I’m due to retire sometime late in the spring of 2030. Around four o clock on that day, there’ll be be a soft shuffle of footsteps at the office door, the smell of cheap birthday candles from the pound shop, and the loud ticking of an engraved timepiece to somehow none too subtly remind me of the time that I’m supposed to be at work, and just how many of those hours were devoted to keeping the coffee industry alive in local hostelries. There’ll be a few hoary auld speeches that will all begin with ‘d’ya remember the craic we had when....” and then after a few awkward silences, there’ll be a card with a voucher for an afternoon tea, and the kind offer of helping me with the few cardboard boxes out to the car, because after all the new person will be starting on Monday and.....
Thoughts of 2030 come to my mind this week at a crucial juncture in the timeline of some major projects in this city. I wonder on that day as I sit there with my few cardboard boxes, looking out on Eyre Square, just how much of the city will have changed. Will I look across and see the sun reflecting in from the coast, bouncing off the glass windows of Bonham Quay; will I see thousands of excited young visitors and workers make their way up through and into the Ceannt Quarter where lie beyond delights of retail and cultural experience?
To make my way home with an armload of boxes, I wonder if I will be able to shuffle over to the Gluas, just softly pulling in there where the taxi rank is now. The soft squeak of its tracks as it pulls in to deposit more excited people in the city centre, and take tired, weary, retiring ones out to the suburbs when a car awaits in a park and ride. Will I see small children cycling safely in brightly segregated cycling lanes, laughing and joking with their parents asking ‘Momma, did cars really once drive around Eyre Square and in the city centre, really Momma, really?” And their parents will reply, “yes, my dear, it really was the case. The cars used to line up here and move slowly around and round in circles, and the people would have red faces, giving out. Back in the day when people worked five days a week.”
And as I move along with my cardboard box waiting for the 4.10 Gluas to Irrelevancy, will I meet unemployed traffic reporters, former AA Roadwatch types, and Jonny on the motorbike, underutilized because the new ringroad has rid the city of all its traffic. On the outskirts people zoom from Doughiska to Moycullen in minutes, drivers waving to those happy walkers on the Greenway, making their way out to Clifden and beyond.
In the background, the soft horn of the Celebrity Cruise liner will sound like an alert warning of old, as the massive vessel pulls into the port, allowing thousands of more visitors to disembark for a day of exploration and intrigue.
Everywhere I walk, will there be artists and performers, and writers and poets, and actor and singers, inspired by the legacy of Galway 2020? Will the city be a place buzzing with the kind of vibrancy that drew us all here in the first place, back in the day...
I think of all of this today because so many key city projects are at a crossroads, if you pardon the pun. Just fourteen months out from us taking the mantle of the European Capital of Culture, is there any way that we step back, look at what’s really happening, and pull together to create a year of which we will all be proud. A year that will inspire the next generation of Garry Hynes, of Mike McCormacks, of Aaron Monaghans, of Mary Coughlans, of Mick Lallys...
The city ring road — it will make some difference to the traffic, but let us be cognisant too of those who it will discomfit, and of those discomfitted by its absence.
It will be an awful pity if on that day in 2030, I shuffle out to see more of the same. If I have to wait to cross the road from the parade of single-occupant cars, if decaying buildings mark the background to my walk home, if the horns of frustration of the snarling traffic are still heard, if kids find it safer to wheel their bikes along the pavement than on the roads.
What a disappointment this generation will seem to have been if we are to allow all this to happen. Over the next few months and year, we have the opportunity to influence this. Make your feeling known on what you would like Ceannt Quarter and every other development to be like. Ask what we can do for Galway 2020. The saving of it, not the lashing of it.
The next decade will shape Galway for the next century. Are we to sit back in 10 years time and applaud ourselves for stalling progress? Or for not encouraging or suggesting sustainable alternatives. The time to act is now.