Galway is great craic. Mighty craic. You can depend on Galway to give you what you want. A mighty place to go for the weekend. With the lads, and the girls. Jaysis, a place we can eat and drink and dance all night... And eat chips, clip clopping over the pebble stones or the medieval tarmac that lines the streets of our city and stagger back to the Airbnb sated. Galway is like that friend we all have who is always laughing and smiling. Even when he shouldn’t. The one you never take seriously because he is always smiling and laughing and having the craic.
But is this all we want Galway to be? In 100 years time, do we want Galway to have had a century of just being that sort of place, where the attraction of hen parties and stag parties is our core objective? Is that all we can achieve with the enormous potential of the place laid out before our eyes; a town which sits on the lip of the Atlantic, on the edge of Europe, with its face washed by the spray of the bay. Its attraction built on its possibilities rather than its realities.
The turning of the decade has perhaps been clouded over for us by the imminent arrival of Galway 2020. When we see the four digits together, we are dazzled by what they mean in the same way that ‘Volvo’ meant something else for us in 2009 and 2012.
How far have we come since 2010 or even 2000? Have the issues that clouded us at those milestones been dealt with? I have oft opined here in this column that in the next 10 years, Galway will make (or not make ) the decisions to position itself as a majorly progressive city in this country. That it will become more than just a weekend jaunty for the hens and stags. That it will create new urban civic and public spaces where people can congregate safely, where families can enjoy a night out without the yahooism that accompanies Irish late night city behaviour.
That it can be a place that breathes new life into its city centre with more actual residences and workspaces to give it a truly metropolitan feel, but in a “down the street in the Galway fashion” sort of way.
That there will be spaces where the public performances of art and music can be enjoyed by all, those who stand in front of them, and those who have to work beside them.
That it will be a place where commuters do not have to spend 10 hours a week in traffic. Where you can hop on efficient public transport, built for a fraction of what the consultants say it will cost. Figures that we just accept because?
That it will be a place inviting by day or night, alluring to visitors, a comforter to whose of us who work, live, or study here. Are we ready to accept that the shape of it will have to change somewhat?
We have to look at our planning laws and see if we are having the bravado to look at building Galway in a different way. Is it time to allow us to build upwards so that the shape and feel of Galway can change for all our benefit?
At the moment, there are several developments in train around the city that are heading this way. Should we aim further for the skies? And if not why not? If we are building, do we seriously and meaningfully engage with those affected beforehand rather than blindly heading down a planning permission abyss based on arrogance.
Also, we need our planners to be resourced enough and emboldened enough to envisage a new type of Galway in a new future — a Galway they can be proud of constructing and shaping. That they take to their task with gusto and not settle for what we settled for before.
For a decade, maybe two, maybe slightly more, Galway has suffered from a lack of solid leadership. Some of this is down to the dual mandate which robbed our serious players of a continuing role at local government level, More of this is down to the diminution of trust and credibility in the institutions that held control over this country. The Church, State, media, legal, medico... those who told us and continue to tell us what is good for us.
It is a lack of leadership that has cost us dearly. Other cities, most notably Cork, and even Limerick, seemed to have better advocates in the corridors of power that brought real change to their places.
Our paucity of quality representation in all of the aforementioned areas has cost us dearly. We did not seem to have any friend in court. And when left to our own devices, we were like the Kilkenny Cats on the washing line, left to devour each other in a local game of point scoring, ridiculing us in the eyes of the nation, the hurlers on the ditch faxing the facts off to the nationals for the filthy shilling so that the nation could laugh at us.
In 2000 and 2010, we pinned our hopes on being merely good hosts for things, rather than planning. We were too often the guys who said ‘bring a bottle, call on over...’
Traffic has become increasingly insufferable since then. The city does not have any additional arts spaces. It has fewer venues that can hold a crowd of 800 plus. There are boarded-up businesses on our main thoroughfare, because the city is too medieval for large retailers to move into the city centre.
Will we be more welcoming? Or will we be just more welcoming to the right sort of people? Will we laughingly lament the lack of adequate schools and doctors’ spaces if 200 industrialists come to town bearing jobs. Or will we just reserve that for Others so as to make ourselves feel a little bit better about our prejudices.
I wonder in 2030 will we look back and see this decade as the missed opportunity that Galway has had. That we have not taken the chance to have a new way of thinking. That there will still be a shortage of housing, a shortage of public and civic arts spaces, an increasing absence of tolerance.
The time is to decide whether we want to be a small city or a big town. It’s ‘pee or get off the pot’ time for Galway and its notions.
Let the debate begin on all of the above. Let the movers and shakers get moving and shaking. Let the city face the Atlantic, inhale one massive gust of air and fill our lungs with the optimisim of a bright future that can only be dimmed by our inaction, our lethargy, our standard opposition, our inability to change our ways.
Or are we ready to become the very model of a modern sustainable city which offers so much more to so many?
Happy New Year to you all...