north of the city with 20,000 inhabitants. OMP invited McCormac Jamieson Prichard, experienced urban designers, to lead a multidisciplinary team of architects, economists and community specialists which was ultimately successful in winning the competition. Dublin City Council set up a special purpose company, Ballymun Regeneration Ltd (BRL) under the management of an assistant city manager, to oversee the development of the plan and its execution.
The Ballymun housing estate was built in the late 1960s/early 1970s in response to Dublin’s severe housing shortage at the time. The development consisted of 2,814 apartments in seven 15-storey tower blocks, nineteen 8-storey spine blocks, and ten 4-storey walk-up blocks as well as 1,987 standard housing units. The blocks were sited in 160 hectares/400 acres of untended and characterless green space which ironically would ensure that lower density future development could be accommodated and also ensure that the community need not be dispersed. The area never attained its planned status as a sustainable area of the city. Unemployment, increasing dependence on social welfare and the nature of the flats complex itself were factors which led to the estate’s economic and social decline.
The challenge for the 1998 Masterplan was to heal the urban environment and create neighbourhoods where buildings, functions and spaces related to each other in a legible and humanly scaled manner. The resultant proposed urban form was in part generated by studies of successful inner suburban areas of Dublin City where suitably scaled buildings enclose and frame a network of streets, public squares and parks of varying size.
The Masterplan’s urban design and landscape strategy has two separate and distinct arms, the development of a coherent external works strategy and the development of a hierarchy of public spaces. The former, a palette of materials, details and street furniture was developed at the outset and was applied to works in the public realm across all new developments; the latter achieved with the phased demolition of all the high rise blocks and the building of 4000 new homes.
At the heart of the planning strategy is the creation of a new traffic calmed Main Street and Town Centre where an existing duel carriageway and roundabout separated the community.
The Street is flanked by private residential apartments over retail units with leisure facilities such as a swimming Pool and Community centre located along its length. At the middle of the street is a new Town Square enclosed by Civic Offices, a District Health Centre, Garda Station, Hotel and a refurbished and modernised shopping Centre. The Plan also accommodates a Luas light rail line running up the Main Street and connecting Ballymun to the City to the South and the Airport to the North.
Five new neighbourhoods are proposed; each accessed directly off the Main Street and each concentrated around four new Public Parks and a number of smaller pocket parks. Shopping and Community Facilities are located at the heart of each neighbourhood. The Housing format in the neighbourhoods is low density, 2 to 4 storey in height and generally terraced in nature responding to a government undertaking that all residents of Ballymun, who wish to, can have a front and back garden. The Masterplan proposes that a number of designers be employed to ensure a diversity of architectural style and character is delivered. All neighbourhoods are permeable and interconnected and are designed, in time, to be connected to the adjacent communities surrounding Ballymun.
The regeneration proposals are not just physical; they are also economic and social in content. Much time was spent in addressing the issues of educational opportunity, economic exclusion and unemployment. A large site to the north of the Main Street is designated for a third level institution. A site for an IKEA superstore has been identified beside a proposed new Office Park. Sites along the Main Street have been Tax designated to encourage capital investment and private tenure housing into the new Ballymun.
OMP designed two areas of housing within the neighbourhoods of Balcurris and Coultry over a number of years and despite the economic downturn, the regeneration of Ballymun is virtually complete with most families rehoused and much of the Main Street and neighbourhoods completed.